When Parents Decide to Downsize (a Peek into my Family Life)

“I want to move while I still have a sound mind,” Mom said. She was in her sixties, and she and Dad knew they wouldn’t be able to stay on their country property forever. “I want to be able to decide where we live and what we’ll take with us and what we’ll get rid of when it’s time.”


My parents had lived in the same homestead they’d raised us in. As adults, now with our own lives, spouses, children, my five younger siblings and I would return to that familiar place we once called home and celebrate together. Christmas. Easter. Thanksgiving Day. We sat with our own children around that same table from our childhoods – the one we did homework on and had breakfast at before heading off to school. We sang in four-part harmony, with some playing guitars, just as we did when I was a child. There’s something special about connecting our pasts with theirs, overlapping memories like that.


But my parents knew it couldn’t last forever and began to prepare for their inevitable move. They took it slow. Over months and years, they took time going through their belongings and preparing for the estate auction sale they’d eventually have.


Finally the day came. It felt strange to watch their possessions be sold piece by piece like that. The old familiar coffee table we’d laughed around, the familiar serving dishes we’d all eaten from together. The paintings I’d thoughtfully stared at as a child. It felt weird, but it was also good for us to be there – I think it gave us a sense of closure and helped Mom, Dad, and the children and even grandchildren with the process of letting go.


That was ten years ago. They bought a condominium in town and have embraced the new chapter of their lives, diving right into the community life of living in town and in a building with others. I love seeing them take hold of it. I love having them near enough that I run into them in a local restaurant or see them go for a walk when I’m driving in town.


We feel the change the most when we try to get together.

We won’t all fit in a condo suite, after all.


It felt like a jarring difference at first to have to rent a facility for gatherings or meet in someone else’s home. But it quickly became the new normal. At Christmas my parents always rent a place for us to get together. They make sure we have a lot of space so that we are able to do some sort of activity together. Usually there’s a place to play sports. They make sure there’s enough room for everyone to eat in one room. Most of all there has to be a place where we can pull out the guitar and sing our hearts out. As soon as we gather around the table to eat or around the guitar to sing songs in that familiar four-part harmony, we once again feel at home together.


Home, we discovered, was never a place; it was the happy experience of being together.


Letting go doesn’t have to be as difficult as one might fear. Especially when we have the blessing of living near each other and being able to get together and love each other.


We are blessed to have the memories of the past and the old homestead. We are even more blessed to continue to spend time together and watch our families grow.


What ‘new normal’ have you experienced, and what felt like “home” to you in it?

What was that all about?

90 years old!

I walked into the room at Bethesda place nursing home where the family was gathering to honor my grandmother.  Voices were buzzing all around. It was the sound of a happy family.

There were cousins in the room that I had not seen in over twenty years.  Then there was my cousin John.  He and I were the first-born grandchildren and are only a week apart in age.


My eyes darted across the room and that’s when I saw it.  The look on my grandmother’s face.  The room was full of people, yet she was sitting alone.  She was so emotional. Already tired too, I am sure.

I grew up going to Grandma’s on Sunday’s. We used to watch Walt Disney on Sunday’s with Grandpa (who is no longer with us). I stayed over for summer holidays too.

I used to do Grandma’s hair. We had deep talks. Later in years, when she was living at Fernwood Place, I used to go massage her feet and shoulders for her. I loved to pamper her.

I was just getting used to seeing her on a regular basis when she moved away.

She’s been back for a few years. Why had I not stopped in to visit? How do I approach her after all this time? I felt so ashamed. I am sobbing as I write these words.

Here, this day, as I approached her she opened her arms to invite me to come close. She had tears in her eyes. I fell on her shoulder and we held each other. I didn’t realize I had missed her so much. I also didn’t know she was missing me. She was probably missing all of us.

When I returned home from the party I pondered on how busy her household must have been while raising 13 children. She did her gardening in the morning before the children got up and ready for school. She cleaned and prepared meals for a table full of people.

After lunch, it was her delight to sit down to do the mending. It was her moment to unwind and enjoy the quiet before the school crowd came back. These are the things she has shared with me earlier when I asked her about those years.

I wondered if those memories had gone through her mind at the party as she sat in the wheelchair and watched her family mingle around her.

I was still trying to understand the complexity of the emotions I saw on her face.

How was it that after she gave such unselfish toil and labor for so many years that there was now such a disconnect?

I asked myself, “What was that all about? She invested all that work, and for what?” Perhaps it was my guilt talking. I hadn’t stopped by in a long time. Too long.

How many lonely days had she wondered where we’d all disappeared to?  

Yes, she gets company. I know my mother visits her three times a week. My mother… When is the last time I went to see my mother?

I give a lot of time to the buyers and sellers I work for. I find time to talk to people I work with.

If I get to be ninety, what will I think about this season in my life? I think I too will look back at my busy scurrying and wonder, “What was that all about?”

I strive to be an excellent real estate professional. I have trained to be an expert.  In the process, I have taken for granted the grace that my family has extended me.

This week on my day off, after I saw the dentist, I stopped by to visit Grandma and then went for lunch with my Mom.

Tina Plett, Sutton Group-Kilkenny Real Estate