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July 2018

Moving to What?

Boxes are piled up.  Stuff is given away.   Good-byes to our neighbors in our retirement community have been said.  Moving is happening.  But to what?

The last time I moved into a space I’d never seen, I was seventeen years old and a freshman in college.  We've been inside the building that we are renting an apartment in, having considered buying a condo there a few years ago.  But since we couldn’t get to Cambridge to look at the apartment itself, we asked a friend I’ve known since I moved into that college dormitory to check it out for us.  She sent pictures and commentary, but I’ll be holding my breath when we open the door for the first time.

It’s in a wonderful location and people tell us that it is a terrific community, but exactly how many closets does it have?  Will its wonderful expanse of windows let in the cold winter winds?  We wish we hadn’t given away our long fleece robes when we moved south.  Who knew that ten months later we would be back?

It is amazing how quickly we got into moving mode.  It’s a bit easier this time, but I don’t want to make a habit of it. 

We’re closing a chapter and embarking on a new adventure.  Wish us luck.

Barack and Michelle

The National Portrait Gallery may be my favorite museum in Washington. The official portraits of all U.S. presidents and other distinguished Americans—from Pete Rose to Toni Morrison—are marvelous and alone worth the trip.

The Gallery shares the landmark Greek Revival building that once housed the U.S. Patent Office with the Smithsonian American Art Museum whose contemporary art you might not love, but have to see.

We put off a visit to the museum because the portraits of Michelle and Barack Obama were drawing crowds and who wanted to wait in line to see two paintings?

But we couldn’t return to Massachusetts without seeing the controversial portraits ourselves. Yes, they are different in person. And yes, they are different from past presidential portraits (The portrait of Bill Clinton by Chuck Close is pretty different too.)

I didn’t like Barack’s portrait. I didn’t mind the Hawaiian flower background. I just didn’t think it captured his spirit. As for Michelle’s, it’s a beautiful painting. But not of Michelle Obama.

Packing-up-Twice Advice

Here are some mid-packing reflections from a twice-in-twelve-months mover.

First, don’t do it. Period. It’s probably better to spend nine months producing a baby if you can.

Second, it’s amazing how clarifying it is when you haven’t used or worn something for nine months. St. Albans Church has been the recipient of some lovely things that I couldn’t bear to give away before the first move. Noticing that I hadn’t used something since we moved made it easy.

Third, I am more confident in my packing skills. This time I got a head start by buying my own packing paper. (Although many newspapers are smaller today, they still sell the original newsprint size paper for packers.)

Fourth, because we are downsizing further, I sold (actually almost gave away) some furniture early on. It cleared some space for our packed boxes, and I’m fine without it.

Still to happen—we are giving away our big TV—it’s ancient by the standards of today’s technology, and we will replace it with one that isn’t. So for a couple of weeks until we get a new one, we’ll be forced to read. Not a bad idea.

Unfinished Business

I emailed my cousin Gerry the other day with the following question:

“Do you ever think about how you might not have understood your parents’ aging until now?”

I found his response insightful and asked if I could quote him, especially if I called him “wise”. So here it is—food for thought from my wise, handsome, 76- year-old cousin.

“Right up to the day my father died I thought of my parents as ageless and eternal.  After all, they were my parents.  And that they were growing old and ever closer to death, while obvious, did not ever really register.   The sadness, the fear, the retrospection and satisfaction, the overall uncertainty of their last years was less than a mystery to me.  It simply passed me by without notice.”

Gerry went on to say that on a visit to his parents just months before his father died, they talked about financial matters, caring for his mother, etc. In the only way he knew how, his dad was saying good-bye.

“How I wish we had all been able to share a longer and deeper valedictory, talking of love and joy, disappointment and hope, offering one another something that at the time I could not name nor even recognize as missing.”

And in his email giving me permission to quote him, he added:

“What we wouldn't give to have them back even for a short while to address the unfinished expression of our love for our imperfect parents.”

Warning Signs

Warning Signs

Although I don’t think our decision to move to Washington was a mistake that we could have predicted, I might have missed some early warning signs that it wasn’t working out.

For one thing, we never opened a bank account here.  We loved the personal service at our Cambridge bank, and we do our transactions online anyhow.  So we stayed with it.

