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Posts Tagged ‘Nursing home’

After 99 years, dismantling a life

In aging, antiques, art, beauty, behavior, culture, design, domestic life, family, life, seniors, urban life on June 15, 2013 at 12:50 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

An auctioneer and her assistants scan the crow...

An auctioneer and her assistants scan the crowd for bidders. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She moved onto our top-floor apartment hallway five years ago, forking over a cool $500,000 for a three-bedroom home. She dressed well, had her hair done, and had a ferocious grande dame quality to her.

She was then merely 95, a former interior designer and survivor of two marriages. She had, as they say, “married well.”

I knew her name. We all did. We also knew her live-in nurses, forever scurrying to the laundry room.

While we were away recently for two weeks, she died.

This week the auctioneer came from the Bronx and his men started packing up the remnants of her life into boxes for sale to strangers: china, crystal, oil paintings, chairs, tables, rugs.

I knocked on the apartment door and asked if I could take a look, as it’s now up for sale and one of the building’s most coveted, large and light, with terrific Hudson river and Manhattan views.

Small world — her grand-daughter-in-law was there and turns out to be someone I see at my jazz dance class every week.

It was a sad, odd thing to watch someone’s belongings being carted away, to be sold at auction in — of all places — Atlanta. She had some lovely things, especially the paintings. There were early photos of her.

One of the many challenges of having no children and no nieces or nephews, is whom, if anyone, to leave our things to — or the proceeds from the sale of those things — when we die. I’m at an age when I still very much appreciate beautiful objects and acquiring them here and there.

But, having had to move my own mother into a nursing home directly from the hospital with only a week to ditch  all her lovely things, (or store them, or move a fraction of it into her small new room), I’ve lived the horror and sadness and snap decision-making of selecting/tossing/selling stuff it’s taken decades of taste, income and pleasure to acquire and enjoy.

The marble bust of her grand-mother? Kept. All her many textiles, collected across the world as she traveled alone for decades? In my garage now.

It meant chattering away to her local auctioneer picking through her stuff as if this was not exquisitely uncomfortable and painful. To him, it was just another day of work. To me, a situation unimaginable barely six months earlier on my last visit to her home, a six-hour flight away from mine.

It also meant going through things with my mother, one of the most private and uncommunicative people I know  — holding up for her decision everything from a black Merry Widow corset to her gorgeous red leather knee-high Cossack-style boots. Her Greek texts and travel souvenirs.

My garage now holds her collection of beautiful Peruvian and Bolivian mantas and Indian cottons and silks, her molas from the San Blas Islands.

A Kuna woman displays a selection of molas for...

A Kuna woman displays a selection of molas for sale at her home in the San Blas Islands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When her mother died, having simply ignored the tedious task of paying income tax on her significant wealth to any form of government for decades, there was very little left. I will not be inheriting anything from my grandmother’s estate. I can visit a museum in Toronto to see her former armoire.

Nor will I inherit from my mother, I suspect, for reasons too grim and arcane to discuss here.

I’ve told my father the few pieces of his art and furniture that I hope he’ll leave to me. But who knows?

It’s all stuff, in the end.

Unlike Egyptian kings, we’re not going to be buried with it.

Have you been through this process?

How do you plan to dispose of your stuff when that day comes?

Seeing With Fresh Eyes

In behavior, design, domestic life, family, Health, life, love, Money, women on March 28, 2011 at 11:54 am
The 'Glasses Apostle' in the altarpiece of the...

Time for a new vision? Definitely! Image via Wikipedia

I returned home a few weeks ago after a three-week absence, the longest I had been away for a few years in one stretch.

I suddenly saw the bedroom, robin’s egg blue, with fresh eyes, and I wanted a change, a big one.

Now it’s soft, warm gray — the same color we’ve had in our small dining room for a few years. It’s the exact shade of cigarette ash, soothing yet clean and crisp without being cold. (It’s called Modern Gray from Sherwin-Williams and the owners of Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie [one of my favorite stores] have the exact same color in their country home.)

