Somehow it had become an old man’s house

My mom died suddenly, leaving my dad alone in the house they’d lived in since 1964. By that time, the house was 40 years old and age was creeping up on it. Things needed repair, other things needed replacement, and the general condition could have been charitably described as “cluttered.”

Age was creeping up on my dad, too, and he was starting to need some repairs of his own. In the first six years after my mom died, he had a knee replaced, shoulder surgery, and prostate surgery that he described as a “ream job.” When he was in the hospital for the prostate surgery, the nurse cheerfully told me that in a week, I could remove his catheter. That was wrong on, well, every single level I could think of. My current self would have argued about it right there, but the person I was then accepted that ridiculous statement as The Way Things Are Going To Be Done. As that week limit crept up, though, I phoned the doctor’s office and made an appointment to get the catheter removed.

Even with the repairs, time was winning. My dad got less and less able to take care of the house. At the same time, he got more and more skilled at masking how bad things really were. If there was something that he just couldn’t figure out how to fix on his own (I should probably say “fix” on his own.) he’d call us in for help. On the Saturday morning of what turned out to be his very last week to live in the house, he reported that he’d been using an ice chest because the refrigerator had gone out. I took him to the store and we got a replacement; the exceedingly kind gentleman who waited on us (who surely had an elderly parent of his own) arranged for the new appliance to be delivered that very afternoon.

Then, on that Wednesday evening, my dad fell, spent the night on the floor, ended up in the hospital and rehab and the hospital and a different rehab, and eventually, into assisted living.

After my mom passed away, my dad and I would meet for lunch every Saturday at a place he called “the ham store,” where we’d split a ham sandwich. At one of those Saturday lunches, he told me, “I am going to count on you to tell me when I shouldn’t be living by myself any more.” I held tightly to that card he’d given me, knowing that I would have only one chance to use it.

Maybe knowing I just had one chance helped me to act more slowly than I ought to have: as we moved his belongings to assisted living, it became clear that I should have had That Talk with him much sooner. The place was a mess. It wasn’t clean. Things, a lot of things, didn’t work right. There were piles of stuff all over the place; not hoarder-level piles, but still. In retrospect, we ought to have noticed that he never exactly invited us over; and we’re a restrained family, so just stopping in for an unannounced visit would have been out of the question. That let a lot of things slide past where they should have been. In retrospect, again, I should have been smart enough to stop in anyway just to have a look around.

After about a year of paying utilities and insurance on his nearly-empty house, he directed me to call in my sister, sort through and divide up the contents, have an estate sale with what was left over, and put the place on the market.

The sorting-and-dividing was an ordeal, and I’ll just summarize that part of it by saying that my sister and I are no longer in contact.

The selling went quickly; I told the realtor that my only goal was to no longer own the house. I didn’t want to paint or put down new carpet or stage anything. I just wanted it gone. She came through for me, and within a week had sold it to a couple of women who flipped houses.

And then one day, what had first been the formal living room (which seems unbelievably quaint now) and then had been my dad’s home office was empty of the stuff. And it looked like this: dusty, dirty, forlorn. An old man’s house. And the old man and his house were both worse for wear.

Lubbock, Texas
photographed 10.16.2013

Posted on February 5, 2019, in Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Thank you for sharing your memories; touching.

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  2. A sad story and illustration, Melinda, so well told.

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  3. All too real….we are too close to the person to fully recognise what is happening….

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  4. Thanks for sharing so much Melinda. This was a comfort in a way since I , and sure others, am slowly being drawn into that same world regarding my mom. We who don’t have the opportunity to know you personally appreciate the humanness and opening of your heart and soul.
    Bless you. Not afraid to say I’m wiping away tears .

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  5. Great and touching post, Melinda. I lost my dad recently and can relate to the feelings of seeing your parents age and decline. Thank you for sharing.

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