When my father passed away two years ago, he was well into what would be his final day or two with us. He was no longer able to speak in response to any of us and no longer responded to me with any eye contact when I spoke to him. But he still had a strong grip and he seemed to respond to my voice with a grasp of his hand whenever I spoke if I offered him my hand. One of the last things I said to him where I recall getting that responsive return grasp was to tell him that I would make sure Mom was taken care of after he was gone.
After he died, I talked to Mom over the next few months about the possibility of her moving to Sandusky in the future where I could keep a closer eye on her. She considered it, but was not ready to do that any time soon. I knew that it had to be her decision in her time and that I couldn’t push it, but I also brought it up when it seemed appropriate. I remember telling her that it could be her decision now to sell her house on her terms when she was ready, but that in the future a decision might have to be made for her without her input. With a few health problems of her own, navigating steps has become a bit more challenging for her recently. With her shower and her laundry and her garage all accessed through her basement, stairs are at least a daily encounter for her.
We’ve had the conversation many times over the past two years — sometimes she seemed to lean toward moving, other times she seemed dead set against it. All of her friends and all of her doctors were there after all. So was the house she and my father bought when I was six months old and lived in ever since. Up until his final few years, dad was still able to take care of most of the house and yard maintenance. Although she made a valiant effort, it quickly became clear that Mom was not up to the long term task and neither my sister nor I were close enough to handle things regularly.
Even before dad passed away, my mother’s neighbor had a son who began cutting their grass and shoveling their driveway for a very reasonable fee. His mother and step-father had just moved into the house two doors down a few years before. I never knew their name specifically and I don’t think I ever had the opportunity to meet them, but I knew that she was from my dad’s hometown – Mingo, Jct. – and they apparently had the chance to discuss and swap old hometown stories as new neighbors.
It wasn’t until just over a week ago – during a seemingly random conversation with my mom – that I finally realized the guy who had been cutting her grass and shoveling her driveway was actually a high school classmate of mine. Because his mother had since remarried, I never heard the familiar last name which would have possibly clued me in on the connection.
I didn’t specifically reply on Facebook, but I am in complete and full agreement with both Nhung and Greg. The CCHS class of 1989 is still pretty special nearly 30 years after we were last all together at the same time!
So anyway, earlier in March we experienced a few days of fairly strong winds throughout Ohio. We had it up here on the Lake where many roofs were damaged to one degree or another. Mom had to file her own insurance claim, which thankfully turned out to be a very minor problem to fix — just some chimney flashing that came loose and not an entire roof that needed repaired. But during the period in between noticing the initial damage and finding out the minimal bill, Mom finally came to the realization that it was time to reconsider her living accommodations. It was just a gentle, but firm, wake up call for her that she is not capable of handling any major catastrophes which might occur with her house on her own.
About a year ago, I showed her a few apartment complexes in the Sandusky area — just to plant a seed without forcing her hand, so that she had an idea what to expect if she later decided to make a move. After the chimney flashing damage, she asked me about those places once again and this time she sounded like she was ready to unload the house and come this way to live.
We looked online at a few complexes and apartment floor plans. She thought that she liked a few of the possible options, but you never really know until you see a place in person. So Mom made arrangements to have a realtor look at her house and give her an idea of what he thought it might sell for. She also had tentative plans to visit us over a weekend to drive through a few of the apartment complexes she liked online. As the plan unfolded, she decided to drive up on a Friday to meet me after work. She and I would drive through the apartment locations and then drive back down to her house for the weekend to meet with some of my cousins and work on cleaning a few items out of her basement. She would then come back up with me on Sunday to do some more looking that following week. I discussed the weekend plan with Mom on Thursday while my wife and daughter went out to the local Verizon store to sign us up for landline phone service through Verizon. We figured out that we could save a bit on our monthly budget by removing our landline service from the cable bundle and adding it to our existing wireless plans at Verizon. They came home with the new hardware and we just had to wait a few days for our phone number to get released for Verizon to pick it up.
As luck would have it, I managed to get a Friday afternoon appointment with the property manager to see an empty two bedroom ranch apartment with an attached garage — all items on Mom’s wish list. We went to that meeting and were underwhelmed to say the least. Let’s just say that we were not at all impressed with the woman who showed us the vacant apartment. We both got the impression that she felt we were wasting her time measuring possible furniture placement. She was unable to answer several of our most basic questions (although in all fairness she tried). Just as an example, this apartment had a single car garage and the spare bedroom had a HUGE walk-in closet which ran alongside the length of the garage. When we asked the property rep how much smaller the closet was in the same unit with a two car garage, she replied that she did not know and that she had never seen the inside of a two car garage unit to be able to tell us for sure. Huh? You work in the property manager’s office and have never seen one of the basic layouts that you offer for rent?