One of the great challenges of everyday life is being able to see things with fresh eyes. It all starts to blur after a while into a haze of comforting, familiar, routine sameness.

Putting my mother into a nursing home jolted me — hard — out of this stupor.

I sat with her at dinner, a silent room filled with nodding gray heads, and came home desperately grateful for my sweetie’s laughter and loud music and even the noisy small baby downstairs.

We sorted through boxes of her belongings, lovely things she had acquired from all over the world, from hand-embroidered dresses from India to a folk art wooden animal she bought in London. I came home determined to toss everything without meaning or serious value to me, from my old wedding ring to the armoire that’s been in the garage for three years.

The cost of her care every month is as much as we, combined, earn. Now we’re looking into long-term care insurance.

What has sharpened your vision lately?

My New Mom, At 76

In behavior, children, domestic life, family, Health, life, love, women on March 4, 2011 at 2:37 pm
The Macchu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Sit...

Machu Picchu, Peru, where Mom and I climbed and once saw the sunrise together...Image via Wikipedia

Today is going to be a difficult day, as I’ll say goodbye to my mother — who I’ve typically been seeing only once a year for years, living a six-hour flight away from her.

Two weeks ago, I and a friend of hers moved her into a nursing home, her car and apartment sold, her Japanese prints and engravings and rugs sent to auction, some of her linens and antique textiles given to me and shipped back to New York, where I live.

I’m her only child.

She’s a new person, now, in a totally new environment, a loner surrounded by people she has just met and whose care and attention (or lack of same) will profoundly affect her every day and night. I’d be terrified. But she’s doing well. I burst into tears of relief yesterday at a pub lunch with her when she told me that her three windows, which overlook a private garden, were like three television sets, all view, all the time. She’s happy and healthy, and she had been neither for a long time.

I have been told — and see glimpses of it — she has some dementia. Yet we talked last night, in detail, about family and friends for four hours. I feel as though her intelligence is sands in an hourglass, and I have to grab it and savor it as often as I can.

Which is very difficult over the phone and from an enormous physical distance. Yet I am rooted to my adopted town and country — a half hour drive from her birthplace — as she is in hers, a 20-minute flight from mine.

We did not get along for many years. We’re stubborn, headstrong, feisty, private. I haven’t lived with her since I was 14 and we have always lived a continent or an ocean apart: she in Lima, I in Toronto; she in New Mexico, I in Montreal.

The closest we ever lived, when I was 26, was when she lived in Bath, England and I in Paris. I remember saying to her that year “I’ll meet you at the plane station”, a direct/weird translation of “aerogare”, aka an airport. That’s what happens when you think and dream in French!

Now, after 3.5 months in the hospital and a hip surgery and a bowel surgery, adjusting to the discomfort and indignity of a colostomy bag, she looks healthy and happy again. She uses a walker, but does so with an energy I hadn’t seen in a while.

Being my Mom, she told me to lose weight and asked me to buy her some tweezers — as a former model and actress, such details still matter!

So it’s with a heavy heart I peck out these letters in my hotel room, counting the minutes until I have to say goodbye.

It was never this hard before.

At A Loss For Words

In behavior, children, domestic life, family, Health, life, love, parenting, women on February 22, 2011 at 6:41 am
A swarm of birds in the summer evening at Bitt...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s been the most exhausting and emotionally wrenching week of my life.

This morning my Mom — the woman who’s lived alone in Lima, Bath, Roswell, NM, Gibsons, B.C., Toronto — who’s been from Nauru to Oaxaca — moved into one room, in a nursing home.

The woman who covered the Chicago Eight trial as a radio reporter, who cried on my 11th birthday the morning she served me blueberry pie in bed because Bobby Kennedy had been shot. The woman whose hair color changed almost daily in the 1960s thanks to a fab collection of wigs, and the confidence to pull it (them) off.

Whose collection of mantas, moles and delicate cashmere Indian shawls, collected on her travels, inspired my lifelong love of textiles and my own collection of them.

