Gene Gimmeson planted 14 evergreens the year he moved into the house on Waterford Street. For 32 years he watched them grow tall.
He tended to them with a drip watering system, which is why, he thought, the Colorado blue spruces tower above 55 feet today. He liked the way they looked in wintertime, enveloped in snow in his backyard.
Gimmeson had a photograph of what the spruces looked like in 1978, small dots sprouting from the ground along the fence line. He planned to leave it for the next homeowners, because soon, the trees wouldn’t be his anymore.
In mid-December, Gimmeson’s life was packed in boxes. He got off the waiting list at Primrose Retirement Community and sold the house after two years of trying.
Our personal belongings are just things. But then again, they’re not. We assign meaning and memory to what we collect. When downsizing your life after 83 years, where do you begin? What do you throw away and what do you take with you?
At Primrose, Gimmeson would have one bedroom, one bathroom, a kitchen and living room all on one level.
He knew it would be more manageable, but still, he’d miss those trees.
As Gimmeson packed and walked through the rooms getting emptier by the minute, he realized all the other things he’d miss. He’d miss his step-in shower and the automatic thermostat. He’d miss the dishwasher. He worried he wouldn’t be able to see the dishes well enough to keep them clean without it.
He was moving from 2,800 square feet to 800, room for only a portion of what he owned.
He knew it was time to move when his eyesight began failing him. Gimmeson’s wife, Vernie, died 10 years ago, and he had lived alone in the four-level home since. Macular degeneration set in on his right eye. He had two retinal transplants on the left. The 83-year-old couldn’t see as well anymore to navigate the house.
Gimmeson collected baseball caps, too many to count. So before he moved, he donated 92 of them to the Salvation Army. He has to sell his wife’s album collection, all the Wayne Newtons and Ernest Tubbs and Burl Iveses.
Most of the furniture he couldn’t take, either. His wife reupholstered many pieces in their house -- a recliner and foot stool in the living room, bed-side bench and matching chair upstairs, two antique wooden chairs in the basement.
“That’s why you hate to get rid of some of this stuff, but …” Gimmeson said. “ … She was just one of them who could do anything.”
In addition to relief, seniors can feel loneliness, fear, reluctance, loss and frustration during a transition such as moving.
“… It’s extremely hard to give up your freedom and come very clearly to the realization that you can’t take care of yourself like you could,” said Virginia Vincenti, an expert on family and consumer sciences at the University of Wyoming. “That’s a big loss.”
Gimmeson worried about leaving his neighborhood. He moved in before all the other houses and developments arrived. His friends lived there. Every morning, he and a neighbor took a three-mile walk together. He’d have to meet a whole new group of people.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. Gimmeson hoped he’d find someone at Primrose who liked to walk as much as he did.
When it came to moving, Gimmeson had four floors to clean out. His son, Brant, lives in Aurora, Colo., and came up to help as much as possible. But during the move, Gimmeson needed someone who could pack and move furniture and boxes on a daily basis. Brant Gimmeson said he was concerned about the logistics of moving, how his father would be able to handle it. Through Primrose, Gene Gimmeson found Caring Transitions, a Casper business that assists seniors in downsizing, moving and estate sales.
Ed and Kendra Good said they started their business, part of a national network, because they saw a need in the community. The U.S. Administration on Aging predicts Wyoming will have the fourth largest percentage of seniors age 60 and older in the next four years, and with an aging population comes a need for more elder care and assistance.
Caring Transitions fills in where what the Goods call the “sandwich generation” cannot. Adults between the ages of 40 and 60 can find themselves “sandwiched” between managing careers, their own children and their aging parents at the same time. It can be a burden, and people can’t always take off work or travel from out of state to coordinate their senior’s move.
The Goods draw on their own personal experiences, having helped their own parents transition later in life. Since July the couple and their staff of five have helped two to three seniors a month.
They’re there from the beginning (coordinating with the moving company, organizing personal items) to end (hooking up the television, stocking the fridge, hanging picture frames). And after the move is over, the Goods still keep in touch.
“They start to feel like family, and you want to help them every way you can,” said Ed Good. “… We really want to make an effort to at least say, ‘Yes, we’re done with what you’ve hired us to do, but we’re here for you. … Call if you need help.’”
When Gimmeson got off the Primrose waiting list, he started to downsize on his own. He went room by room, deciding what to keep, toss and donate. The Goods helped Gimmeson figure out what furniture would fit in the Primrose apartment and helped him sell the rest. And then, for several days in December, they went through each room, item by item, and asked Gimmeson what he could part with.
In the kitchen, Kendra Good held up fabric place mats.
Good: “What about these?”
Gimmeson: “Oh, I don’t think so.” ...
Good: “Rice cooker?”
Gimmeson: “No, don’t want that either.”
Out, too, went extra recipe books, a waffle maker, nesting bowls, glass pitcher, poultry roaster and glass pie tins.
