Tuesday, April 29, 2014

My Grandmother's Dress

My 94-year-old grandma is selling her house and moving to a lovely independent living "villa." It's a condo-like duplex with a sun room that overlooks woods and a lake. Grandma loves bird watching, and I imagine many feathered friends will flit outside her new windows this spring and summer. In addition to the beauty of the place, the community atmosphere will give her a chance to make new friends and enjoy activities in the main building while having her independence and privacy at her new home. If she needs more care in the future, assisted living apartments are available.

Last Monday I drove from my home in New England to the Midwest to help my mother (who lives in a neighboring state and had arrived a couple days earlier), grandmother, and aunt. We sorted, packed, and purged items from grandma's home so that she only takes what she really wants and needs to the villa. The house she is selling has lots of storage, which means she had plenty of space to keep everything. I told my husband that I am glad our house doesn't have much storage space because having lots of storage space simply means the storage space gets filled with stuff.

The schnauzer-boxer mix puppy who almost
convinced me to bring her home
from the animal shelter.
From Tuesday through Saturday we gathered, sorted, and purged. Many boxes and bags were delivered to Goodwill. A local hospital had a paper shredding event where we took three or four large boxes. We took a grill and a spreader to the curb and smiled when they disappeared before morning (one woman's trash...). We filled the garage with items for an auctioneer to collect before the big move. We took towels, sheets, and newspapers to an animal shelter. With all we purged, Grandma will still have plenty of her personal items to make the new place feel like home.

I am so proud of my grandma. This decision was very hard for her, but she's been brave. Like most people, she doesn't like change. She was comfortable living in her own home. However, she realized that she honestly couldn't maintain a house on her own anymore. She got choked up several times when she looked at paperwork that mentioned her family and friends who died before her, including all three of her sons. Many memories were stirred up throughout the week as we handled gifts and cards, obituaries and photographs.

As we sorted, my mother and I each took some items that were special or useful to us. Grandma used to do a lot of canning and gardening. I learned those hobbies from her, so I took some of the kitchen and garden tools.

I spent a good bit of time scrubbing and sweeping spaces that had been hard for Grandma to maintain for the past few years since climbing stairs has become difficult, and a bit scary, for her. This "alone time" gave me a chance to reflect. Many families have to go through their loved ones belongings after they pass away. I feel very blessed that we were able to go through the things with Grandma. We got to hear stories of where certain items were purchased (like the full set of Fiesta dishes she and Grandpa bought for $25 when they were first married) or the juice glasses her mother purchased in Florida when they owned a motel in Ft. Lauderdale.

The week also gave me a chance to spend time with my aunt (Grandma's daughter-in-law) who has been a generous caretaker for Grandma for many years. Since Grandma stopped driving about 10 years ago, my aunt has taken her to doctor's appointments, the hairdresser, and the grocery store. She really made it possible for Grandma to live on her own for much longer than she could have otherwise with my mom and I living several hours away in opposite directions. We enjoyed having several meals together in between the cleaning and packing.

Grandma's dress, which is now my dress.
Toward the end of the week, my mother discovered a clothing item in an upstairs room where Grandma's knitting and good linens were stored. Mom held out a long dress which she seemed ready to pop in a Goodwill bag. I grabbed it and held it up to myself. Grandma was about 5'2 before osteoporosis and age shrunk her height to well below 5 feet. I'm about 5'5 and the dress comes to my ankles. I took it downstairs and asked Grandma whose it was. She said it was hers--that she had worn it for bowling banquets. I imagined her 40 or 50 years ago, standing tall in 3" heels wearing her floor-length gown to receive an award at her bowling banquet. Then I went in the bedroom to try on the dress. The dress looks as though it were tailor-made for me. I'll probably wear it with flat sandals rather than high heels, but I will wear it and think of her.

The week went by quickly, but I'm so grateful to have spent the time with my grandma, mom, and aunt as grandma prepares for the next chapter in her life.


  1. :-) I recall cleaning out my grandmother's apartment after she went to spend the last year of her life in a nursing home after a fall. What a blessing to have been able to go through your grandmother's home with her!