Just an Arrangement
Our “other” house is under contract and set to close within a couple of weeks. This will be a relief to us, both financially and psychologically. So why do I feel ambivalent about it?
The two years we lived there were among the most difficult years of my life.
It’s the place where I watched my mother’s mind deteriorate into dementia and her body slip inexorably out of her control.
But it’s also where I saw her every day, made her coffee, laughed with her, enjoyed the sense of humor she still had.
It’s where I came downstairs from our second-floor apartment several times a day to check on her on the first floor, where I might find she’d been incontinent or left the teakettle on to boil dry or was wearing the same clothes she’d had on the last two days or was trying to call my brother, having forgotten he had passed away.
It’s also where I came downstairs one day to find her sitting in an armchair in the foyer with the door open, watching the rain fall, in peace and contentment.
Where I saw her little smile of pleasure each time I reminded her that my husband and I lived right upstairs from her. “Over my head?” she’d ask, pointing to the ceiling. Yes, mom, right over your head. And where I saw her face collapse in grief every time I had to remind her about my brother.
It’s the house where I became her full-time caregiver, taking away the independence she’d had living on her own but giving her safety, security, and care in exchange.
In my office in our apartment I tried to juggle my freelance career with my responsibility for her and didn’t always succeed. Part of my mind was always on her. Was she sleeping safely in her recliner, or had she gotten up and fallen? Had she forgotten where she was and was feeling panicky? Would she open the downstairs door and yell up, “Is anybody here?”
Every night, after spending the evening downstairs with her, I would come back into our apartment and breathe a sigh of relief at having gotten through another day. I’d pray to God to give me strength for the next day, and for the unknown number of days ahead of us. Until the day we were able to get back to our own home in Providence and resume our normal lives.
I thought about that day so often and always felt guilty for wishing for it, because when that day came, I thought, it would mean she was gone.
As it happened, though, that day came before we lost her. It came after her fall and broken hip, when in spite of successful surgery she no longer had the cognitive capacity to do rehab and so was unable to walk again.
When she went into assisted living, we began planning for our move back to our own home. We gave our tenants two months’ notice. Yet, although I had thought I’d be nothing but happy about going back, something else had happened.
Our temporary house had sent roots into our hearts.
It’s where we were living when we got our dog. When I discovered the joy of crocheting. When I first started doing morning runs, into the village a mile away, past the river and cove where the sun sparkled on the water.
It’s the last place where we were together with my mother.
We always knew we’d be returning to Providence. This house was always just an arrangement for my mother’s care. Yet in spite of the difficult circumstances, we’d become attached to it and to the neighborhood.
Even now, almost three years since we moved back, I still occasionally miss that house. I sometimes wonder whether it might not be smart to keep it as an investment. But the market is so uncertain, and we were never cut out to be landlords. Selling is logically the best thing.
I used to think my memories of the time we lived there would be painful and hard. But the difficult memories have blended with the good ones. When I look back now I see a complex and intricate tapestry of two years of our lives.
So I do feel a little sad. But I have that tapestry now, and that’s nothing to regret.