Empty…

I don’t remember the ride home. But, walking through the door to our condo, Josh’s bed, oxygen tanks, Trilogy (breathing machine), Hoyer lift, wheelchair, medical supplies, and clothes consume the condo as if nothing had changed… Yet everything is changed. Emptiness permeates every inch of the condo and sucks all remnants of life away. Our lives will never be the same. What could ever fill the place Josh filled in our lives?

Scott and I hold each other and cry… Time hangs in suspension…

We loved and cared for him twenty-four hours a day seven days a week for thirty-five years. How are we supposed to move on? For right now we can’t… we don’t even try…

Things have to be done. Paperwork… agencies must be notified. In a stupor we stumble through each necessary step… a home for the Hoyer lift, the wheelchair, and the year’s worth of medical supplies. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find someone willing to take perfectly good unused medical supplies? The bed, oxygen tanks, and Trilogy need to be returned to the companies where they were rented. The day the bed is removed there is an absolute downpour just as they carry it outside.

As horrible as it was to have all Josh’s equipment and supplies here, it is worse with them gone.
Nothing feels real… but, it is… all too real…

We keep saying, “It will get better.”  We just don’t know when.

Josh on bus
Josh on bus

One week after his death we pick up his ashes and bring him home. Josh always wore his hat and sun glasses when outside. We sit them on the urn.

It is less than five months before we leave Honolulu. So much needs to be accomplished to complete this transition.

Josh wanted to live in a Victorian home.  He will!  With us!

We sort… what to take… what to give away…

Patrick composes a list of what our home needs to be livable when we arrive.

We are not so much moving on as taking with us…
Josh! in our hearts, our souls, our very being…
No matter where we are!

Good-bye…

We have our house… Now we are waiting for the unimaginable…

Josh wakes up cheerful each day ready to enjoy each moment. He loves his morning “Coffeeee!” But, the food enjoyment is ending there. We see how much oatmeal he can eat. We feel successful when we manage to complete half. Lunch is even more challenging. After about four sessions of eating a few bites and him choking during all four, we stop.

Each day he enjoys his shows and iPad games. Though even his iPad is too much by early afternoon. So we watch shows and movies he enjoys. More often he asks to lean back. His shoulder tumor is just too heavy. He asks for his Trilogy (a machine that helps him breath). We try to keep him comfortable.

The doctor stops by. Nothing has changed.

Then, he chokes and needs help breathing. We take him to the Emergency Room. He is admitted. By now, sitting for even a few minutes is impossible. They spend the next several days running tests and conclude his body is shutting down.

Way & Josh
Way & Josh

Friends stop by to visit one last time. Josh is delighted by each visitor. Though he can’t sit up he remains his cheerful self; asking about family members, making sure everyone is doing well. Waynette Cabral, Executive Administrator, for the Council on Developmental Disabilities comes to visit. She is one of Josh’s favorite friends. They have a wonderful visit. Then, Josh, turns to Dad and says “I think I am going to sleep now.”

At 5:35 P.M. October 31, 2016 Joshua Isaac Smalley-Bower left us.

The wait is over… he is no longer in pain…

Closing…

Now the challenge begins. How do we accomplish a foreclosure online?

Fortunately, everyone else involved in this process knows what they are doing. But, since we have had two unsuccessful attempts at purchasing a house, we are just a tad apprehensive that this purchase will actually succeed. And, we still cannot enter the house. We do not really have any idea what we are buying. For all we know it could be a shell that is ready to fall down.

kitchen
What had been kitchen through windowo fall down

Kathy Mussi, our realtor, drives by the house and assures me it is empty. She even snaps some pictures through the windows.

The team that works with Hubzu.com is very efficient. David Seward, our attorney, and Brenda Craig, his legal assistant, stay ahead of the whole procedure. They notice the property is missing an additional lot that had been attached to the house previously. I am thrilled. I wanted an area for a vegetable garden. Now I have it. They also notice some of the back taxes have not been cleared up. That too is fixed. Thirty days from our bid, the home is officially ours.