I joined her for dinner (served at an ungodly 5:00 p.m., with several of her dining room companions asleep at their tables) and kept her company as she ate a bit of beans and corn and pork. She didn’t like the meal or even the china mug her tea was served in.

Then we sat in her room and talked for a few hours. I asked about Edgar, a folk art animal she has owned for as long as I have known her; she bought him in London when we lived there. I showed her some recent winter nature photos I had shot.

And then I had to leave — and she gave me a dazzling smile.

We’re good at that, that stiff upper lip thing.

Beats crying.

Doesn’t it?

Who Cares For The Caregiver?

In antiques, art, behavior, children, domestic life, family, Health, life, love, parenting, women on February 18, 2011 at 4:44 am
Old Town, Victoria, British Columbia, includin...

Victoria, B.C. Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been in Victoria, B.C. for only two days, after flying from New York, where I live. I’m here, the only child, with a shared power of attorney with a friend of my mother’s, to put my mom — one of the most ferociously private and independent women I’ve ever met — into a nursing home. She is only 76.

To describe this week as painful and sad and wrenching is to understate the maelstrom of emotions threatening to engulf us both. Yet there is no time to zone out emotionally or intellectually, no matter how tempting.

Despite my own fears, sadness, jet lag, fatigue and general sense of overhelmedness, like everyone trying to be a caregiver, I must be on, present, attentive, meticulous in my attention to every detail — from the screwdriver I need to borrow (a Philips head? not sure) to detach the antique medicine cabinet in the upstairs bathroom to sell at auction to the 24-paragraph contract I signed today with the nursing home, the one with so  many contingencies it made my head spin.

The most challenging piece of all this? Taking care of myself.

So, which is not at all typical of how I handle my life, I am telling almost everyone I meet here, from the clerk at the grocery store to the woman selling me a mid-afternoon cappuccino, why I’m here, and savoring, gratefully, the kindness I encounter. Victoria is the Florida of Canada, the one city where so many Canadian seniors choose to retire — and often end up moving into a nursing home here. So everyone, from the attorney to the auctioneer, knows the territory and how it feels for the caregiver rushed into a welter of decisions.

What to sell? What to keep?

How do I break the news, as I had to this afternoon, sitting on the bed beside her in the hospital (where she has been for 3.5 months) that my mother’s new home — one small room — simply does not have room for two chests of drawers. Just one. Which would she prefer?

It is a hideous and heartbreaking question to ask. I wish she could have stayed in the other room we found — twice its size and easily holding many more of her beloved things. But the owner of that nursing home was a really nasty piece of work and also refused to accommodate my mother’s newly-discovered celiac disease.

There is no way to make life in one small room, eating meals with 52 strangers beneath extremely bright overhead lights, especially alluring.

And then I gave her, too soon perhaps, probably the worst possible news she could have heard, beyond a terminal diagnosis. She is a woman who traveled South America alone in her 40s, lived alone in Lima and Bath and Roswell, NM after married life in London and Vancouver and Toronto….it was, that because of her damaged lungs, she will likely never be allowed to fly in an airplane again.

Her shoulders sagged and I wished more than anything I could have snatched those words back again. But I could not. I cannot.

And she lives a six-hour flight away from me, an impossible distance for her to travel by car or train or bus. Neither can either of us, for several reasons, move closer to one another.

So I despair of my inability to comfort her and turn back the clock. I feel powerless and angry and sad.

So I call my sweetie and he hugs me over the phone. I sleep a deep, restorative 9 to 10 hours every night. I have a beer or a glass of wine. I sort through my mother’s linens and books and dishes and glasses and wonder when or where someone will do this for me. I vow to return home and clear to the bare walls our garage and storage lockers full of…stuff.

Here’s a fantastic, detailed story by author Gail Sheehy about coping with her husband’s cancer from the March issue of Woman’s Day on caregiving. The issue also contains a story about how to prepare for this role, with lots of practical advice.

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