Marsha and Ed moved in next door to us a couple of years ago. She, I would guess is early 70’s and he mid-to-late 70’s. And even though we’re younger, we knew we’d like them – right away. They came bustling over to introduce themselves, invited us to join them by their pool, and Ed agreed to join Lou (my husband) in his twice-monthly game of poker.
They could easily be categorized as “good” neighbors: yard, impeccable; house, neat-as-a-pin both inside and out.
They had bought the ranch-style home to be closer to their daughter and her growing family. And they loved our neighborhood for its diversity and proximity to good health care and bustling activities.
On the personal side, Marsha goes to the gym and keeps in shape. Ed – well, not so much, but he loves being outdoors, whether for a game of golf or puttering around the yard.
Then there was that frigid Wednesday early last December. As I backed out of the driveway, I caught a glimpse of Ed meandering toward his mailbox. And for some reason, I stopped my car, opened the window, and called out, “How ‘ya doin’?” He stopped in his tracks, flashed a big smile and said, “Fine, thanks. I think we’re in for a long, cold winter.” We both laughed and then I went on my way.
The following Monday evening I got a call from Marsha. “Can you tell me who you use to plow your driveway?” Ed liked to use his own snow-blower after a storm so this surprised me. “Yeah, sure,” I said, “But, is everything okay?” “Ed went by ambulance to the hospital at noon today,” she replied. Ed had had a stroke. He was stabilized at our local facility and then transferred to a larger hospital with a world-class cardiac unit. But by Wednesday, a week after he and I had exchanged our neighborly greetings, he died. Died.
At the wake and services, Marsha looked stunned. I guess she had every reason to. I called her a few times, but she was spending most of her time at her daughter’s home. She told me that Ed had “done everything” – he managed all the finances, bill paying, banking, etc. and Marsha was in the dark trying to settle the estate. Slowly, she and her daughter were getting a handle on the “financial affairs” and other realities of everyday life that had been relegated to Ed.
And then, about 4 months after Ed’s death, Marsha told me she was going to put the house on the market. It really wasn’t that big of a house – and a one-floor home has great advantages. Where was she going? Marsha said her daughter was going to add a room onto her home for her to live in. “Marsha – you’re gonna live in a room? A ROOM???” I couldn’t picture it – and I was torn between minding my own business and trying to shed some light on this very gloomy picture.
Fortunately (at least that’s my opinion) zoning regulations would allow for only a very small one-room addition to the daughter’s home. Marsha backed off. That wouldn’t be an option for her, even though her daughter tried to persuade her otherwise.
Marsha is now at square one. And in my mind, that’s exactly where she needs to be. She’s at the 6-month marker. Grieving, loss, change – well, they all impact each of us in our own unique ways. Ed is dead – but Marsha isn’t. Marsha needs to rejoin the living – surely at her own pace, but rejoin she must! And that’s not gonna happen from the confines of a small, one-room cell.
Marsha, I hope to draw some lessons from your experience.
1) If you are married, make sure you understand absolutely everything about your joint finances. It is not only your right, it’s your obligation.
2) If you’re After Fifty, get those estate-planning documents in place – will, health care proxy, living will, etc. No, doing so will not bring about your premature demise. In fact, the peace-of-mind it gives you may breathe new life into your body and soul!
3) Think through now what your options would be if the unthinkable occurred. What IF your partner passed on before you…would you want to move – where to – and what would be necessary to make it happen.
4) Start now to practice saying the word, “No!” When trauma, tragedy, difficulty strikes, lots of people think that it’s their obligation to tell you what to do. You will be in a weakened state, so start practicing now to tell well-meaning meddlers to back-off. Remember – it’s your life, so the choices are yours.
5) Live life now. Life is fragile. Marsha and Ed made some truly beautiful memories together. They traveled, played, laughed and truly enjoyed their life.
What about you? Could you say the same?