My Grandmother Wants to Go "Home"- Giving Up a House You Love

Real Estate Broker/Owner with the Wallace Consulting Group

As a Realtor,  selling houses and condos day in and out, with many homeowners selling and upgrading quicker than they ever were, and working in Boston where the average homeowner spends 3-5 years in their first home, I don't have as much exposure to those people who have lived in their homes for years and years.  I was reminded after visiting my grandmother recently of how important a house is, when it is truly a "HOME". 

My grandmother had the most beautiful Victorian Home on Fairmount Hill (a really nice area in Boston). She is the reason I have such a passion for real estate, as at a very young age, we would walk daily through the neighborhood (where I now own my own place) and she would point out all the beautiful homes and details, and gardens, talking about what the rooms inside must be like, and telling me which family lived in each home. These walks are some of my favorite memories. 

What's hard now is that my grandmother has Alzheimer's and while most of the time she is doing well, there are some days she is just so confused. She now lives in a condo-like community for the elderly. She opted to move to this community a few years back, feeling that after my grandfather had passed, being alone in an old house had many difficulties. With a long wait list at places like these, when they did call with an open condo, she had to make a quick decision, or the wait would have been another four years. She now has a bright corner unit at "Winter Valley" with lots of windows, and tons of light. Her pastel colored furniture brightens up what would otherwise be a "Vanilla Box" as we like to say. Her walls filled with family pictures bring life to the space, and her rocking chair with knitting basket fits right in as it had in her own home. 

The other night we went out to dinner, and I was driving her back and like old times, again she was pointing out all the houses she loves, and now I am able to tell her which ones I have been in, and what the rooms like. At one point she said to me: "I always thought that as long as I could go on my walks, I Would never have to leave my home." I was so taken aback that I went into realtor mode - pointing how nice and bright her place was much easier it was to take care of a smaller space much of a pain old houses can things always need fixing etc. I meant all of it, but didn't want to face the truth of what she really was saying. She finally looked over and said: "I know it's nice, but I just really miss my home." 

This broke my heart for so many reasons. She loved her home more than anyone I have ever known. She liked certain rooms at certain times of the day because of the way sunlight streamed in, or on a hot day she knew exactly which spot had the best breezes, she never missed watching a sunset from her kitchen window, and she was a welcome face for the commuters coming home on the train as she watered her garden every night. I was so naive to not see that no matter what her new small "condo" looks like, or how bright and sunny it felt - it just isn't HOME. 

I guess I am just writing from the heart here...because I didn't know what to say to her then, and I don't what to say now. How do you help someone find the peace they felt in a home they truly loved, when for life's unfair reasons, they had to give that home up. 


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Mary Warren
Las Vegas, NV
It's hard to get old(er).  Many of the older people lived in their homes for a parents lived in theirs for 36 years.  My husband's aunt is 94, she just recently went into assisted living.  She lived in her home for 54 years!  She refuses to sell the house.  It's like she thinks that someday she will go back.  Sad.
Aug 09, 2007 05:46 PM #1
Andrew Trevino
ADT Real Estate - Wilkes Barre, PA
Wilkes-Barre Homes For Sale
Erica, Alzheimer's is a tough disease to deal with. The periods of lucidity make it so hard to understand the rest of the time. It sounds like your grandmother is lucid alot of the time, so maybe bringing her pieces from her home would help her to hold onto the pleasant memories. I wouldn't say that you went into Realtor mode as much as you tried to comfort her from the angle at which you view things. It sounds like you love her very much. I hope she gets more accustomed to her new surroundings and that you two are able to continue to spend quality time together.
Aug 09, 2007 05:50 PM #2
Brian Esquivel - AZ Home Mortgage
Arizona Home Mortgage - Scottsdale, AZ
What a sweet lady, your grandma.  She reminds me of my great grandmother who just passed this year at 102.  She had to go into an assited living facility for the last 8 years of her life and everytime I came back to Nebraska to visit her she always got upset about not being able to go home, it really choked me up everytime I visited her because I was out of state and couldn't do anything about it.  Even if I was there though she needed help 24/7. She was still baking homemade rolls for us on the holidays at 95! I have a video of her that I taped for just a few minutes (so I thought) at her 100th B-day party and when I went back to pick up the camcorder it was still recording....for like an extra 45 minutes focused on her talking with each of her guests that came up to say their hello's.  I still haven't gotten the guts up to put it in and watch it yet but after reading your post I am going to do it this weekend.....Thank you and enjoy your grandma every minute that you are with her.  I asked my grandma before she died what she thought was the most important thing in life and I remember her vividly looking up at me and telling me "the memories.....remember all of the good times and hold on to the good memories."
Aug 09, 2007 06:19 PM #3
Brian Jones
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage - Laguna Beach, CA
Realtor, Coast Real Estate Specialist
I appreciate you writing about a very difficult and personal subject. Sometimes writing is the only catharsis we have. My dad passed away from Alzheimers several years ago and it was very tough on the whole family. I can't say enough about the caregivers out there who helped us through and looked after him when we eventually had to place him in a home. I still miss the times when he would randomly stop by our home with the pretense of dropping off a flowers for my daughter or to help with one of my home projects or just to have coffee in the morning. Cherish those moments.
Aug 09, 2007 06:38 PM #4
Rochelle Kosanovich
J. Roberts & Co. Real Estate Services - Paradise Valley, AZ
Thank you for sharing your personal story with us. And, thank you for dropping by my page as well. I look foward to reading more from you!
Aug 10, 2007 11:22 AM #5
Amy Whiffen
RE/MAX Southern Shores - Myrtle Beach, SC
REALTOR - Myrtle Beach Real Estate
Thank you for sharing Erica. I feel in those situations there are no words to comfort, just take her hand with a gentle squeeze...
Aug 10, 2007 12:10 PM #6
Erica Wallace
the Wallace Consulting Group - Boston, MA

Wow, Thank you all for your nice comments. I had intended on writing about how my grandmother is the reason I love old houses and eventually found my passion in selling real estate and as I was writing it seemed to take another route. I almost didn't post it, as I didn't want to bring anyone down. Your comments have been so nice to read. 

