When I get messages from my kids – texts, emails, phone calls – they’re special news bulletins I read or pick up as fast as they come.
Text April 11, 2021 “Hey Mom, are you and Dad available tonight? I’d like to chat about something in particular (nothing bad!). Damien and I have been discussing how the next fifteen years might look for us and want to start the conversation how your future could be a part of ours. Can we talk soon? Renee.”
Thankful for the disclaimer, my mind starting whirring, where was this going? Maybe Renee and Damien had discovered a piece of land for getaways from the hubbub of Montreal. Maybe they wanted a consultation with Dad the builder.
Or maybe it was connected to those inserts in earlier conversations about Derryl’s and my future. The first time was eight, maybe nine, years ago when Renee and I were enjoying a walk and talk in the woods.
“Mom, I want you to know I’m taking care of you and Dad when you get old”.
Whoa! Like wind through the trees, the thought swooshed through my mind: “oh my goodness, what did my daughter just say’?!
“Uh. That’s amazing, Renee. It’s comforting to hear that, and wow – thank you.”
At that time Derryl and I were about sixty years old. Blessed with energy and good health we were living our life story – not using a script for being a certain age. Derryl was busy with building construction and motorbiking jaunts: my days were full managing our acreage home plus hiking and enjoying the outdoors.
I knew Renee wouldn’t say something with such conviction just off the top of her head, but I wondered about their three kids. How would their education and future adventures fit in with this idea? I wanted to say, ‘are you sure, Renee?’ but didn’t. I had a feeling in my bones that whatever directions our lives would take, being together in the future could probably work out. Renee and I didn’t carry the conversation further, but I was thinking if this does happen, it will be a long time from now!
Derryl and I phoned Renee the next day. She jumped right in with, “Mom and Dad, I’ve told you this before. I want to care for you when you get old. Even though Damien and I enjoy the outdoor activities in Quebec it doesn’t make sense for us to buy property here, when all the conversations for our future have included going to Nova Scotia.”
“Really?!” I said, totally surprised by this.
“Yes, it’s true” said Renee. “And to me, caring for you means I want to spend time with you, be close to where you live. Yes, taking you to appointments and helping you in other ways, but besides that, to be sharing what we enjoy. Walking; discussing books and ideas; being in nature. Hanging out together.”
Thinking back, since that walk and talk in the woods, Renee had reminded us of her plan five, six times, maybe more. Derryl and I hadn’t given much thought to the logistics of her wish. Wasn’t that a conversation for later, like in our seventies? We planned for our financial future and that was pretty much it.
That post-text chat continued: “I care about living life with you Mom and Dad, in your old age; not waiting to come sit with you when your health requires you to be in a medical care facility. And just to be up front about how I feel, I’m not sure how good I’ll be for the intimate personal care: but I plan to be connected with you in person, with your heart and spirit, throughout your aging journey.”
Now that made me smile. This was just like her forthright Grandma Forsberg (my Mom). Renee got the message across in a way that Derryl and I understood we’d be respected, cared for. Loved.
Next item in our conversation: Renee wants to come and spend blocks of time with us long before the ‘helping my aging parents’ stage. Maybe as soon as the next two to three years. That is good news as the phase ‘we’re old and need help now’ doesn’t reveal itself at a precise moment in time. Plus – if we can – we want a picture-window chunk of years together. Renee and Damien work virtually; spending a month or more here in Nova Scotia wouldn’t be very different from previous long-haul spells they’ve had away from home, i.e. the months they’ve worked and travelled with their three children.
My initial concern – what about the kids? – was for naught. Renee’s super-power is organization and planning ahead.The kids are young adults: in university, with part-time jobs, and though they’ve spent lengthy periods of time here, their home is Montreal. They might not come to NS as often as before: a sad thought for Derryl and I, but we get it. For the most part, the kids will live at the family apartment; well-able to manage by themselves. Pippen, the feline family member, might also choose country living over Montreal. His feral kitten-hood introduced him to the joys of freedom in the woods, and though I’m not a cat lover, he and I have established a compatible, even friendly relationship. He’s in on the plan too.