We own a home, but still do not have keys to the house. But, it is ours! We ask both Patrick and Kathy to please see if they can get in and take some pictures. We would like to have an idea what we are facing more than just through windows.

Kathy manages to find a way in and snaps pictures of the main floor, stairway, second floor, and attic. We have an excellent idea that there is work ahead of us, but we will have a lovely home. Then, Patrick, replaces a lock and takes pictures too! He adds pictures of the basement. Years of sitting empty have caused the floors to heave. Some of the walls have been damaged also. The floor will need to be replaced and the walls repaired. They both assure me that though the house needs lots of work, it is solid.

livingroom
Living room
Second floor bedroom
Second floor bedroom
attic
Attic
Basement
Basement
Basement Walls
Basement Walls

The woodwork, though it needs cleaning and possibly refinishing, is gorgeous.

We are thrilled we have a home to look forward to, but losing Josh looms…

Scott planned to retire July 2017. But, with the knowledge we will be losing Josh sooner rather than later and the fact we have a home to go to, I ask him if it is possible he would consider retiring sooner. We weigh our options. I prefer we leave as soon as feasible if we won’t have Josh. This home is Josh. Without him each moment will be unbearable.

We know we don’t want to walk in during the dead of winter. So I suggest April… the beginning part. March 31, 2017 will be his last day at Assets. We will leave Honolulu April 4, 2017.

We will fly into Chicago because New York State does not allow pets to fly in from Hawaii. The shortest, most direct flight is to Chicago. This will be easiest on our two puppies: Happy and Mr. Ems. Then, we will face the long drive to our new home.

Planning a new life… Wishing, so desperately, the old one wasn’t ending…

What now…

Josh continues to push through each day with his never-ending joy and acceptance. He never complains. With him being bed-ridden we keep his iPad available and try to find television shows he enjoys. He has shifted to a phase of enjoying “Forensic Files” and shows that solve murders. If that is what he enjoys, that is what we watch. But, we see his struggles and continuing weakness.

Our realtor tells us he will be out of town for six weeks. At this point we are not sure we even care. So much is happening. But, reality keeps hitting from every direction.

Scott sees an abandoned Victorian in foreclosure. He asks me to take a look. It is the same Victorian I fell in love with when we were just beginning our search. I am thrilled!

victorian

He texts, “Do you think this is even feasible?”

Ever hopeful, I text, “I think it is very feasible. After all we have a friend in Gloversville now. He will help us find people to make it livable.”

I text the young man, Patrick, I had contacted about winterizing the home. “Do you think this house might be worth buying?”

“Let me drive by and look at it,” he replies.

With our realtor out of town for the foreseeable future, I ask, “Do you know a realtor in Gloversville?”

“Yes, I know a really nice person. Let me explain your situation to her and give her your phone number.”

Later that day Patrick texts, “Drove by the house. Looks abandoned. Needs work. But, looks good. Nice area to live in.”

I relay the information to Scott.

“Do you want to go for it?” he replies.

“Let me see if I can figure out how to become part of a foreclosure bidding process.” I reply. So I go online asking. “how to participate in a foreclosure”. I find Hubzu.com. The house is listed. Bids are accepted for one week. I forward the information to Scott.

“Should we?” I ask.

“Do you think Patrick will help us evict the tenants, if there are any?”

“He said he would. What do you want to do?”

“The worst that can happen is we lose the bid.”

So we place a bid and wait. Someone bids against us.

“How high do you want to go?”

We set our limit. Bid again. And, wait… and watch… and wait some more. Time stands still. No one bids. But, we know during the last fifteen minutes things could change. The rule is that if someone bids during the last fifteen minutes, the bidding is extended by another fifteen minutes.

Then, it happens! Someone raises the bid. We bid. They bid. We set an automatic bid response up to our limit and watch. Our bid jumps to the highest bid offer. Are they going to bid again? Fifteen minutes ticks by ever so slowly… fourteen… thirteen… and so it goes. Finally, we are down to the last minute… then seconds… it feels as if we are launching a space craft…

WE WON!

