What would you think of a 74 year-old man who set out on the hardest, longest, most traumatic undertaking of his life? One that would physically and mentally exhaust him, and render him, after it was over, unable to think straight or do anything constructive for days?
For the past two months I’ve been unable to concentrate on anything but moving from the rented house you see here (our base of operations for the past 30 yrs) to an apartment, while caring for my wife who is living through the last stages of Alzheimer’s. That’s why you’ve seen no posts here.
When I say ‘most traumatic’, maybe I should say that I’ve had a few traumatic experiences along the way, enough at least to make that judgment. I’ve been in two violent motor vehicle accidents where my life hung in the balance, but that was only for a few moments, and the effects of the head injury I suffered in the 1969 rollover on the Italian Autostrada were lessened by the fact that I was too ignorant to know I had one.
Also, the chronic stress of working in modern workplaces year after year is no joke, and I have known my share of that too. But what I’m going to describe here was, for me, worse by far than either of those.
The move itself was not by choice.
During my life, I’ve loved every rented room, apartment or house I’ve lived in – 16 places according to a quick count I just did – 17 if you include a magical month in a room of the Hotel Montecarlo, Mexico City, where, in the winter of 1969, I first read the whole of The Pickwick Papers and began what would become 50 years of personal journals. Like a solitary wild animal, I like my dens.
But of all those places, this house was the one I’ve loved the most. For all those years, sometimes with up to 4 people in the house, sometimes with just me and one cat, this has been my home. It hurt leaving it behind on March 31/21 – but it had finally been sold, soon be destroyed and replaced with something larger.
Things accumulate over 30 years. When you start digging into drawers, attics, and especially into large closets – you find a lot of unexpected things, sometimes things belonging to people who never lived there. My mother, who died at age 96, left me so much – a lot of her own art + other collected art and artifacts + some furniture from the house I grew up in + boxes and boxes of family photographs and family history docs – birth and death certificates, baptisms and marriage certificates, school reports of people I’ve never known, ancient receipts, driver licenses, mortgages, hospital invoices – and many letters between her and a cousin in the UK filled with detailed discussion about their investigations of the family’s past.
How could I discard any of that?
I found things belonging to my dead stepfather, including a pair of large beautiful mirrors made in the glass factory where he worked most of his life. I had been holding on to them hoping to pass them on one day to someone in his family. But now the mirrors were so damaged from 30 yrs in a damp leaking basement that I had to take them to the city dump, along with much much more – at least 15 trips to the dump in the last 2 weeks prior to the move.
In the attic, I found a long forgotten doll house once inhabited by miniature Sylvanian rabbit and bear people, dearly loved by my youngest daughter. In the top floor of this, among the little furniture and the dusty little Sylvanians, I found the remains of a deer mouse nest – of real animal people. How I wish I had set up a trail camera in that spot. Sorry, but I forgot to take a photo of it.
Behind the house there is a large yard which I had converted to a small nature reserve inhabited by wild rabbits, raccoons, possums, squirrels,many birds, butterflies and bees, and other insects . When the house is torn down, that will be destroyed (I’ve watched enough of these house replacements to know that this is a certainty), so last spring I began digging out plants – replanting some in the wild, some into pots to carry with me. From plants I couldn’t dig up, or didn’t have room for, I collected seed. That was a lot of work, and continued up to the last day.
Yes, I began preparing for this move over a year ago. I knew it was coming. I worked steadily at it all last winter and thought I was ahead of schedule. But when the time came to begin the actual move I wasn’t ready at all.
Though I got a lot of help from family, and I used movers for the big things (including a 900 lb piano that I can’t play), most of the time I worked alone. On the last night, March 31st, after making 3 trips to the dump that day, I had to go back to the house again, this time with my poor wife, suffering from Alzheimer’s and physical disabilities, since no one was available to look after her. For hours I worked with her beside me in her wheelchair, alternately arguing with me, crying, or just shouting at the world.
Throwing things into garbage bags, some to take with us, some for another trip to the dump in the morning, I fell into a dementia of my own that left me with no memory of what I did that night. Many bags that were to come with us probably went to the dump.
When I describe my wife’s suffering, you might say it was cruel to take her there. Well, then you need to know that most nights were like that for us, sometimes entire days. Welcome to the world of advanced Alzheimer’s where a wild crisis can come at any time – 3am seems to be the disease’s favorite.
Since the move, my wife’s condition has deteriorated further. She is now in the hospital, with no prospect of coming home. After 48 years together, we may now be permanently separated.
Yes, at 74 yrs old I undertook the biggest battle of my life. No wonder it feels like I lost. I feel like that German soldier described by Heinrich Boll in one of his early novels, wandering through the ruins of Berlin in 1945, weary, defeated, disarmed, scorned by the people he passes in the street, and intimidated by everything.
But the move at least is over now. That’s what I keep saying to myself.
My website got closed down while I was away – forgot to renew my so-called ‘ownership’ of “alanconrad.com”. Fortunately there was no big demand for the name (though there are many Alan Conrads in the world, many of them interesting men and worthy of their own site). So I am back – you’ll soon see that I managed to do a few posts while I was away.