Thursday, June 13, 2013

Be aware, IT is lurking in the shadows, waiting to impose its will

I made the point in an earlier post that the October Years are a time of change. Just think how crazy it gets sometimes. Is this what we imagined when we looked forward to our calm, quiet, and hopefully eventful Golden Years? 

You and I have probably spent decades thinking about this time. I hope it’s matching the dreams you’ve dreamed, though of course it’s not that way for everyone. And even if you are among the fortunate ones there is always a chance of being blindsided by some innocent appearing event you had never considered a threat to your peace or sanity. 

I count the wife and myself among those lucky ones. We’re as healthy as seventy-six year olds have a right to expect. Our offspring are doing well and out modest retirement seems secure. At first glance, life is good. At least that’s how it looked to us, until IT raised it’s ugly head.

Perhaps like you, we have spent most of a lifetime accumulating “stuff.” It comes in many forms---things we just couldn’t do without at the time, reminders of family times and growing children, momentos of special times and places. We’ve wrapped ourselves in bits and pieces of our own history, filling our closets and corners with evidence of whom we were and what we did. Our home groaned under the weight of stuff, sometimes even spilling out into rented storage space. 

Then IT happened. It was time for us to shift to a lower gear. It’s that way for lots of October folks. For some the big house will be too much to deal with any longer. For others retirement will be more appealing in a Sun Belt location. Or perhaps it will be the reality of October economics that dictates a change. Whatever the reason the time will come---time to downsize. At first blush we may look forward to that process. But in time we will learn it is an event to be dreaded.

The appeal is undeniable, with its promise of blessed freedom---liberation from much of that stuff. The reality, however, is something very different. The gist of it is simple enough. You commit yourself to parting with a portion of your carefully assembled treasures. You will make do with less. But what part will you do without? Which of those things---all of which have their own special meaning---are you willing to give away? Which of your memories are disposable?

Rather than bore you with our own mundane experience I’d like to offer a couple excerpts that depict my take on two very different kinds of downsizing.

First, in an untitled piece that has yet to become a finished story, a couple are contemplating the need to move to a smaller, less expensive home---which will mean getting by with less space.

At that moment Jim and Anita Camden were sitting on folding chairs in the middle of the two-car garage. The car had been moved outside to make room for their work. Around them, on three sides of the open room, long shelves held an eclectic assortment of cardboard boxes, each one a repository of their personal histories. Those fragile containers held the remnants of forty-nine years together---of the two of them as newly-weds, the satisfying family years, raising Larry and Ann in their comfortable Tanner home, and finally the empty-nest years that had led to their present quandry. 

They were effectively surrounded by their own past. As always it would be about choices, Jim told himself, suddenly captured by that insight. The persons they had become and the life they had lived were the results of choices made at each fork in the road. Now they would again come face to face with that past.

In each box long-unseen reminders concealed the evidence of earlier choices---holding some bit of a once-special time he or she had thought important enough to transport into their future. As they prepared to revisit decisions made for reasons they perhaps did not remember they sensed the ghostly presence of times past.

The task itself was simple enough. It would be a new round of choices---deciding what to keep, what to give away, and what to consign to the trash barrel. It would take a while, but it was time to start---at least until Jim watched his wife’s head sink into her cradled hands.

“How can we do this?” Anita whimpered. “We ought to keep it all. Every bit of it is important.”

It was not a time to be debating his logic, sound at it was. He knew better than that. Instead, it was time for kid gloves and going slow, allowing her to proceed at her own naturally reserved pace.

Best Friends and Promises, on the other hand, illustrates a very different type of downsizing. Aaron’s wife has been moved to an Alzheimer’s ward and the big house must be sold to pay for her care.

In early March the house on Elm Street, their home for forty-eight years, was sold. For Aaron the troublesome process of selling---meetings with the realtor, leaving the house when it was being shown, the final round of paperwork---triggered a renewed sense of loss. For days he sorted and packed, urging the girls to select the momentos they wanted for themselves. In the end he avoided the weekend garage sale they held to dispose of the remaining treasures. It was more than he was willing to bear, watching the reminders of a lifetime with Leona being sold off as casual collectibles to unknowing strangers.

Finally the dreaded day came. The home where their life together had been lived belonged to strangers. The girls went back to Portland and Aaron sat alone in the cramped living room of his Samson Street apartment, mourning the loss of what had always been their home, and the reasons that made it necessary.

Downsizing---some will avoid that trial by leaving it for family to deal with after they leave. For the rest of us it will be a bitter-sweet visit to earlier times---a return that is bound to include hard choices and even regret.

As always, if you’re so inclined I’d appreciate your comments, posted below. Beyond that, if there are folks with whom you’d like to share this October Years post I hope you’ll pass it on. It’s an easy thing to do. Just click on the “M” at the bottom of this page to email the post, with the video, to any addresses you choose.  

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