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Alzheimer’s moved up home deconstruction

It’s funny how one small action can carry a mountain of meaning. I was caught off guard by my reaction to tossing out little drawings done years ago by our grandchildren. Tears rolled down my cheeks. When I spoke of it a few days later, once more, tears flowed down. Yet again, a few weeks later, talking to a professional, I recalled the act of throwing out old papers and I openly cried.

It seems this simple act of cleaning out drawers of old papers represents the entirety of deconstructing my home and, therefore, a special span of my life. It is heart-wrenching. We are preparing to relocate.

This article isn’t necessarily about Alzheimer’s. Due to changes in circumstances, many of us are forced into deconstructing the homes, and with that the lives we so lovingly built over the years. Alzheimer’s has brought this change much sooner than I expected.

I’ve had the opportunity to live in at least 17 different towns in three countries. I have traveled to countless interesting and beautiful places in my 71 years but nowhere makes my heart sing like my current home, my Eden that is 30 miles outside of Durango. We’re lucky to have a home that could accommodate so much life. I’m especially lucky to have had 23 years to wake up to the unobstructed sunrise as I sat with my steaming, hot coffee on the east portal, and at night to view the Milky Way in the pure night sky.

This place, where my husband and I expected to die, is where we are now emptying drawers. In spite of our attachment, we need to relocate to avoid isolation as I approach the time when I can no longer drive myself to and from town.

Sadly, it is clear that no one in our family is able to take on the responsibility of living on and caring for the land and home, El Ranchito de la Familia. We all have wonderful memories of Christmases, family reunions, the years when our son and his family lived in the guesthouse, and when my dying father had a place to end his days. While our dreams of future gatherings on the land continue, the reality is with us. The time has come to move on and stop putting off the inevitable.

For now, the heavy lifting begins, actually and figuratively, as we sort through years and generations of cherished items as well as meaningless accumulations. We are dispensing with much of it, trying to keep the important things that define us, yet pairing down for a house that is bound to be smaller and less personal.

We designed this house 25 years ago on land I’ve owned for nearly 50 years. I helped carry adobe bricks when it went up. A friend and I built the well-used kitchen table. We planted many dozens of saplings in our xeriscape gardens and hand-watered them over the years. Some died, but those that didn’t are thriving now. We naively planted an orchard and hand-watered each tree for 20 plus years, only this year getting a true yield of pears and apples. We recently built a picnic area in the bosque in expectation of large family gatherings and camp-outs. Our home is very personal.

This work of deconstructing is for clear-eyed realists not for sissies. I’m not sure I’m up to it, but if I’m not now, I certainly won’t be as time passes. My challenge is to keep in mind that I will have another opportunity to create a new home, to construct rather than deconstruct knowing it won’t be the same because it won’t have the same memories of the sound of children and grandchildren. For this I grieve. But I can do what is needed. I’ve lived in many houses, built many homes and emptied those homes to move on and build different memories. I can do it again.

By the way, in spite of these temporary though challenging happenings, I continue to do well.

Kim Martin splits her time between Hesperus and Durango, and is a former instructor of Asian history, writing and comparative cultures at Fort Lewis College.