Monday, June 15, 2015


When I was waiting to close on my newly-constructed condo, I jokingly called myself "homeless" for a few months because I had to stay with relatives and sublet apartments after moving out of my own rental apartment. My property was mostly in storage and I was living out of a couple of suitcases and garbage bags full of linens. "Home" for me has for many years been defined as my own apartment in NYC, where I live. But sometimes I catch myself referring to "home" in the sense of the home where I grew up. My hometown.
The older I got, the less I'd say that. My parents bought the house I grew up in when I was 9 months old. I had the same bedroom all to myself for my entire childhood. And in the many years since, when I'd come home to visit, I would almost always stay in that room. The few times when I didn't, when for some reason I slept in my parents' room, or my sister's room, always seemed a bit strange. Even when my mother renovated and redecorated and got rid of so much stuff after my dad died, that house was still "home" in some way, though the removal of so many of the books and personal items and furnishings that I'd grown up with made it seem weirdly sterile and anonymous.
But now the house has been sold, and all that is left of it is about $500,000 in my mother's bank account. I last visited about 6 weeks before she closed, and found myself wandering around the house, taking photos of odd things like certain doorknobs and some child-height coat pegs that my father had made for the back hall when we were kids. I felt less sentimental about it than I would have expected, though. The house had become a source of stress, mainly because of my mother's compulsion to overspend on it, resulting in a complete drain of the savings my father had left when he died. (To be fair, that's not the only thing my mother spent money on, as she was also putting a lot towards my grandmother's nursing home care.)
At the end, my mother felt like the house was dragging her down too. She knew she couldn't keep up with the expenses of maintaining it, let alone doing any more improvements. It played out exactly as I had told her it would, that if she spent a lot on renovations, she would have to sell the house within a few years because she'd be broke, and the cost of the renovations would not be recouped in her selling price. She could have done a few minor cosmetic things and a much less elaborate bathroom renovation and still ended up with the exact same selling price.
Anyway, it's good that the house is sold and she got a decent price for it. Now the stressful conversations between my mother and sister and me are all about what do do with the money. My mother has this idea in her head that my father wanted my sister and me to have an inheritance. She also "doesn't want Medicaid to take the money" if she goes into a nursing home. She's not that old, and her health is relatively OK. My sister and I are just worried that cash seems to slip through her fingers like water. I think what we'll end up doing is that my mom will give us some money, and we'll each save it to use on her behalf later if necessary, though my sister is also tempted to use the money to pay off a second mortgage. I think I've also talked my mother into letting me set up an investment account for her so that whatever money she keeps will earn her more than the miniscule interest of a savings account or CD. Psychologically, this may also help in terms of her thinking she can't really spend it-- we'll see! I'm thinking of a Vanguard account with a conservative blend of funds.

I felt bad that my work schedule didn't allow me to go back to the house one more time and help with the last of my mother's packing and moving. Maybe it would have cemented the reality of the situation a bit more-- as it is, I keep wondering if the next time I go up there to visit, I'll automatically drive to my mother's old house without thinking, rather than my sister's. The other thing I'll really miss is being able to walk to a beach about half a mile away. It was always a quiet refuge, a good place to escape from family stress. But as much as I feel sad about not having that family home, I feel worse for my mother, who truly is homeless now, and feels a lot of insecurity about where she'll end up. She'll stay with my sister a bit, and then go to live in my grandmother's house-- another money pit that we are hoping doesn't turn into her next renovation project! After my grandmother dies, she'll have to figure out where to go next. Another topic for another post, another day...

1 comment:

Pyper B. said...

Great post, thank you for sharing. That is a very personal post. Hopefully you guys can invest that money for your mom. Just keep telling her it will compound into more money, that might help her!