WE OWN A HOME IN GLOVERSVILLE!

The original home I had fallen in love with is now ours! And, now my husband is in love with it too!

Again…

After a few days of watching Josh grow weaker, we knew our reality is not changing. We are losing Josh. Only God knows when…

Realizing we must go on, we continue caring for him, wondering how we will manage after… we pray… and pray some more…

Periodically, we look at real estate in Gloversville. Hawaii does not seem a realistic option without Josh. Nothing stands out. We continue to care for Josh; enjoying each moment; knowing the moments are growing short.

One day we notice a stately Colonial on a street near to the edge of the long established homes of Gloversville for sale. But, still walking distance to the organic market. It needs some work. There is over half an acre of land; a possible vegetable garden and tiered flower beds. Is it too much land? Is it too much house? The price is good. We send a deposit and sign the contract. We also locate a company, Efficient Heating & Cooling Services, owned by Patrick St. Pierre,  to maintain and winterize the home until we arrive. As we go through the process he and I text back and forth and he offers helpful suggestions. Suddenly, we feel we have found a wonderful company and friend.

Searching the web we find a house inspector; one who real estate agents and owners fear. The perfect inspector for us! He is willing to work with us through email. An appointment is scheduled. Inspection day arrives. That night we check our email repeatedly. It takes time to write a thorough report. The next day the report arrives. Red flags fly! The garage needs a new roof; the attic was locked and not accessible; several windows in the house are cracked or broken out; and the house has shifted off it’s foundation.

Scott and I talk. We are still willing to take the house if the owner will drop the price by $40,000. The house easily needs that in repairs. The owner stands firm. Our offer is withdrawn and our wonderful attorney helps us get our deposit returned.

Again we face the question, should Gloversville be our home?  Hawaii has been perfect because we have wonderful bus service and very walkable streets. Part of our decision why we chose Gloversville is because it is just 5.1 miles square. Easy for a visually impaired person to navigate on foot. Easy to learn my way around.

Yes, I am visually impaired. A visual impairment that cannot be fixed with glasses. The macula in both eyes were damaged by a disease I picked when I lived in the South. It manifested when I was twenty-eight in my left eye and erupted over night in my right eye when I was thirty-two. I forgot to mention it because I have lived with my limitations for so many years. Checking walk-ability in any area is second nature. Gloversville is very walkable.

So we are back to questioning, is Gloversville supposed to be our home?

Then, Josh’s doctor comes to the house for a visit. After visiting with Josh she and I go downstairs and sit on a bench outside. After a bit of small talk she says, “I don’t think he will live to see the holidays.”

We know we are facing losing Josh, but hearing the reality said out loud is devastating… the tears… the numbness… the reality… again…

Possible?

First, is there any possibility my childhood home is for sale. It has been turned into a two family home and is not on the market.

As I wander around Gloversville via GoogleMaps, I show Josh
where I lived as a little girl. I show him whereMy Childhood Home my Daddy’s factory stood.

He is thrilled. “Oh, Mom, I wish we lived in a Victorian house like that.”

My heart breaks. “Maybe someday we will. We have to get you healthier first.”

Then, I continue searching for an option to buy long distance. Tears in my eyes. My heart breaks… again and again… but, I keep looking.

I see a beautiful abandoned Victorian in foreclosure that I love. I show it to Scott. It says it is occupied. “No! I don’t want to take on an occupied foreclosure in a city where we don’t know anyone. We could be buying a totally ransacked house filled with people we couldn’t get out.” he says.

“Maybe there are people to help us,” I implore. But, he is firm and I move on to other houses.

We see a lovely house on Prospect. Scott thinks the yard is too small.

