Homeownership as a Widow Requires Maintenance Help
Elsie’s Experience In Piecing the Senior Housing Puzzle Together
This is Elsie’s story as she reflects back on life in the home of her dreams with her husband, George, along with her journey after becoming a widow. There are parts when she is telling the story of her life, and other times where her writings are more of a written conversation with her deceased husband, as she’s found putting pen to paper very cathartic since his passing in May 2011. This blog is a conglomeration of her writings, peppered with her experiences related to owning a home on her own, along with concerns of where her life may go in the next 20 to 30 years.
It didn’t take Elsie long to discover that homeownership as a widow requires maintenance assistance. She also discovered that she would have to face estate management decisions, making home modifications to enable her to age in place, and create a long-term plan to eventually transition into higher levels of care.
Step 1 of my journey
I’m writing this June 1, 2011
My name is Elsie. This is George (62) and me (60) last year on our 40thAnniversary Hawaiian beach “honeymoon” that we never had when we married in the summer of 1970. The realities of work and four children soon followed.
Life has had its share of twists and turns since then. I’ve been a widow for less than a month now, and I’m completely overwhelmed. My husband passed away unexpectedly just as spring was finally turning the corner, and it’s turned my world upside down.
Not only am I coping with the stony silence and sorrow that falls on widows and widowers after the funeral has passed and friends and family are long gone, I’m also dealing with a myriad of financial affairs that need to be tidied up, and trying to maintain my home. It’s becoming a daunting experience.
The first few weeks were filled with condolences, more food than I could ever possibly use, and invitations to “call me if you need anything” and friends offering their husband’s services, “if there’s ever anything on your ‘honey do’ list—let us know”.
Today was a wake-up call. If you’re a widow like me, or even the adult child who has just lost a parent, I have a huge revelation for you: when it comes down to it, everyone goes back to their daily lives and obligations, long before the grief goes away.
My first experience as a “solo” homeowner
It’s Saturday. I awoke to a distant “popping” sound, followed by the sound of water. I scrambled to haphazardly put on my slippers and bifocals on, and head towards the mysterious sound in the kitchen. I barely got as far as the doorway when I had to catch myself between the counter and the doorframe to regain my balance.
I slipped on a pool of water, and saw water rolling out from under the cupboard doors at the kitchen sink. My first instinct was to shout out to George, my every-day handyman husband and hero, but that was not to be. Instead, that was the moment I realized that after 40 years in our beautiful home, I had no idea where a water shut-off valve would be.
A pipe had burst under the sink, and it was coming out at what seemed like 10 gallons a minute! I retreated to the linen closet, grabbed some old towels, and began laying them across the floor. I glanced at the clock on the stovetop, to discover that it was only 6:02 AM.
My heart raced, and my mind filled with thoughts. “What would George have done?” I instinctively knew he would go to the basement. I plodded down the stairs, not knowing what I was looking for. I went to the utility room, and searched high and low. When I saw what looked like it could be a water faucet handle, I tried to turn it. It wouldn’t budge.
By that time, I had visions of water seeping through the floor, ruining my precious 92 year old hardwood floors, along with the ceiling below. Back to the linen closet for a whole stack of towels. At that point, I think I literally pulled all of the chemicals and cleaning products from under the sink, and put a whole stack of towels under the broken pipe.
The tears flowed. I found myself not only crying for George, but crying in defeat, knowing that I would never be able to maintain our family home on my own. I had visions of having to sell all my treasures at a living estate sale, downsize into a senior housing development, or higher level of services such as assisted living. I knew I wasn’t ready for, nor did I need to go through those changes at 64, but I was feeling oh so helpless. And I certainly thought I would have another decade or two before facing the realities of selecting a nursing home.
After having a momentary meltdown, I regained composure and the hissing spray of water brought me back to reality. Now, not only did the sound of the water seem magnified, so did the obnoxious ticking of George’s old cuckoo clock—yet another reminder of his absence and the hole in my heart.
I sighed, and realized I was about to make what would be the first of many repair and maintenance calls I would have to make. George and I had purchased our “forever” home in 1971—a lovely four bedroom white stucco 1 ½ story, with an acre of mature oaks, perennial gardens, and tons of choke cherry and gooseberry bushes for a staggering $417 monthly payment. Today, I had a sinking feeling that the pipe repair would likely be more than our previous monthly mortgage.
It was 6:37 AM, and gingerly dialed my oldest son, Mike’s, cell phone, and blurted out, “Honey, it’s Mom, and I’m OK, but there’s a broken kitchen pipe, and I can’t turn off the water. It’s quite the mess. I’ve sopped up what I can with towels, but I need help with the repair. Will you come over? I know it’s early…”
Whew! I’d gotten through is, and even thought I sounded half-way in control of the situation. I was determined not to let him hear a quiver in my voice. Before I could even apologize for waking him so early, he assured me he was on his way and would be there within 20 minutes. My son was my hero that day. Not only did he show up with a shop vac and swoop up the water, he got the repair done within an hour.
I could almost feel and hear the next conversation run through my mind before it even started. When Mike blurted out, “Mom, I know dad did everything around the house for you, and that being a young widow wasn’t part of your Plan B, but it’s where we’re at right now. We’re going to walk through the entire house, label what we can, and craft a plan for repairs and maintenance. There are services just for that, and you deserve peace of mind living in this home. Dad would want it that way.”
Again, tears welled up in my eyes. I was grateful for my son, for his attentiveness, and for the handyman skills he’d acquired shadowing his father all those years. Still, I was unsure of my finances, the costs and responsibilities of maintaining a home, and the availability of senior life management services.