There were several other interactions with the woman I won’t go into which gave us uneasy feelings. She just did not put a good face or initial impression on these particular apartments. Unless we were both receiving mixed signals, this woman had not anticipated spending more than 5 or 10 minutes with us. Here my mother was (albeit in the very early stages), trying to decide if this might be the place to replace the home she’d lived in for the past 45 years, but it felt like we were overstaying our welcome. Needless to say, we left a bit discouraged and decided that we better look at other options elsewhere. It was a shame because of the wish list amenities that this site did offer. Unfortunately, neither of the other two in town ranch apartment complexes with attached garages and in unit washer/dryer hookups had any vacancies. I could tell that Mom had already begun waffling on her decision to sell her house.
We reported back to my wife before starting our weekend journey to Mom’s house. It was just before we departed on that drive that the above referenced snow shoveling/grass cutting revelation came to me — when Mom first told me the last name of the man who cuts her grass and I commented that I went to school with a Patrick with that last name, but thought that he lived out in Las Vegas. She said YES! but he flies back and forth! Just then I remembered seeing something on Facebook recently about a rough flight he’d had. What a funny ‘coincidence’ that was!
With the less than ideal apartment meeting, Mom was seriously considering a fall back plan of moving into an apartment above her cousin’s veterinary clinic about a mile away from her house. That would solve the problem of house maintenance, but wouldn’t solve the problem of her difficulty with stairs (not to mention the barking dogs being boarded underneath her at night). We decided to just take things as they came and see what else we might find as it would probably take a minimum of several months or more to sell her house and be in a position to move.
Intending to go to 9:00 Mass on Sunday at Mom’s church and then drive back to Sandusky, Mom and I both overslept Sunday morning after a full Saturday morning of basement cleaning and a Saturday evening visiting with cousins. Asking for forgiveness, we ate some breakfast, packed up the car, and began our trek back to Sandusky.
Our church in Sandusky has two Sunday Masses – 8:00 and 10:00. Although there are other options, as I blogged here, we rarely ever get up early enough to attend 8:00 Mass. I could do it easily enough myself as I am often an early riser on the weekend. But my wife’s weekday 5:00 work alarm (and often a 3:30 or 4:00 body clock wake up) is often offset by a necessary Saturday and Sunday sleep-in mode. So we have maybe gone to 8:00 Mass a handful of times in nearly 12 years of marriage. I left my wife and daughter in Sandusky for this trip because of extra scheduled dance practices on Saturday, so I knew that they at least, would have made it to 10:00 Mass, even though Mom and I missed our Sunday wake up call.
It was nearly 11:00 before Mom and I got the car packed and underway. When we stopped for a lunch break, I noticed a voice mail notification on my mobile phone from my wife. She had called around 9:50, but I did not notice her call until we stopped for lunch. An almost verbatim translation of the voice mail follows:
Kassidy and I went to 8:00 Mass this morning and, by divine luck I guess, Sr. Martha* was there and we all went out to breakfast including Louise M.
Anyway, Louise lives at the apartment complex that you and your mom went to look at on Friday and she has a one car garage apartment. She absolutely loves it there, she’s been there for quite a while. She gave me her phone number so if your mom wants to talk to her or go take a look around hers – whatever – she said she’s more than happy to help. She said everybody there has been wonderful. If she has any issues they are out right away.
So anyway – I’m pretty sure it was just a divine ‘led to be there’ kind of thing. That certainly was encouraging…
* Sr. Martha was a former pastoral associate in our parish and is the person my wife and I credit for introducing us to each other. She left the area in 2004 to take another job closer to her hometown near Dayton, but she comes back periodically to visit her friends here on special occasions. Sr. Martha came back for our wedding (which Louise M. helped out with the catering service), she came back for some milestone wedding anniversaries and birthdays, a few funerals, and the recent 150th Anniversary of our parish. She happened to be in town last weekend to help celebrate Louise’s 90th birthday and (along with a few other friends) they went to 8:00 Mass and breakfast together on Sunday morning before Sr. Martha’s drive back home. When my wife and daughter showed up unexpectedly to 8:00 Mass, they were invited to join the group for breakfast. Had Sr. Martha not been there (and “Meema and Beepa” another couple with them who our daughter dashed over after Mass to gives hugs to), I doubt that my wife would have known about Louise’s birthday or had a reason to approach her after Mass.
