Saturday, June 18, 2022

Beware, IT is lurking in the shadows, waiting to impose it's will


   I have 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 the expected calm and quiet     our so-called Golden Years? 

For years, even decades, you and I looked ahead, thinking a little or a lot about these late-life retirement years. I hope the reality you are now living matches the dreams you dreamed….though of course, we know it’s not that way for everyone. And too, even if so far 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. 

A few years ago I would have been willing to count Roma and myself among the lucky ones. At that point we were as healthy as seventy-eight year olds had a right to expect. Our offspring were doing well and our modest retirement seemed both satisfying and secure. By all accounts life had been good to us. At least that’s the way it looked, until IT raised it’s ugly head.

Perhaps like you, we had spent a lifetime accumulating “stuff”….all matter of “stuff.” We had boxes of things that at some time in the past we just couldn’t do without. There were reminders of family times and growing children, mementos of special events and places. Year by year we had wrapped ourselves in bits and pieces of our own history, filling our closets and corners with evidence of whom we had been, where we had gone, and what we had done. There were times when our home groaned under the weight of stuff. On a couple occasions it even spilled out into a rented storage space. 

But so what? Did it really matter? Truth to tell, it was all well and good until IT happened. By then there was no avoiding what came next. 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 is 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 for IT will come for most folks….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. We had made the first of our choices at some earlier time, when we decided to keep those mementos and reminders, the things that seemed worth saving. As we downsize we face a new round of choices….what to keep, what to let go. 

The gist of it is simple enough. For whatever reason you have decided to make-do with less, to part with some portion of your carefully accumulated treasures. But which of those are you willing to do without? There are so many of them….each one with its own special meaning to one or both of you. Which of your memories are disposable? What are you willing to give away?  And who gets to make those choices? Finally, what if the two of you don’t agree on the fate of some special thing?

Though Roma and I 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 story 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 the unexpected anxiety that accompanies a financially necessary change, they were about to come face to face with stark reminders of that past.

Each of those boxes contained the evidence of earlier choices….reminders of once-special times 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 the children wanted, 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 then, and it still is.”

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.

On the other hand, the story Best Friends and Promises 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 could avoid.

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 their daughters 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 Aaron 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 choose to avoid those trials and all that goes with them 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 post on to them. Perhaps they need to know that even though the choices will be hard, and they may not agree about what is worth saving….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.

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