When she became too frail to manage on her own, mom hired full-time help to live in the spare bedroom What bordered on a love-hate relationship with these women may have been due to the matriarch's failure to admit that independence can be a fleeting commodity.
Now it is my generation’s turn to grapple with the business of moving out or staying put. Sometimes we have no choice. A reduced income becomes insufficient to cover our increased taxes and home maintenance. Reverse mortgages come highly touted by the companies that sell them, but they have important downsides and restrictions.
And there are other factors that prompt change. Our children want us to live closer. We, ourselves, find housekeeping burdensome, or the loss of close friends unbearable. Or we are just plain lonely at day's end. Senior retirement communities hound us to sign on, their conscientious staff relentlessly following any whiff of interest, however faint.
Many of my octogenarian college classmates — both widowed and still married — have relocated to the various retirement tiers. These inclusive facilities do not come cheap — but most of those who moved into them seem glad they did. Contrarily, resistance comes from those who are turned off by the idea of living exclusively under the same roof with people of advanced age.
I have many friends who still rattle around in houses far too large for them alone. One friend's late husband’s suits are still hanging neatly in his closet after more than a decade. These women tell me they like the idea of keeping their home as a place to which far-flung family can return for visits under one roof. A more compelling reason is that older people hate the prospect of leaving familiar digs. But perhaps the most honest reason is that they cannot bear the idea of being forced to sort through their possessions and determine their fate.
When my husband died a half dozen years ago, I knew what I had to do. Though I loved our Spanish-style home on the Central Coast, it was just too difficult to maintain the yard with its numerous fruit trees, or to feel safe on a hillside property that backed up against an uninhabited nature preserve. Had my children lived closer, I might have stayed. But I wanted to see more of them in my old age, so I moved in the direction of some of them. It took me six months to accomplish the move, which also included selling a boat, motorhome, baby grand piano — my father's wedding present to my mother — and fifty-five years' worth of accumulated possessions for which I no longer had any justifiable need.
The rest went with me to an apartment with a magnificent view of the San Gabriel mountains — and a large outdoor balcony on which to watch the annual Rose Parade wind its way along Colorado Boulevard.
When my inimitable Aunt Alice sold her last house and moved into an apartment, she informed me that her next move would be in a coffin. She was right. But whether at this point any of us can claim the same for ourselves is unclear.
I do know this: a home is where the heart is, and it's never easy to leave what we love. As for those who have lived a long life, the displacement demands an expenditure of risk and effort that only gets tougher with time.
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