Avoiding Decisions Part 3: Making the Decision

Terry Lieb Facing Fear, Living out your Faith 3 Comments

This is a continuation of the last post on confronting a major decision I’ve been avoiding for years: where and how Rita and I want to live out this next stage of our lives. This decision is extremely challenging and complex, and as I’ve come to understand the more I talk to others about it, there are many parts that are universal but many that are completely unique! 

Here are just a few of the responses I received when discussing our struggle:

One person said, “I need to stay here until my horse dies!” (Her horse did eventually die, she stayed and eventually left in an ambulance!)

One of the most common: “It’s absolutely too overwhelming to even think about going through all my ‘stuff’ myself! The kids don’t want anything so let them deal with it when I’m gone!”

On the flip side, an adult child following a parent’s sudden move to a skilled care facility admitted, “We decided the only manageable solution was to hire a ‘clean-out company,’ most everything went in dumpsters, some to an auction house, and some to Goodwill!”

Dumpster outside a neighbor’s home who wouldn’t consider options. The house had to be emptied and sold by others after he was hospitalized and committed to a nursing home.

“I’m just going to stay here until I kick the bucket or the roof falls in on me”! (The reality is that he may not have that option!)

“My one daughter said I could move in with her family when I can no longer take care of my house, the problem with that option is her husband never did like me and I find him to be a pompous jack———!”  (That doesn’t sound like a viable option for all parties involved.)

Some of those responses may hit home with you, while others don’t. The same is probably true for the rest of this post. Some of the aspects of my struggle may resonate, while others might not—or at least not directly. But I think many of the challenges I faced (and in some cases continue to face) have applicability beyond this particular issue.

Emotional baggage—the topic of the last post—is one cause of avoidance in this and other major life decisions, but it certainly isn’t the only one! My avoidance of this decision actually begins with an increasing number of smaller, seemingly less critical avoidances.  

Like it or not, aging comes with a decline in the strength, energy, endurance, and ability to take care of our property—and sometimes even ourselves!—that we have had in the past. A long-time friend shared with me that his wife of over fifty years recently had the audacity to confront him about failing to trim his hair—his nose hair, that is!  

My friend’s response was, “The hair I’m losing on my head seems to be showing up in my nose, my ears and my eyebrows, but my ability to see it in those areas is declining rapidly!”  (This is prime material for my next stand-up routine on aging; humor is an absolute necessity if we are serious about transforming our primary goal for this next life stage from surviving to thriving!)

To be frank, I’ve been just as “blind” to some of the effects of aging as my shaggy friend. Having always been a very active and physically involved person who was raised to be independent and self-sufficient, facing and accepting these new limitations has been incredibly challenging. 

Initially the changes show up in very subtle ways which are fairly easy for us to deny or give excuses for. However, it becomes increasingly apparent, often first to family and friends, that we don’t have the same physical and even at times mental capabilities. (In my case, I have some “near and dear” who have been questioning the latter for several years!)  

“I don’t want you climbing up on the roof to clean the chimney unless one of our boys are here to help you,” Rita warned, adding one more thing to the lengthening list of chores she doesn’t want me doing because of the risk of injuring myself. I know that her request is totally out of concern for me, but it still goes down hard because it forces me to face the reality that I may possibly not be able to do all the things I’m used to.  

Acknowledging my own aging is certainly a challenge, but no more than facing the prospect of leaving our home. Rita and I have only ever lived in two homes in our 51 years of marriage. In both cases we bought a few wooded acres, cleared the building site, put in utilities, and designed it from scratch ourselves, using as much reclaimed building materials as possible, including old barns! Over time, we continued to put a lot of our energy and creativity into the furnishing and landscaping. In some ways, it was not just a house but a work of art! And the more you invest in something, the harder it is to leave or grieve. Not to mention the fact that we also raised our boys here with far more memories than I could ever begin to put in print!  

Needless to say, giving all this up is not an idea I cherish. However, despite my best efforts to ignore it, reality has a way of sneaking in. The turning point for me came when friends who didn’t face the possibility of their loss of independence and had no plans made for it ended up living with devastating consequences of their non-decision. 

Did Rita and I want to explore a variety of living possibilities and decide ourselves where to spend our “golden years” or did we want to leave it for someone else to make that decision or be forced into a suboptimum option based on what was immediately available if we had to make a decision in crisis?  This eventually led us to seriously confront the question that we had been dancing around for some time.

Once I began to more deeply consider this issue and invite God into my struggle, I found that it directly challenged me to once again revisit my conception of God. For me this is an ongoing process (and part of the impetus behind this blog!), but it still came as a  surprise.

