By Ellen Smith.
As you live your life, it is hard to ever imagine getting older, and yet you might find yourself like my husband and me, now the oldest ones in our family. How did so much time go by? It seems like just yesterday, we fell in love and then raised four sons. And now today, we are the grandparents to four amazing grandchildren and the oldest in the family.
You tend to remain young in heart but the body slowly begins its decline. For those of us living in chronic pain, life’s inevitable changes can often come on more quickly than anticipated. At some point, decisions need to be made if is it time to move to a smaller home with different accommodations, possibly one floor, with better access to necessary services. The alternative is to assume all will be fine. There is always a case to be made for the emotional comfort of staying where you are, a place that is filled with memories and one that provided you with a sense of peace and comfort that familiarity often provides. I selfishly just assumed we would always live on our farm and someday when we passed, our children would have to take on the responsibility of closing down the property and belongings. But I had that wrong!
Due to my condition making me be so delicate, I had to stop painting and shingling the house, turning the soil over in the garden, walking the dogs, among the many necessary and enjoyable chores my husband and I shared over the three decades of living on the small farm we both cherished. Most of the labor related to living on the family farm has fallen on my husband, now, for many years. We made a pact that when he felt this work was no longer fun and/or functional for him, that we would make that big decision as to what and where to move to. We were well aware that our new living arrangements would result in dramatic changes to many aspects of our lives. We hoped we would take this change as a positive challenge and new horizon to look forward to.
Well, this was the year to figure out how to activate this thought of a move. After a rough winter for us both, each having surgery and colds that seemed to last for weeks, my husband decided that is was time to consider a move. Since that conversation, we both began to feel unsettled and insecure about life and our future.
As we began to consider our options, our oldest son and daughter-in-law offered for us the thought of selling our farm and building a small home attached to their home in the same town. There would be one door to allow entry from one home to the other that would only be used for emergency situations and during other family visits. After consideration of an apartment, townhouse, assistant living etc., this idea seemed to instantly offer us warmth, security and hope that life would still be full and filled with love of family. We could stay in our town we love where we raised our four sons, still be near dear friends established for years, and stay in a familiar setting. And most of all for me – this choice would mean not ever having to consider being moved to a nursing home or even assisted living. The sad truth is that my two incurable medical conditions have created the need for a very specialized diet and a whole host of daily medications. Over the past decade, I have been in many different professionally staffed medical facilities from hospitals to rehabilitation centers. Unfortunately, there have been rare exceptions where I have I had my critical needs met and the consequences have often been catastrophic, almost costing me my life on a number of occasions. Moving to my son’s property means we didn’t have to stress about those issues that a move anywhere else would bring on. We both knew that this would be our final home that someday, one of us would be alone in yet, with the comfort of family right next door.
After the decision was made to take them up on their idea of building on their property, I was suddenly riddled with a new stress – how was I going to be able to do the work it was going to take to go through years of belongings to be able to downsize? Living with Ehlers-Danlos and sarcoidosis, I can’t lift more than five pounds without damage, can’t always even walk farther than to the car, and have numerous days that I am not able to accomplish as much as I would love to. I felt childish and immature that I was reacting this way. And then one day, actually on my birthday, my health again became serious and I was fighting to stay alive. It was in that moment that I became grateful I was still alive and it was suddenly now an honor to be able to go through my years of living in our home, instead of a stressful assignment. I realized I had time to just take one small section of space at a time to go through. We found a young man that is collecting what we no longer want that will he be able to make money, that he desperately needs, by setting up a yard sale. I don’t have the energy or desire to take that on anymore. I am just happy to get through my days the best I can.
So, the process is beginning. The move is going to happen, the changes are real and we will continue to deal with the emotions this all is creating. We love the life we have had on this farm along with all the amazing adventures and memories. We raised organic food that we filled our freezer with, sold our eggs to Whole Foods, raised our own meat, created our own skating rink with plastic in the yard, made our own goat cheese from milking a goat, and the list of fun activities goes on and on. But we are ready physically, if not emotionally, to make this transition.
I had to talk myself down when I was pregnant, wondering how the heck this baby would get out of me by reminding myself that women have successfully given birth for years. In fact, I remember even reading that years ago, women would give birth in the field and then go back to work after. So that would calm me down – if they could do this, then I could too. So, I am using that same idea in an effort to attempt to settle my emotions relative to this big change about to happen in our lives – everyone else before me has had to make these kind of decisions – to move or not to move and if so, where and even how to do it all!
Aging makes you appreciate your parents and gives you a better understanding of what they also had to face. I actually wish I had been even more sensitive to the decisions and changes they chose to make. Looking back, I now understand how big this moment was. You face your immortality, your friendships and comfort zones.
I will always be grateful to our son and daughter-in-law for offering to allow us to become part of their lives. We all know the reality of what they are going to face. One of us will pass and the other will be left alone and lost for a time until the routine of life takes over and slowly helps heal the loss. The thought that my husband and I will not have to face that moment alone, is very comforting. We will always have them there next door and a grandson, whose life we will have the privilege of watching unfold. Believe me, we know how very lucky we are for this offer and hope that others in this situation will find the similar possibilities. While I do not believe we have ever taken family for granted, this experience has served to demonstrate the need we all have for that emotional safety net which, in many cases, only a family can provide when facing what feels like insurmountable physical and emotional challenges.
May life be kind to you!
Ellen Lenox Smith is an activist for the expansion of medical cannabis to treat chronic pain and is also a Board Member of the US Pain Foundation. Her opinions are her own and don’t necessarily reflect US Pain Foundation or other organizations she works with.
Quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson –
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”