The Road To Limbo

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I’m on the road less traveled, to the no-where state of Limbo.

Life should unfold like a multi-panel map...grow up, graduate college, get married, have babies, send them off, enjoy retirement, and, in the end – pack it in. Well, my husband and I are on the last leg of our journey, but we’re stuck between sending them off and packing it in. Enjoying retirement is visible, but not yet tangible. We’ve stalled in a place called Limbo... a state that’s full of unanswered questions and what-ifs. It’s a stage where our future, literally, depends on the lives of other people.

Now in our late 50’s, with the kids theoretically gone, relaxing on the Cape or retiring to Florida should be looming. But my husband and I are stuck between indecision and inactivity, holding our lives on “pause” until Mom and the kids are settled. Maybe you’re thinking, “Don’t be so self-centered... the world doesn’t revolve around you... You’re actually not that important!” But we are...mostly to my 91 year old mother, and partly to our kids who still make intermittent pit stops at our empty nest.

Through a series of bizarre incidents and coincidences, we now live in the house I grew up in, next door to Mom who occupies a first floor apartment in another generational family home. Although admittedly an enviable caretaking situation, this arrangement was never actually planned. It came about as a result of two home floods, my father’s death, and a shared property line.

When we moved into the “big house,” we knew our situation would be optimal for helping Mom as she aged, but we had no idea how long it would take for her to actually do so. She was 84 upon our arrival - driving, fully ambulatory and living life on her own terms. Seven years later – not so much. No driving, strained walking, and in need of increased (albeit manageable) daily help.

Neither side of my family boasts an extensive life span. With the exception of a great aunt who lived to be 101, my 72 year old “Pampie” was the record holder. I’m no actuarial, and I recognize that folks live a lot longer these days, but how much longer? At 91, Mom has already bested her father’s record, and (thankfully) shows no signs of throwing in the towel. She could live to be 100, (like so many other Super Seniors) or ...today could be her last. There’s just no way to tell.

I have a great relationship with Mom, so 100+ would be awesome, but what to do in the meantime is the question. Short of a serious fall, I don’t see her leaving her apartment any time soon. But I also don’t see her living there without us right next door. Sure, it’s possible, but not likely. She counts on the day to day contact we have as neighbors... the quick check-ins where we can get things down from shelves, open tight med bottles and food packaging, throw the laundry in the dryer, listen to her recount her day’s activities... Things that take only a few short minutes, but make the difference between Mom being comfortable in her home, or not.  

The reality is that my husband and I are on our own journey’s final leg, seeking to simplify and “downsize” our lives. He’ll be retiring soon, and the open road is calling. We’ve been decluttering, painting, upgrading, and repairing for the last year, getting our home ready to sell. If Mom exits on a Monday, we’ll sell our house on Tuesday, and move on Wednesday. Just. Like. That.   

But there’s a lot of time in between 91 and 100+ years old, and anything could happen... to any of us really. If Mom crosses the finish line at 100, it’s entirely possible she will have outlived me and/or my husband, making this whole discussion moot. (We don’t really share her sunny attitude on life, which I’m pretty sure is what keeps her going).

And what about the kids? We have 5 all together, each of whom has taken a short (or long) respite in their old bedroom over the last few years. Thankfully, they all have options, and with the onset of “adulthood,” fewer and fewer of those options involve me and my husband. No, it’s not the kids we’re worried about... It’s definitely Mom.

Some would say, “Move on... Your mom will be fine.” (...and Mom would agree...) But casual drop-ins would need to become scheduled events... (“Can you fit me in between Meals on Wheels and the VNA?”) I’d no longer be able to see Mom’s little tuffet of gray hair peeking over the top of her couch, from my kitchen window... And, I wouldn’t see her standing at the stove, cobbling together one of her creative lunches or brewing that first cup of coffee... And “our garden” would be tended by some stranger living in my old house.  And...And...And... There are just so many valid reasons not to move yet.

So, I guess we’ll leave our finger on the pause button, and let God and the Universe work it out. (...they being so much more qualified than us to run the show...) Who knows? Maybe someday, one of the kids will take over our nest, and my husband and I will move into Mom’s apartment. But for now, we’ll just stay on the road less traveled, to the no-where state of Limbo -  and enjoy the scenery.  

Emily Gaffney