When your home is no longer a castle

(Part 1)

It is human nature to complain. Especially for a “chronic kvetch” like me.

When caring for my mother long distance, it seemed obvious to me that the best way my late father could have spent his money was to secure (ahead of time) long-term-care insurance so she could stay in her home. It would have been impossible to keep her there with 24/7 home health aides without it.

But shortly after she passed away, another reality hit me—that the money spent on long-term-care could not also be spent on purchasing their apartment.

The apartment was nothing special, yet it was everything special. It had two bedrooms and two baths, and a copious amount of closets uncommon in newer dwellings. It also had a terrace—which made Manhattanites feel they had more space than they actually did. But my father had obtained permission—the first and only tenant in the building to do so—to make room for more shelves and books.

It was a doorman building. Nothing elegant, but well maintained. In fact, whenever the management made an attempt to prettify the lobby, at least several people would complain that the rent was likely to go up and that the efforts didn’t suit. Every holiday season a hanukkiah, and a Christmas tree adorned the lobby, and extra lights. Requests for repairs were mostly fulfilled quickly, though not always by fluent English speakers. The elevators were rarely out, and came quickly.

Above all, the apartment was about location, location, location. Much to my initial despair, my parents left their Brooklyn apartment to move to Manhattan so my father could be closer to work—in fact, he gave up his car and walked there. The Upper East Side apartment was close to all kinds of shopping, synagogues, and train stations (even the genesis of the long-awaited Second Avenue subway). It was like six avenue blocks from Museum Mile, and the same distance from entrances to Central Park. And there was another smaller park, near the Mayor’s mansion and the East River.

Considering Manhattan to have been a fine place to visit but kind of “scary” to live in, I was at first very unhappy about the move. But within six months, I was sold, and Brooklyn began to be “foreign territory.”

So what could be bad? On top of all those attractions, the rent was amazing. No one could believe an Upper East Side apartment could be had for so little. And by the time my parents became “senior citizens” officially (though to me they remained young for many more years), the building had turned coop. But they could not be forced to buy. Had they bought, the rent would have gone up considerably…

And then my father, and later my mother, passed away. Suddenly it occurred to me that the apartment they had occupied for 44 years wasn’t going to be theirs anymore. I would have been able to hold onto the apartment had it been my primary residence—but that would have meant getting my mail there and voting there and having a driver’s license there, when I lived 180 miles away in Harrisburg, Pa.

The most the management would do was honor my mother’s lease, which had about a year and a half to go. We could keep furniture in the apartment, but we couldn’t stay overnight or allow an auctioneer to sell things off unless a family member was there. That would have meant doing a lot more traveling back and forth and losing more time on my work—as I had done for the three years of my mother’s illness. Besides, paying rent on a lease that would end in the apartment being sold at a price nowhere near affordable was only postponing the inevitable.

Caregiving: Effects


Have you ever heard the expression, “Small children, small problems–big children, big problems”? I discovered, as many caregivers do, that just about all problems when dealing with older loved ones are big ones!

Caregiving makes for wear and tear on the body and mind in a way that might even outpace that of child care, especially for those doing both at the same time. Anxiety, sleeplessness, overeating or undereating, depression, sadness, anger, doubt, worry. These are just some of the emotions and behaviors you can expect. And of course, that’s assuming you don’t have any other problems or obligations in life!

What were some of the ways I dealt with the physical and psychological symptoms? Everyone has a different way to cope, and what worked for me (or didn’t) wouldn’t necessarily apply to anyone else. But then, they might.

For one thing, I walked as many morning as I could with a partner–which increased the likelihood I would actually do it. Though we rarely spoke about the issues of caregiving, which she had also gone through, just the physical exercise and the natural light were helpful.

I tried to increase my creative activities. While most of my writing is journalistic and non-fiction, I spent time I really didn’t have on writing plays–which both took me out of my world into others but also made me feel that there was much about life that was transcendent. I even wrote my first children’s musical during the grieving process for my mother. Since she had always encouraged me to be a writer, I like to think she was singing along. :)

Though I didn’t have the time, again, I joined the boards of a few organizations. It seemed helpful to be around a lot of different groups of people. Though feeling like a “butterfly,” not spending too much time with the same people was a relief; I was unlikely to vent too much. On the other hand, speaking with good friends who understood (and it was easy to ascertain who they were) brought enjoyment and satisfaction on a different level. So did listening to other people, whose problems were less severe or more severe than mine.

At the same time, I indulged in some “mindless” activities–like watching a great many old movies on TCM as background noise for my work. And I probably spent more time than necessary in thrift shops. I’ve never enjoyed department stores, but going to thrift shops is like being on a treasure hunt–an inexpensive one. It’s always been a kind of harmless drug.

Donating money to good causes was another high, as is visiting the sick in hospitals and nursing homes through a local group. Putting yourself in the place of others with problems can certainly make you appreciate what you have, and you will be appreciated.

None of these suggestions, if they’re even that, are profound or new. But they worked for me.