For Gimmeson, Primrose was a chance for a safe environment. He’s independent, but a staff would be there if he needed more help. He drives on his own, but Primrose would also have buses available. His wife was a wonderful cook, but on his own, Gimmeson didn’t use the stove much.
“If it doesn’t get cooked in the microwave, it doesn’t get cooked,” he said.
At Primrose, he’d get a hot meal.
Leaving after three decades, Gimmeson couldn’t sleep the night before the move. He had to take a sleeping pill.
It snowed overnight, and he woke early and shoveled the drive.
The movers had done jobs at Primrose before, and as they transferred furniture from Gimmeson’s bedroom, they told him the chair his wife reupholstered wouldn’t fit. As Ed Good gathered cords and extra bedroom items, Gimmeson sat in the chair one more time.
He joked they could change “master bedroom” written on the boxes to “only bedroom.”
In a few hours, all the furniture was gone.
His name hadn’t yet been printed on the placard outside his new apartment, but Gimmeson arrived at Primrose to a poster filled with greetings.
“A friendly welcome to Gene G from all of us.”
“Plant your feet here with us.”
“A stranger is just a friend we haven’t met yet.”
Movers carried in boxes, all the furniture, washer and dryer. Kendra Good showed Gimmeson where she put food, plates, cups and cleaning supplies in the cabinets. Ed Good mounted the radio, which Gimmeson listens to every day.
“Good, you’re taking care of me,” Gimmeson said. “I need all the help I can get.”
In the bedroom, the bed-side bench his wife made fit.
He pulled open a glass door at the back and stepped onto his porch. Just outside was a deciduous tree. From his new apartment, he could watch it grow.
Epilogue: Three weeks after moving to Primrose, Gimmeson is all settled. He has started to meet his neighbors, and the Goods continue to check in. Friends from his old neighborhood have visited, and Gimmeson went back to see them during the holidays. Gimmeson found a new walking route through the halls of Primrose and hopes to visit his old neighbor for a long three-mile walk when the streets dry of snow.
Reach features reporter Margaret Matray at 307-266-0535 or email@example.com.
Caring for your senior
The U.S. Administration on Aging predicts Wyoming will have the fourth largest percentage of seniors age 60 and older in the next four years. With an aging population comes a need for more elder care and assistance.
In addition to feeling relief, seniors can feel loneliness, fear, reluctance, loss and frustration when downsizing or moving. Experts offered advice on how to broach the topic with sensitivity:
* Signs your senior may need help:
-- Mail stacking up and bills left unpaid.
-- Changes in hygiene or personal care.
-- Home getting dirty or lack of upkeep.
-- Changes in diet; snacking instead of cooking.
-- Difficulty finding things or putting them away.
* How to address it: Be conversational, not confrontational, said Ed Good of Caring Transitions in Casper. Ask questions and voice concerns, but don’t take over. You don’t want your senior to feel powerless.
“You have to remember this is the same person who used to change your diapers,” Good said. “You have to be careful how you approach these topics.”
Start talking early on so that your seniors understand they can trust you and that you’re trying to help them remain independent as long as possible, not that you’re trying to be controlling, said Virginia Vincenti, an expert on family and consumer sciences at the University of Wyoming.
* In the existing home: If health allows your senior to stay in his or her own home, adaptations can be made to improve safety and make the home more livable, Vincenti said.
A home health aid can go through the home and point out items that can be adjusted. For example, eliminating throw rugs can prevent tripping; a spray nozzle and seat in the bathtub can allow seniors to wash themselves on their own.
Make sure all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in working order, and evaluate where potential accidents can be eliminated.
* Moving to an independent or assisted care facility: We often attach memories to personal belongings, making them feel like more than just things.
Kendra Good of Caring Transitions suggests considering the "80/20 rule" when downsizing: We use 20 percent of the things we have 80 percent of the time. Most of our stuff is just there, taking up space.
Good tells her clients to think of downsizing as moving to a vacation home: You don’t need to take everything with you, just what you need.
Keep a few mementos that hold strong memories, such as photographs. Vincenti also suggested taking your senior’s own furniture to the new residence.
* Long-term planning: Whether your senior is staying in his or her home or downsizing to an assisted care facility, experts say planning is essential.
With your senior, go through all of his or her assets and document them. Vincenti said families should talk about the distribution of meaningful items long before the end of life. Ask your senior if there are certain things he or she wants particular people to have. Get everything down in writing.
Vincenti suggested giving copies to a lawyer and to all people involved, which can prevent hard feelings or misbehavior later.
Remember: Although seniors may be going through changes, they’re still individuals with their own interests. Talk to your seniors about their dreams, all the things they’ve wanted to do that they haven’t yet.
Since July, Kendra and Ed Good of Casper have assisted seniors in downsizing, moving and estate sales through their business, Caring Transitions.
Now with a staff of seven, this local office of the national Caring Transitions network helps seniors from Casper to Cheyenne and in Hot Springs County. The company also assists those downsizing or going through transition due to disability, divorce or death of a loved one.