There stands a grand home on one of the major streets. It costs a little more than we planned on spending. But, it needs very little updating to be livable. We contact our real estate agent. Could he take more detailed pictures of the interior of the home, i.e., the attic, basement, and different angles of the rooms? We like what we see and ask to put in an offer. He emails a contract, which we fill out and return.  I find an attorney willing to close a real estate purchase through email. Apprehensive since we have never attempted to buy a house without physically seeing it, we send a certified check via certified mail. We believe we are close to owning a home in Gloversville. The next Monday our real estate agent texts saying the house was sold over the weekend to another person.

My very first thought is that this is a sign Josh will be all right; though all his physical signs say otherwise. It is hard to let go of hope.

Discouraged, we step back and reevaluate our options. Is this what we want to do? Is it even possible…

Where…

So as we love and care for Josh we also plan for life “after Josh”. For those of you who think that sounds calloused, let me assure you it is out of love and survival. Josh has been with us every moment of our lives for over thirty-five years. Our only concern has been caring for him. His (Josh) main concern is that Scott and I will be all right without him.

Will we be all right? Yes… we think so…
Will a day go by we won’t miss him horribly? Never!
That is true of Josh.
That is true of Davey, my oldest son who died in 1995.
That is true of the baby I lost in 1963 who never breathed a breath of life.
That is true of every person I have ever lost and probably every person you have lost as well.
But, we must go on…
So we think and pray and think some more.

Scott is retiring. I am retiring. We now will be living on Social Security and Military Retirement solely. Maintaining a condo in Hawaii is expensive and every memory in this condo is “Josh”. Should we buy a different condo or home in Hawaii? It is just too expensive.

So, if not Hawaii, where? We know we want to
stay in the United States, but if we are going to leave this beautiful state we want a real change. That eliminates other tropical paradises. We do not want to face long hot summers. That eliminates the southern states.

We want a state that does not tax our Social Security or Military Retirement. Immediately, that eliminates Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Maryland.

We are left with Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska as possibilities.

We know we do not want to live in the West. It’s not Hawaii. It’s too far from remaining family and friends. So that leaves Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York.

My Childhood Home
My Childhood Home

At this point I become curious. Is it possible? I am excited and miserable having to even think of life without Josh. But, as a small child I lived in upper New York State in a small village called Gloversville. It sits in the foot
hills of the Adirondacks, not far from large cities for adventures. Gloversville is near Scott’s youngest daughter and many of our friends.

Tentatively, I suggest this small village to my precious husband, knowing he is not a fan of cold weather. But, as I explain all the advantages, he becomes as thrilled as I am that we may have found a village to move to. We consider all the possibilities while facing the overwhelming loss ahead. We are planning the unimaginable, a life without Josh.

Homes in Gloversville are reasonably priced. So with heavy hearts we begin looking at real estate. We do not want to upset Josh. We do not want him to know we might move after he dies. But, we start our search. First, we must find a real estate agent willing to help us using just texting and email: no phone calls. After asking six different real estate agents we find a young man willing to help us. We search real estate sites online. Our agent answers questions.

We found the state. We found our village. And, we found an agent. Could this be possible? Could we really want to find a home? A home without Josh…

Numb…

Josh came home from the hospital. We were numb; filled with disbelief. After all, they had told us Josh did’t have long to live for so many years that now it just felt like the same old broken record. Josh always beat the odds, of course, he would this time too!

But, as the weeks and months passed the tumor on his shoulder grew larger and larger until we could no longer ignore the fact that our precious Joshie was losing this battle.

We treasured every day with Josh, but at the same time, Scott and I realized our world was being turned upside down. What would we do after thirty-five years of caring for Josh day and night? On top of that, Scott had decided he was ready to retire after twenty-three years at Assets School.

Here we are losing Josh, retiring, and at a loss of what to do next. Our oldest son, George, has a full busy life and travels all the time.  Staying in our condo?  This condo is and always will be Josh’s home.  Everything we changed here was to make him more comfortable.  Without him?  Impossible!

Hawaii has been our home and heart since the early 60’s; now it felt it was time to consider moving on.  But where?