Adapting to Whatever Period You’re In

Born at home in a stately house built by her parents in 1912, diminutive Helen Barnett lived most of her 92 years in this tranquil setting. Yet when I met Helen she had just sold this treasured home and was in the throes of packing up eight rooms to downsize into an apartment in a retirement facility. With much trepidation Helen has made up her mind that the responsibility for keeping up her beloved, art-filled family home is just too much for one person to handle.

For so many years, she says, she simply responded to whatever life dealt her, not the least of which was being the caregiver for her elderly mother. She now is solely responsible for this weighty decision, and she is trying to firm up her resolve. “I’m not going to like any of it,” she announces. “Everybody in my life has been in this house,” she says. “So many memories.”

But she quickly squarely faces her situation: “My husband is gone, and I’ve outlived all my friends. What the heck – who cares?”

Helen took care of her mother until her death at 97. “Since my mother and her sisters all lived to their nineties,” Helen muses, “I’d feel like a failure in heaven if I hadn’t at least reached 90.”

When her mother died, the dynamics changed. She no longer lived the protected life her mother had set out for her, giving her structure and making all the rules. “My mother was a worrier,” she confides, “so I didn’t ever have to.”

She has faced the common setbacks of aging: a few years ago she had a knee replacement and now takes twelve pills a day when only four years ago she was medication-free. “Periodically I apologize to my body,” she quips.

Though Helen says that throughout most of her life she didn’t choose anything herself, she is now the sole force behind selling her family home. As she acclimates to living in an apartment at the Deupree House, a senior retirement facility on the east side of Cincinnati, she is creating a new chapter in her life. “90 years into nothing,” she says disquietly.

Helen is endeavoring to live through each moment as it happens and not think about the future. As in the past, she must adjust to the formidable loss before her. “Time has to help,” she offers. “You adapt to whatever period you’re in.”

She says she has lived a life surrounded by friends and oriented toward being friendly and supportive to others. With any luck, moving to a place girded by new faces and fresh possibilities will prove the wisdom of her decision to pull up stakes.

Helen Barnett