Over several years my understanding of God—what I refer to as my “God image”—has transformed to a God who is ever present and thus, the foundation of our true security. Since I had already reached this conclusion long ago, I was surprised that the struggle around leaving our community, especially our faith community, and letting go of our little piece of heaven here in the woods has driven me to wrestle with this little five-letter word I have used all-too-superficially, “faith,” all over again!  

As I explored my resistance to facing this decision, I began to realize that my attachment to both my own independence and our house stemmed in large part from the fact that they are  two primary foundations of my sense of security in this world. In the post on Financial Wellness, I described how accumulating money can be an (ineffective) attempt to deal with our own internal insecurities. But money isn’t the only thing offering a false sense of security!

I talk about having faith in God, but where was my faith really? How much was tied up in myself and my own abilities? In my safe, comfortable house?

Sincerely wrestling with how much of my security was (still!) wrapped up in external things that are transient and can never offer ultimate, indestructible safety has taken my faith journey to a whole new level! As I’ve said before, the harder an obstacle in our life journey appears, the more potential it holds to transform!  

Taking comfort in God’s unfailing promise to always be present with me, showering me with grace and unconditional love, helped free me from some of the (largely unconscious) fear and insecurity I had been carrying around. Although there was still some loss and grief associated with letting go of the past, I was able to look to the future with a new sense of optimism and opportunity. What might God have in store for us?

A view of our new CCRC

We started out looking at many options from moving into a one-story small ranch home across the street from our youngest son to a small apartment in town, before eventually deciding we wanted to move to a CCRC (Continuing Care Retirement Community). Then once we decided on that, a whole new list of decisions had to be made as we had to identify what all we wanted to be available for us in the community and also the surrounding area.

We love nurturing relationships with our “old” friends and cultivating new relationships, learning new skills, expanding our volunteer commitments, and exploring opportunities we aren’t even aware of at this point. We visited and stayed at several CCRC’s to investigate what each had to offer so we could make an informed decision. 

During one visit, our host couple invited us up to their apartment for a “special treat.” It turned out the husband was the fencing instructor and convinced Rita to don all the equipment! That definitely can be filed under “opportunities we weren’t even aware of,” don’t you think?

Rita in fencing gear

 While visiting another community a woman advised us to “take your time and look closely because this is where you are coming to die.” I beg to differ. To me, we are looking for a community where we will be coming, not to die, but to live!  

After years of wrestling, exploring options, dialoguing together, and inviting God into the whole process, I am happy to report that we have finally settled on a vibrant CCRC in Lancaster which I am looking forward to with genuine hope and enthusiasm, knowing there will be many more experiences and learnings as we transition through this exciting process! 

I want to make sure to be clear that our decision to pursue a CCRC is not necessarily the right choice for everyone. Everybody has different needs, financial circumstances, preferences, health, and social support to take into account. One size does not fit all!

And the best choice may even be to stay where you are! One couple wrestled with the same decision and eventually concluded they wanted to stay in their home. They made various adaptations to the house, arranged for help to come in as their needs increased, and chose a local nursing facility as a back-up plan if living in their home is no longer possible. These folks faced the reality of their life situation, explored the options, and made the decisions necessary to make what they wanted a reality.

No matter your age or stage, living life on autopilot, making decisions by not deciding, and being a passive passenger on your own life journey is rarely a recipe for success. But if you are able to set aside your emotional baggage, face the reality of your circumstances, explore your options, and invite God into your decisions, I’m convinced you can open up new and exciting possibilities greater than you have even imagined!


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Anthony Bifulco
Anthony Bifulco
December 4, 2023 2:40 pm

I am glad to hear you and Rita have a great plan in place and also provided some suggestions for others to follow that gave you the opportunity to try them out. i will be passing your blog on to others who are in similar situations to yours.

December 4, 2023 2:53 pm

You have caught my attention with planning for the future. It’s almost 12 years since my retirement and I realize my priorities have focused on doing volunteer work at the church. I need to refocus and transfer much of that workload to others. That would give me time to do what’s necessary to prepare the best for me and not be a burden for the church in the future.

December 11, 2023 9:56 am

Thank you once again for providing so much clarity for the future, that quite frankly, I do dread. God willing I, we, can still enjoy many more years in our little slice of heaven we call home. But truthfully, I too realize that all the work involved in staying is becoming increasingly harder to do. So much to think about but the dialog needs to begin now before the choice may be taken away. Thank you for sharing your struggles and decision process. God bless