So (by chance) we had been given another opportunity for a second opinion to view these apartments. (Or was it really by chance?) I was able to take Monday off from work and Mom and I arranged to visit Louise that afternoon. Mom loved her apartment after seeing it with furniture comparable in size to what she intended to bring with her. She was able to ask all the questions she needed and got helpful answers from someone who actually lived in the apartments. She was able to spend as much time as she felt she needed to see all of the rooms and closets and we felt very welcome there. We didn’t feel like we were imposing or taking up Louise’s time.
Mom was able to see the garage with a car inside of it and other storage items that Louise kept in there with her car – including a chest freezer and a storage dresser (two items Mom will undoubtedly have as well). She was able to see the extra items stored in the walk-in closet and got an idea of what the electric bill might run in the wintertime. She was able to see the washer and dryer in place (in the guest bathroom) and ask Louise about using the lower (no-step) stall shower in that same bathroom – as opposed to the tub shower in the master bathroom which presents a more dangerous falling hazard getting in and out. When Mom began rethinking whether some of her furniture would fit in certain areas, it was Louise who pulled out her own tape measure and handed it to me and Mom to start measuring walls and door clearance, etc.
And when Mom wondered out loud about the cable TV and telephone, Louise showed her where the two cable jacks were on opposite walls in the living room. In that process, Louise mentioned that she had just been talked into getting new landline phone service from Verizon. She went in to get a new flip phone and the salesperson had talked her into porting over her land line with promises that it would save her money on her phone bill. But she was very confused with how to get it all set up and was ready to return it all. It was just ‘coincidence’ that my wife had just set up the same exact system in our house. I told Louise that she would be happy to have a look at her phone and get her set up.
Mom and I thanked Louise for her help and Mom felt so much better about the situation after we left her apartment. I think about everything that had to happen just the way it did for us to have that opportunity.
When I asked my wife, why on earth they got up so early to go to 8:00 Mass, she told me that she had simply woken up early and looked at her clock. She said she thought to herself that if she didn’t fall back asleep and was still awake at 7:30, she would consider asking our daughter if she wanted to go to the earlier Mass. We only have one bathroom, but our daughter always showers in the evenings, so there would still be enough time for both of them to get her ready. When 7:30 rolled around and she was not back to sleep, they got up, got ready, and off they went!
Had she not woken up so early (for her) on a Sunday morning, or if she had rolled over and fallen back to sleep, or if I had been home (there would never have been enough time for all three of us to get ready on short notice), or had they simply decided to maintain the normal routine and gone to our normal Mass, we might have never known about Louise living in the apartments Mom was interested in. Our impression from the Friday before may have never changed and we might not have given another thought to this complex.
Maybe other forces were at work in getting Mom to take a second look and to find a friendly face. Maybe God sent a wake up call to my wife to cause her to cross paths with this 8:00 Mass crowd on this of all weekends. Maybe it was just coincidence that it happened to be Louise’s 90th birthday weekend, or that Sr. Martha was in town, or that it was the weekend that Mom happened to come up. Maybe it was just chance that the earlier March winds damaged the chimney flashing on Mom’s house and set the wheels in motion. But isn’t it ironic that many legal or insurance documents refer to weather related conditions or damages to structures or property as “Acts of God”? How appropriate is that terminology? Do I even need to opine that If the wind was an act of God, then it necessarily couldn’t have been a coincidence?
As of April 3rd, Mom signed a contract to put her house on the market. (If anyone in the Steubenville, Ohio area is looking for a 3 bedroom home with a lot of character in a great neighborhood, just comment below!) She hasn’t yet applied for an apartment in this complex, but she is now much more settled in making that choice than she was upon first impression.
It will be an emotional day when my mom hands over the keys to the only house I’ve ever known as her home. But a house is only a building — one which I am not able to return to nearly as often as I would like. The childhood and teenage memories will always be there. The basketball hoop that no longer stands in her backyard will always stand out in my mind. The spot where I buried my sister’s cat (who chose me after she left for college) will remain a memorial in my heart. My old bedroom, where my dad rested and drew his final earthly breaths will continue as shelter for some other young child or old man from the wind, rain, and lightning… and any other ‘Acts of God.’
By the way, I went back over to Louise’s apartment last Friday with my wife and daughter and we got her on the right track with her phone switchover. She was so thankful for Linda’s assistance, and we were so thankful for hers!
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