Tuesday, July 14, 2015

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

    I’ve made the point before. Our October Years are a time of change. Just think how crazy it gets sometimes. Is this what we imagined when we first looked forward to our calm, quiet, and hopefully eventful Golden Years? 
    For years, even decades, you and I have looked ahead, thinking a little or a lot about this time of life. I hope the reality you are living matches the dreams you’ve dreamed---though of course we know it’s not that way for everyone. And too, even if you are among the fortunate ones, there is always the chance of being blindsided by some innocent appearing event you had never considered a threat to your peace or sanity. 
    I am willing to count Roma and myself among the lucky ones. We’re as healthy as seventy-eight year olds have a right to expect. Our offspring are doing well and out modest retirement seems both satisfying and secure. By all accounts life was good. At least that’s the way it looked to us, until IT raised it’s ugly head.
    Perhaps like you, we had spent a lifetime accumulating “stuff”---all matter of “stuff.” We had things we just couldn’t do without at some time in the past, reminders of family times and growing children, mementos of special events and places. Year by year we wrapped ourselves in bits and pieces of our own history, filling our closets and corners with evidence of whom we had been and what we had done. There were times when our home groaned under the weight of stuff. A time or two it even spilled out into a rented storage space. 
    That was all well and good until IT happened. By then there was no avoiding it. The signs were everywhere. It was time for us to slow down a bit, to shift to a lower gear. That happens, you know. It’s like that for lots of October folks---that time of life when the big house and all that goes with it becomes too much to deal with any longer. Some folks will decide to relocate, perhaps finding retirement more appealing in a Sun Belt location. For others it may be the reality of health issues or October economics that dictates a change. Whatever the reason that time will probably come---the time to DOWNSIZE
    At first blush we may actually look forward to the process, with its promise of blessed freedom---liberation from so much stuff. The reality, however, can be something very different. As always, it is about choices. First were the choices we made in some earlier time, when we decided to keep some memento or reminder, that bit of stuff worth saving. Now we are about to face a new round of choices---what to keep, what to let go. 
    The gist of it is simple enough. For whatever reasons you have decided to make-do with less, to part with some portion of your carefully accumulated treasures. But which ones will you do without? There are so many---all of them with their own special meaning to one or both of you. What are you willing to give away? Which of your memories are disposable? And who gets to make those choices? Finally, what if the two of you don’t agree?
    Though we are veterans, perhaps “survivors” is a better word, of that trying process, 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 sorts of downsizing.
  First, in Breathing Underwater, the Camdens are contemplating the need to move to a smaller, less expensive home---which will necessarily mean getting by with less space.
    At that moment Jim and Anita Camden were sitting on folding chairs in the middle of their two-car garage. The car had been moved outside to make room for their work. Around them, on both sides of the open room, long shelves held an eclectic assortment of cardboard boxes, each one a repository of some bit of their personal histories, 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 quandary. 
    They were effectively surrounded by their own past. As always it would be about choices, Jim reminded himself--- suddenly captured by that insight. The persons they had become and the lives they had created were the results of choices made along the way. Now, awash in unexpected anxiety, they were about to come face to face with stark reminders of that past.
   Each of those boxes concealed the evidence of earlier choices---reminders of some once-special time that 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, as Jim had explained, was simple enough. It would involve 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 begin---at least until Jim watched his wife’s head sink into her cradling 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 the logic of what must be done. 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 sort of downsizing. Aaron Peck’s wife has been moved to an Alzheimer’s ward and the big house must be sold to pay for her care. Again, it was about choices---choices he must make for the two of them---choices he wished he did not have to make.
    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 mementos they wanted for themselves. In the end he avoided the weekend garage sale they held to dispose of the remaining items. It was more than he was willing to bear, watching the remnants 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 had made it necessary.
    Downsizing---some of us will avoid that trial and all that goes with it by doing nothing, leaving family and friends to deal with that after they are gone. For the rest of us the process will be a bitter-sweet visit to earlier times---a return that is bound to include hard choices and occasional regret.
    Finally, if you know someone who is or might be facing their own downsizing challenge you might pass this on to them. Perhaps they need to know that the choices will be hard, they may not agree about what is worth saving, and once they are done the remaining doubts they feel are quite normal. In the end it is a matter of life-balance---one way or another we are destined to part with all that stuff we have saved to remind us of what once was.


  1. Another one of those October tests, eh? There always seems to be one more.