Goodbye home

My parents’ last home has finally sold and today it becomes home to someone else.

I’m filled with mixed emotions: it was never a family gathering place, nor was it a place where my parents felt altogether themselves. Any given evening saw them sitting side by side on their apartment-sized couch, hand in hand, reminiscing about each home they had shared in their lifetime together. True, it was a memory journey but it was also a way these two people, who were both losing their memory, could make sense of their own chronological history.

First, the basement apartment in the charming neighbourhood of New Edinburgh. Then the stifling third floor apartment in a heritage house in the Glebe. But as my Mom was pregnant with my sister at the time, the clock was ticking and she found herself walking the surrounding area looking for a place to settle. With a mortgage totaling twenty five thousand dollars, they purchased what became our family home – a gracious brick house on a generous corner lot. So in 1958, Pat started her career as a mother and Jack as a civil servant and part-time father.

They lived in this friendly four bedroom house for many years and then, when all three daughters had left to go to university, they sold it for what seemed like a fortune. The next home was what I considered an elegant single floor condo in the west-end, with a view of the river; it boasted no outdoor maintenance and the convenience of an elevator. Ironically, the move several years later was to a newly built three-storey townhouse that backed onto a forest and made getting a gardener and snow plow contractor necessary. The curving staircase to the bedrooms on the second floor, as well as the steep stairs down to the basement, made staying there unsafe. But it was the last home of any generous size and the first one where it became clear that Mom was beginning to suffer from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. So they were finally convinced to move out, into the apartment building whose architectural style Dad called ‘Brutalist’ (with considerable emphasis) that sat on the footprint of Mom’s childhood home. ’10 Driveway’ was positioned on the canal, providing a stunning view and ample living space. My concern was that they’d topple off the balcony. But in truth, the real concern was burning the place down or having absolutely no in-house support should they have a fall or worse.

Enter their last home together: an owned space in a retirement residence. But gleaming hardwood floors, their first walk-in shower and a view over the neighbourhood where they brought up their family – none of this was enough to counteract the reality that their space was shrinking. And now canes, walkers, a community dining room, nurses bringing medication and the sudden difficulty getting in and out of their chairs became routine.

It is the last home where they sat together. The last place they enjoyed a meal together. The last place they greeted each other in the morning when they came out of their respective bedrooms. And it was also the first place I saw my father weep. It was the first place that I saw my mother removed in a stretcher as she was taken to the hospital. And it was the last place that I would ever see them together where they weren’t in a wheelchair or a hospital bed.

I can still picture them bickering: Mom was often confused and frustrated by her memory loss, made more so by Dad’s hearing loss. I would joke that Dad would say to Mom, “What?!” and she would respond, “I can’t remember.” Indeed, if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry.

Goodbye home. Goodbye.