Possessions and Memories -- An Elderly Couple Moves On

Moving into a Retirement Home Can Be a Tough Decision to Make

“Feet first,” my ninety-year-old father has said. “The only way I’m leaving this house is feet first.” I can see his point. He’s comfortably settled in the house he bought six months after he and my mother were married. Though his hearing is poor, and his steps growing slow, he knows every board, every nail, and every creak in the floor. My hope is that when it's time for him to go, he will pass quietly and in comfort -- while sitting, perhaps, in his favorite chair.

I have friends with parents my father’s age. One couple happily sold their things and moved to a retirement community, drawn in part by the social life it could provide. Another was more like my dad, expecting to stay in their home. It was difficult. Joe liked to drive, though he knew he should not. Julia worried about his forgetfulness. And they called their son for assistance about six times a day.

Their son Jack eyed the house with concern. It was full to the brim. They had filled their home with antiques and treasures, each one with a memory. “Let’s catalogue them,” I suggested. So we bought a blank book, and spent Sundays looking and writing about things that they owned.

In their eyes, a vase was never “just a vase.” Each piece had a story – a point in history from which it emerged. I learned, from these treasures, the evolution of American industry, society and ingenuity. A trunk had traveled with ancestors through Europe, then half-way across America before it became Julia' hope chest when she was 16. A little dish was once used for salt at the table. Afghans made by an aunt; pictures painted by a sister, long gone. And so, for three years, the story-telling and writing went on.

As much as we wanted them to be safe where they were, one day we knew they could not live alone. We made arrangements for them to move to a lovely retirement facility nearby. It was hard for them to leave the home they thought they'd always have. But Julia was forgetting too many things on the stove, and the time she lay outside after falling, Joe didn't even know she was gone. It was time.

“You can’t take it with you.” Never was a saying more true. How would a house full of treasures fit into an apartment? What would they keep? Could they let anything go?

The answer came when Julia handed me our book of Sundays – all she’d told me; all I’d written down. And I knew, in that moment, that they could let go. It wasn’t the items, you see, but the history and memories that were important. In passing that book, they were free to move on.

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