Mary, I think you're right, your aunt doesn't want to sell the home because the hope of going back there may be what gets her through the days, my grandmother had said the same thing  

Andrew, That's a great idea. After I read that I was thinking of getting a painting done of her house. I am not sure if it would make her too sad. 

Brian E. I am so sorry to hear about your great grandmother - 102 ...that's incredibe! That's great you have those memories. I am glad my post got you in a mindset to watch the recording. 

Brian J, I am so sorry to hear about your Dad. It's so hard when we feel helpless to what's going on. I Agree with you the caregivers are amazing. They do not get enough credit for the hard work they do. 

Rochelle, Thank you for reading my post - Your page is great, and I appreciate your kind words

Amy, Thanks for the encouragement. I definitely need it. 


Aug 10, 2007 06:40 PM #7
Donna Yates
BHGRE - Metro Brokers - Blue Ridge, GA
Blue Ridge Mountains
Erica:  It's not an easy thing at all, for you or for your grandmother.  I went through the same thing a few years ago and it is heartbreaking.  I've always thought it is very sad how, if we live long enough, we basically end up.  The only thing I can say to you and your grandmother is, "there is a better home awaiting" better than the one she left.   I think all you can really do is listen and give her lots of hugs!  Your company is more important  to her now anyway and she has her memories which may be sad in a way, but the thought of wonderful times past will provide comfort too. 
Aug 10, 2007 07:43 PM #8
Celeste "SALLY" Cheeseman
Century 21 Liberty Homes - Mililani, HI

My aunt has had Alzheimers for about 10 years and in a home. When my uncle died from pneumonia they took her to the funeral and everyone swore she "knew". She hasn't been her bright sunny self (even though she recognizes no one) since. It's hard with someone who needs the support etc. and no matter what, though they miss their home..we know they're in a better place. I like Amy's suggestions. Can't say anything really...just give her hand a squeeze and give her a hug and smile.

Aug 11, 2007 02:01 PM #9
Respect Realty LLC
Respect Realty LLC - Milwaukie, OR
Brokers - Oregon / SW Washington Real Estate

My grandparents both had Alzheimer and it is a very sad disease. Visit her often and don't cry when they don't remember who you are. Do things with them and bring a little joy to their life while you can. They really do enjoy talking about the past and seeing a smiling on their face while they do is a wonderful thing.

She will repeat the same phrase or question to you 4 or 5 times during your visit, just answer it and nod your head, like it is the first time you have heard it. But, enjoy her everyday if you can!

Aug 12, 2007 08:07 PM #10
Cynthia Tilghman, Realtor® Onslow County NC Home Specialist
Kingsbridge Realty, Inc - Hubert, NC
Hello Erica,
What a lovely post, I felt like I was riding with you and your Grandmother.  Growing old is not for the faint of heart and watching one you love with Alzheimer is even harder.  My Grannie suffered from that awful disease too and is was heart wrenching to see.  Continue to visit her and do things with her that she enjoys while you can. 
Aug 13, 2007 03:56 AM #11
Chad Baird
Re/Max Spirit - Dayton, OH

THe last conversations I had with my grandpa he never even recognized me as a Grandson.  I was an Army buddy from WWII.  He was always consistant about the name he called me and where we were at in Europe .  I just talked along and tried to keep up.  He had a sharp memory of things that happeneded in his 20's, but nothing past that.  Alzheimer's is a strange disease. 

Good luck and enjoy Grandma for as long as possible! 

Aug 13, 2007 04:20 AM #12
Vicki Bishop GRI - Alabama Real Estate
Coldwell Banker United Realtors® - Bay Minette, AL
I know how hard it is, my grandmother is now in a nursing facility because of her heart. She talks of times at the old homestead. She sure does miss it but knows that she couldnt have cared for the place any longer by herself.
Aug 13, 2007 04:44 AM #13
Desiree Daniels
RE/MAX Tri County - Robbinsville, NJ

<sigh> Talk about Grandmothers always make me smile than sigh.    My grandmother sold her home when she was sick and move into one of "those" complexes.   It was never the same... she was never the same.  

If i ever have a reason to travel to the town where my grandparents lived I do drive up to the house and sit in front of there wondering if the peopled cared for it as much as my grandmother did.  I'd wish my mother and her sisters didn't opt to sell it....

Okay .. now I am off to search for a photo... just to cheer me up....   I understand what you're Grandma means... cherish her... I wish mine was still around

Aug 18, 2007 07:15 AM #14
Kathy Clulow
RE/MAX All-Stars Realty Inc. Brokerage - Uxbridge, ON
Trusted For Experience - Respected For Results

Alzheimers is a cruel disease, it takes your life away from you a little bit at a time. My Mom lived with us for 5 years after the family decided she should not live alone in her home by the lake anymore.

Her time with us was wonderful for her and our grandchildren as we also had 3 of our grandchildren with us at the same time (what a house full 4 generations under one roof). I feel it helped prolong her ultimate move to the nursing home by quit some time. I know she enjoyed every day and so did her great grandkids. They will always remeber living with Great Grandma in grammas house.

Now I need that kleenex box

Aug 18, 2007 10:09 AM #15
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