Leaving a Life I Loved


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.


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.


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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