It was Fall of 2019 when I posted on Facebook that I didn’t want to move, despite my adult children’s urgings. “My life is here. My friends are here. I don’t want to lose my independence,” I proclaimed. By the following April, my sentiments hadn’t changed. But the world had. On April 3, 2020, my daughter came and got me. She flew all the way from LA to Chicago and we traveled back together. Even my doctor was on board with this decision. Not knowing how long the pandemic would last, his concern about the danger of isolation and loneliness outweighed the risk of travel at the time.
Now it’s coming up on a year. I’m still in LA. And…I’ve decided to make the move permanent. Yet the thought of giving up the home where I cared for my wife Margaret during her final years, where I’ve built a life and community post-retirement, was giving me chills. And not in the good way.
Nevertheless, I hired a real estate agent to sell my condo. She started going through my things, asking me what I wanted to save, what could be thrown away. There were reports I’d written when I was head of JCC Chicago. There were all my books and pictures, my favorite furniture. It was overwhelming. Katie wanted the everyday dishes. Newly married, she and her husband are setting up their own home. No one wanted the big furniture pieces, thank you very much.
I enlisted my son the psychiatrist to go through my personal things. He videoconference-d with me from the bedroom, where things were strewn all over bed and floor.
The Story and History of Your Family, As Told by Your Stuff
My son was intrigued by a set of gold dishes made in Bavaria. We know they are part of our family’s collective journey, but don’t know for sure how they came to be in America. We think it was my grandparents, on my stepmom’s side who brought them out of Germany when they were escaping WWII. They were passed on to my mom, except for that short period when my aunt (my stepmom’s sister) “stole” them, as family lore would have it. I ended up with half the set (my half-brother has the other half) after both sisters passed in the 80’s. These dishes and their long story are just one of dozens of treasures that have been collected over the years, including the last 20 in my condo in Deerfield.
The One Item that Changed My Mind
And then Michael came across came across Margaret’s diploma from Roosevelt University. It was seeing that diploma that released any reservation I had about leaving the past behind and moving onto this next vignette of my life. Why? After 26 years of marriage, after both of our children had grown up and moved out, Margaret had gone back to college and gotten her BA. I have a master’s degree. My daughter also has a master’s. My son is an MD. All my grandchildren are rabbis, scholars, and successful businesspeople, or have started college.
I was a depression era kid whose dad never finished high school. College degrees were evidence of success for this generation. Seeing Margaret’s diploma hit home how successful my family had become. I now recognize my work in this phase of life is done. It made me more comfortable to move into next stage of life.
Now I felt chills again. But these were chills of pride.
As far as what else to keep and what to give away? I’m guided by my new space and my new lifestyle. Thankfully, you can take my winter clothes! No more snowy Chicago winters for me. Is it small enough to fit in my room in my daughter and her husband’s house? The quilt that my wife made will make a wonderful bedspread. I’ll keep the Yad (a pointer used to read Torah) I had received as an honor once. “You point the way for the Jewish Community in Chicago” the dedication said. And it will be nice to look at the “Jerry Witkovsky Day” proclamation from the Mayor of Deerfield if I’m feeling down.
Sadness and Joy, all Bundled Together. That’s Life.
I felt sadness letting go of the things that reminded me of Margaret. I felt joy in seeing papers and projects my grandchildren had sent me over the years (that will be scanned for posterity, no need to keep the originals).
Till the very last minute I resisted that I was giving up my place in Deerfield. I miss the hugs and kisses of my relationship, and the weekly coffee ‘klatch” with the Coeur Mandel gang. Now I keep in touch with friends and family and loved ones with daily calls and weekly video conferences. On the “joy” side, there’s the wonderful gift of getting to know my daughter and her husband in a whole different way now that I live with them. They’ve been so kind to me. The other night I slept eight hours…in a row! I’m adjusting from being alone to being with my daughter and her husband. Jessica, my first granddaughter, lives nearby as well.
Reflecting on a long life.
The anchor for me now is the ability to continue to create. Whether it’s writing articles or creating events and programs with JCC Chicago and Chai Mitzvah. It’s exciting to contribute across the lifespan. At 93, I can still think. I have ideas and a creative partner to grow and develop them to positively impact the lives of others. I’m building a new community where I am and I’m staying connected to each member of my family. That’s what’s important.
The rest is just stuff.