We never subscribed to The Washington Post and my computer’s home page remained The Boston Globe. (We do watch the local news sometimes, but like local news everywhere, it’s mostly weather, sports and murders.)

Our apartment’s balcony overlooks a lovely courtyard, but we didn’t buy any outdoor furniture for it in spite of Washington’s beautiful spring.

Although we developed a roster of Washington physicians, we still kept in touch with our Boston doctors, and we stayed in our Boston healthcare system. 

I think part of me knew that I wouldn’t be happy here from the day we arrived.  I just refused to see it. 

I am grateful that we had the opportunity to be near our kids. And I am grateful that we were welcomed so warmly to our retirement community. But, most of all, I am grateful to be able to go home.

Do We Want to Know?

Recently, medicine has made great strides in predicting who will suffer from some of the diseases we fear.

Studies of people with mild cognitive impairment using machine-learning techniques and beta-amyloid imaging may be able to predict the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease up to two years before the first symptoms appear.

And studies of BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations allow us to know if we face an increased risk of breast and/or ovarian cancer. These are just two examples of scientific advances that might complicate (or save) our lives.

And now, there is news from the “Medical Brain” team at GOOGLE. According to Bloomberg News, using artificial intelligence software and thousands of data points, it is possible to predict, with reasonable accuracy, the outcome of a hospitalization, how long it will last, and if the patient will die.

Would you want to know?

Once a Professor...

It’s been thirteen years since Peter stopped teaching computer science at Boston College. For ten years, he continued to teach at the Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement, often choosing a subject he knew little or nothing about because that way he would learn something new.

At his BC retirement party in 2005, I heard some things I didn’t know about how beloved he was as a professor. Seth and Jeremy were also mightily impressed by what they heard about their father.

Jim Gips, one of Peter’s (significantly younger) colleagues who had spoken at Peter’s retirement event, passed away quite suddenly two weeks ago. Since Jim and his family had bought our summer vacation home in 1980, we had a special tie to him and were sad to learn of his death.

A few days later Peter received the following email from a former student:


I don’t know if you remember me. I was your student at BC in the late 1970’s. I still think of you as my favorite professor.  I wanted to tell you that in light of Jim Gip’s passing. These things should be said before it’s too late. I hope you’re well!

Best regards
Tom V.”

An important lesson for all of us.

Thank You

Exactly one year ago, Peter and I flew to Washington, DC to look at an apartment in a retirement community. We liked it and it was near our kids and grandchildren. So we took it.

I remember how excited our family was at the thought of our living nearby.  I also remember that I couldn’t eat anything at our “celebratory” dinner that night. Sometimes I wonder if my body was telling me something my head didn’t want to hear.

It didn’t take long for my head to “hear” it. We missed everything about our life at “home". Six months later, we decided to return to Massachusetts.

Was it a mistake to come? Maybe. If we hadn’t moved, would we have regretted not trying it? Maybe. Have we loved seeing more of the kids? Of course.

Admitting our “mistake” on this blog—knowing that readers have gone through this with us—was hard.

But something amazing has happened. I have received dozens of emails from you saying that we are courageous, that my writing “spoke” to you, that you are so happy for us, that you understand, that it took “self-knowledge,” that we are making “the best decision for ourselves”.

Usually I press “post” on a blog entry I’ve written and that’s it.  But when your emails of support came pouring in, I had to tell you how much they mean to me.  We’re all on this journey together.  We make hard decisions. And sometimes we make mistakes.  When people care, it means a lot. 

A Momentous Decision

Peter and I have decided to go home.

Uprooting our lives of more than fifty years in Massachusetts has been a bigger challenge than we imagined.  We were sure that moving south to live near our grandchildren was right for us at this stage in our lives.  We knew that the Washington days are longer, that the winters are milder, and that there are wonderful cultural institutions and great natural beauty nearby.

What we didn’t know was how much we would miss our friends, our activities, our familiarity with the geography of Boston and the driving habits of Bostonians.  We miss our grocery stories with their easy parking lots.  We particularly miss our doctors.  We miss Symphony Hall and the Red Sox.  It’s not possible to create new friendships in months that come close to old friendships of decades.

We know that we are not going back to our house or our neighborhood.  And that’s OK.  We are aware that at our age, there are good reasons to be near our children.  But while we are still able to be on our own, we want to be where we have been most of our lives.

So get ready Massachusetts, we’re coming home.