My mother is 91 years old. She is still happily living in the house she and my Dad bought in 1962.
She is dealing with dementia, some small health issues and increasing frailty.
But she is safe at home. In her chair, on her porch, surrounded by the walls that held our family of 8 for so many years.
In many ways she is incredibly lucky. I think that many people of her generation have always planned to “age in place”. To live and die in their one beloved home.
I understand that urge. I understand my Mom’s attachment to this place, to her anchor, to her best memories.
But as I make may way through this house, the place where I was raised and from which I launched my own life, I am swept with sadness.
I see images of my 5 siblings gathered around the kitchen table. I remember our arguments, our jokes, our little annoyances and our small joys. I see my Dad, so happy and proud, grinning at Mom as she served dinner to the brood.
My heart hurts.
And I wonder.
Is it really the best thing to stay in place until the end?
I ask this question as I find myself moving through my own house today. The house that my husband and I bought 31 years ago. The house where we raised our own three children into adulthood. A house, a home, filled with so many memories.
I love it here. I look out into my garden and remember that when we moved in here, there were no gardens. I am the one who planted the day lilies, the forsythia, the coreopsis and coneflower and phlox and lilac.
Walking around this yard fills my heart with memories. And it makes me sad.
I walk by the backyard, now filled with blueberry bushes. I remember walking here with my baby boy, the first year that I ever planted my own tomatoes. That little guy, nearly a year old, loved to pick a fresh, warm tomato and bite into it as he stood there barefoot in the grass. I can still see him.
He turned 31 years old today, and I struggle to let go of the image of his golden haired smiling baby self.
I move around to the side of the house, remembering my baby child, my last born. I can see him throwing a baseball against the wall. I can hear myself yelling at him, complaining that he and his friends were cracking the siding.
I remember pets that are long gone.
I remember a sweet, tender, heartbreaking little boy from next door and I remember his shocking death at the tender age of 25.
So many sweet things happened here.
When I walk our dogs around the block, there are ghosts all around me. Ghosts of Halloweens past and birthday parties and giant storms. Ghosts of neighbors long gone, and children now grown.
Ghosts of young adults falling in love, and the tears that came with those experiences. Shadows of lessons learned and echoes of lessons lost.
Now my house is also filled with the memories of my grandchildren, who have spent so many days here in my care as their parents have gone to work. Another layer of ghosts pulling at my aging heart.
And I am beginning to wonder if I really want to “age in place.”
Paul and I have friends who have managed this part of life with more grace. Some have moved to new and excited places where they are creating their “next phase” lives on islands and in exotic foreign lands.
I watch them packing up their middle aged lives and moving on with joy.
And I am envious, and a little jealous and aware of the fact that if I had it to do over again, I would have sold this nice little house right after our children left it. I would have moved to a new place, to start a new life, to find my next steps.
For me, the idea of “aging in place” has lost a lot of its charms and now feels like an anchor that is holding me down.
Photo by Devon MacKay on Unsplash