For the person selling the family home in their 70s, 80s, or 90s, it represents so much more than a change of residence.
And this group has a limited voice and not much say over what happens when adult children step in to be “practical” or “realistic”. It is rather like looking at the folks who endured the dust bowl phenomenon in Oklahoma. “Why didn’t they just leave?” Why endure that horrific dust and wind and loss and devastation year after year? Because it was Home.
Home resides somewhere deep in the heart’s vault, unseen, but felt. Both a space and a place where we feel our bearings are clear, our expectations comfortable, some certainty surely exists at home. So when the dust rolled the first year in Oklahoma, they believed it would get better, pass by the next year. Or the next, or the next. Then after 7 years of endurance, well, surely it was coming to an end, we can’t leave now! And on it went. From the outside, it seems so easy.
“Pack up and get out!”
So it is with aging in the family home.
“I’ll manage, I’ll be fine. I’ll hire a gardener. I’ll get a housecleaner. Maybe someone can drive me to the store? I can have things delivered. I can stay in my home. It’s familiar, it’s where I have memories, it’s me.”
If one is a surviving spouse, of a beloved partner, who lived a marriage in this house, than it is even more difficult. You are not only leaving the house but you are leaving the frail shell, the sweet container, in which that marriage took place. Where will the marriage be if not in that house? Will it exist in my memory the same way from an assisted living community? I feel guilty letting my partner down, even if he/she has passed. My partner loved this house. I can’t let go.
I can’t let go.
Meanwhile, adult children are worried about falls, accidents, scams, nutrition, depression and loneliness. They want peace of mind at almost any price. They push, cajole, plead, beg, suggest, insist, motivate the parent to sell the house.
This cycle can take 2-5 years depending on the health and finances of the elder whose home is at stake. Gradually they come to see the wisdom of downsizing, but there are less painful ways to get them to acceptance and wonderfully human strategies to help them adapt to an assisted living of quality.