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Caregiving

Leaving a Life I Loved

Trading one's home for ease of living takes courage and honesty.

by Mitzi Clark


Moving from my home to a retirement community was one of the hardest things I've ever done.

In 2002, Champ, my husband of 54 years, died of lung cancer, leaving me alone in our 100-year-old farmhouse. We had retired there 30 years previously after living in New York and Chicago. We had loved and thrived in our Virginia life.

I needed two years in our familiar surroundings to mourn his loss. Then my support system -- the people who helped me around my house and property -- began to fall away. I was recovering slowly from a major heart attack, and my vision had begun to deteriorate. It was dangerous to drive anymore. When I backed over newly planted azaleas in the front of our church, I knew the time had come to move to a new adventure. In making this decision, which meant leaving behind my house and many friends and community connections, I had the compassionate support of my children.

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My view of retirement communities had been conditioned by my contact with old-fashioned "nursing homes." They often smelled of urine, and occupants sat for hours staring vacantly at TV. Thus, when we visited Riderwood Village, in Silver Spring, Md. (a 20-minute drive from my daughter Jane's home), I marveled at its spacious grounds, lovely landscaping and many amenities. Turning to Jane, I said, "I could live here."

After five visits over several more months, I placed a deposit based upon the floor plan of the apartment I wanted. It was in a building to be completed the following April. As it was then December, I felt I would have time to sell my house and dispose of some of a half-century's worth of furniture, books, porcelain and bric-a-brac.

I sold my house at a good price. The new owner wanted possession on April 1, the date I was scheduled to move into my new place. That left three months -- not enough time -- for a downsizing process that was emotionally draining and physically exhausting. All four children helped, but we were hampered by our tendency to comment and laugh over old letters, papers and souvenirs.

I reserved the things I planned to keep, and we drew up a list of the rest. Each of the children took turns selecting. I was pleased there were no arguments, although some trades were made. I like visiting with my children and seeing pieces of my own life integrated into theirs.

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On moving day, the movers loaded the trucks, and we crammed the cars with remaining odds and ends. Most of it was hodgepodge that a new neighbor kindly calls "intellectual clutter." When my oldest grandson visited, he commented approvingly, "New place, same old stuff."

I still miss my life of unlimited possibilities, and I confess to dreaming that someday I'll get the car keys back. But this has become home.

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