Planning too early beats failing to plan
When we were growing up, we were always told to be prepared. Do your homework when you get home from school instead of waiting until midnight, and many other logical preparations.
I had a very unstable childhood. We moved around a lot. I was always adjusting to a new school, trying to make new friends. My parents both loved me, but they didn’t love each other.
Being prepared ahead of time was a well-ingrained habit for me. It gave me some stability where it did not exist in my daily life.
Now that I am 80, there is even more truth in that; at least I thought so.
I live far from any family and thought that moving closer to one of my sons would be a good idea, so I started the process with great vigor. I began before even visiting senior living facilities.
I made a list of furniture that I would like to sell or give away, and I put notes on the actual items. I mentioned this to a few friends who live in my huge apartment building in northern Virginia.
Before I knew it, people were asking to look at the furniture. I wasn’t quite prepared for that enthusiasm but thought it was a good thing. After all, you can only sit in one chair at a time.
As I write this, I have already sold my dining room set, a sofa bed that guests used, the couch in the living room and an end table.
Then I thought I should thin out my clothes because I would not need a lot of different outfits in a senior community. I started searching in my garment bags for things I would never wear again. This turned out to be many more than I had imagined.
Then I decided that some of my clothes from the old days when I had pitch black hair would not look so good with white hair. And I started pulling out more clothes to give away.
Perhaps this advanced planning was getting out of hand.
For many years when I was growing up, my parents sent me to a psychiatrist — probably thinking it would help them with their problems, too. It didn’t work well at the time, but in a much later stage of life it has been very helpful.
I now talk to a psychiatrist once a month by phone. When I told her I was selling my furniture and giving my clothes away to charity, she was speechless. Then she hammered me with, “You are nowhere near ready for a senior living facility. Planning too far in advance is like letting go of the reins and not knowing where to go.”
I guess planning too early is as bad as planning too late. We all have a lot to learn.
Aging seems to foster accumulation, when in fact it should inspire the opposite. There is, in fact, a growing tendency to hold on to things, not in case we should really need them, but more perhaps in blocking out the thought of dying and not needing anything ever again.
Growing up, I remember my aunts going through a deceased aunt’s closet and saying, “What the hell did she need this for — a night on the town with her cane and her heating pad?”
It’s important to save things, special things, objects of beautiful memories, love letters, necklaces, pocket watches and the like. Aunt Maybell did not mean for you to save her garters and underpants.
Some things are treasures, but many have the status I call “pile-up.” Pile-up is anything that could possibly be useful in the future, but just as possibly not.
Many of us also become collectors of fine paintings, maps or jewelry that perhaps even museums might want.
There are still things left that have meaning or worth, especially to grown children or grandchildren. This is where the trouble often arises that causes family disputes.
Something as small as a unique set of coasters from Italy, a hand-carved pipe from New Zealand or a beaded Indian necklace from New Mexico can become a battlefield.
Our children and their children are often quite attached to these items and their history. When we die, some of the grief that loved ones express gets played out in angry competition for these items. This behavior can even create permanent schisms in a family.
A workable solution to avoid these troubles after your death is something I tried when I was in my mid-seventies. At a holiday meal at my apartment with my sons and their children, I made this announcement:
“After dinner, go around the apartment and list the items you would like to have. I will save these pages until I’m ready to move to a senior living facility. Before my move, I will send each of you your choices. If there is competition for an item or a piece of furniture, I will decide, trying to be fair.”
As I write this, I am planning to move within five weeks. I have mailed most of the items and furniture already. It has worked out extremely well, and I have had the joy of seeing all these things in my children’s homes. There was never a moment of dissention.
This is an excerpt from the book, An Invitation to the Country Called Aging, by Patricia Garfinkel and Myra Sklarew. To order a copy, go to politics-prose.com.