Actually, it’s a little more than six months since our move in September. A good time to reflect on what brought us here and what keeps us here. Every move is a trade-off. You have only to look at those home-buying shows on television to see the emotional and practical priorities at play. Open living rooms, kitchen islands, and verandas vie for downstairs space with cozy firesides, offices, and mud rooms (although here in southern California it’s hard to see why mud needs its own room). You never see people looking for a downstairs bedroom or a front entry without steps. Are they in denial or just in a different phase of life?
You don’t have to be elderly to value easy access. All it takes is the family member who is in a cast or recovering from surgery, the baby asleep in a stroller, the beloved grandpa who uses a cane or a walker. But when a family member has a long-term illness, the house which had everything you wanted quickly becomes a burden to both the caregiver and the person who needs care. You make adjustments, of course, because you like your home and moving is difficult. But so is carrying dinner trays upstairs.
My husband and I looked at continuing care retirement communities earlier than most, partly because of the experiences we had with our parents’ needs and partly because it was kind of fun looking at the floor plans and lifestyles, talking over lunch about the “next phase” of our life six or eight years down the line. We debated the advantages of older places near the beach or the university versus shiny new developments, boasting live theater and dog parks.
Chuck’s cancer relapse realigned both our priorities and our timing. Being near his hospital and doctors was essential, while I insisted on a large apartment where we could have a guest room and keep our piano, our books and art, our aquarium, the computers, and Ozzie. We chose Freedom Village. When Chuck required skilled nursing care for three weeks, he was still right next door. As he grew weaker, we settled into our new home surrounded by our favorite things and most of all by our family housed in our guest room and sometimes overflowing into the guest apartment down the hall.
Now Ozzie and I remain in a roomy apartment full of books and pictures and memories, familiar and yet still new to us. I sometimes think: do I want to be here?
Clearly, if circumstances had been different Chuck and I would still be in our old house happily planning our next vacation. But now is a time to move forward and living here is liberating. My “downsizing” is already done. I am free from the sheer mass of stuff that filled the attic and garage, the accumulation of obsolete tools and redundant kitchenware, and more than a few history theory books that I will never read again. I’m free from home maintenance, housecleaning, and utility bills. Gardening? I have a few live plants on my balcony.
Cooking? Sure, if I feel like it. Or I go to the dining room two or three nights a week and have dinner brought up to the apartment on the other nights. On weekends I often have company and we take advantage of the variety of ethnic foods available within walking distance—Indian, Lebanese, Mexican, Vietnamese, Thai, and many more. Back in the suburbs, we had to drive out even to get a hamburger.
The closest experience I’ve had to being an apartment city dweller is the year I lived in Wolfenbeuttel, Germany, in 2011-12. There I spent my days researching and my evenings writing. I had a grant to live up to. Now, accountable to myself alone, it’s surprising how much of my time is still spent on history. I write (blog, book projects), map out ancestry (using old photos, letters, and historical context to bring out their stories), and travel (dreaming, planning, reading, researching, and creating a photo journal). I walk Ozzie at least four times a day, which gets us both outside. Fortunately he nudges me if I’m absorbed in a project at walk time. I watch PBS and Great Courses, which I just found out you can stream on Amazon Prime . I read, have visitors, and sometimes go out. Music is a delight—playing a little piano, listening to Pandora, going to “Live at the Met” operas (transportation provided from our front door), or enjoying “Timeless Melodies,” Larry Maurer’s fun series on historical aspects of American popular music, presented monthly right here at Freedom Village.
I have the option to stay or go. Wisely, grief support sources often advise waiting a year before making major decisions. But for my priorities six months post-move it looks as though I’m here to stay.