As our phone chat continued, the wheels picked up speed.
Dad the builder: “You’d want your own separate living space to live in when you come, wouldn’t you?”
“Yeah. It would be great when we come for those weeks or months at a time, but for sure it’ll be necessary later down the road.”
“Exactly. Real estate prices are crazy right now, but I’ll keep my eyes open for a nearby property.”
“Dad, how big is the acreage where you and Mom live? Is it big enough to add another house?”
Now the lightbulb came on!
“Hey, Renee, we have four and a half acres. Plenty of space. Why didn’t I think of that?!”
The spark ignited; thoughts and ideas tumbled out as Renee, Derryl and I brainstormed how this might look.
“We’ll subdivide a piece of the property to ensure that detail is clean and tidy. I’ll build a wonderful house for you to come to in Nova Scotia – with room for the kids too.”
“I love the name you have for your home – what do you think you’d call the new house?”
“We lived in the Sanctuary two years before we came up with that name. An inspiration will show up when we’re ready for it.”
“Renee, imagining here on this property in NS – you and Damien, the kids, maybe even great-grandkids – makes this Papa’s heart sing!”
I jumped in when I could: “When I’m done with the stairs in the Sanctuary it will be time to switch houses.”
“Dad, we’ve got lots of time. Your design ideas for the house sound great, but there’s no need to go wild and crazy. Our family of five has been living in a 1000 square foot walk-up apartment!”
Whew!! We had enough on the table to process and plan. Plenty for Derryl to get excited and start dreaming about, and for me to envision sharing meals, walks in the woods, shopping at the farmer’s market.
We wrapped up the call: to be continued.
That kick-off chat was several months ago. Derryl paid no mind to Renee’s suggestion and started sketching house designs. My dreaming and actions moved towards home and garden.
The perennial beds must have been shocked this summer by the enthusiastic attention triggered by my long view for their happiness and health. I texted Renee about my newly acquired pleasure in planting trees and shrubs I may never see to full growth.
“Mom, do you have a lilac bush planted yet? Also, I vote for a magnolia tree. (I Googled to make sure they grow in NS). Magnolias are just stunning in spring! I can’t remember, have you planted raspberry canes?”
I had the lilac and magnolia covered but not the raspberries. That changed May 25th: as logged in my gardening journal: ‘Today I planted fifteen raspberry canes. I grew up picking and eating this fruit on my family farm where Renee’s childhood is also linked to these delicious berries. It makes sense to me now to get a patch going. We installed two motion-detector water sprayers. Hope they deter the deer.”
Now in November, I realize certain things matter more inside my house too. I want to put myself into these rooms, these walls (which for the record, will never be spotless as that’s not my gig!). My hope is for Renee and Damien and their family – including those yet to to be added – to feel the spirit of their parents, their grandparents, who loved and lived in this space.
When my husband and I moved from Alberta to Nova Scotia in 2007, we left behind ALL our family connections. No more Friday morning breakfasts with my sister or sharing family anniversaries, birthdays or “let’s meet for coffee.” I left my roots at the farm where one of my brothers still lives; where my siblings and their children and grandchildren regularly visit. When I travel back to Alberta I always must ‘go to the farm’, to the land that belongs to me, and I to it.
Renee and her family’s memories may never take root as deep as mine, but my vision and hope for their future on this land brings me unspeakable joy. In my understanding, family caring for their elderly members in-house isn’t as common here as in some cultures. Yet the more I share this prologue for our multi-generational living, I’m hearing of other families planning their care-giving households. I am hoping this is a growing movement.
Months have passed since that first text; Derryl and I are still wrapping our heads around this gift. Work, decisions, issues, negotiations – it’ll all be in the mix of fulfilling this dream. Our daughter’s fiercely loyal, nurturing heart and commitment – along with her husband’s support (thank you, Damien) – is humbling. We are in this together.
Jumping for joy!
Love and hugs – from my home to yours.