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Transitions: A Daughter’s Journey

This Minneapolis photographer chronicles her parents' move into assisted living

By Terry Gydesen

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Assisted Living

(Editor's note: These images are taken from Minneapolis photographer Terry Gydesen's “Transitions. A Daughter’s Journey,” an exhibit held earlier this year at the Mpls Photo Center. See more of Gydesen’s work in the section on the Louie and Darlene Gydesen story at terrygydesen.com).

Encouraging my parents, Louie and Darlene Gydesen, to move out of their house into assisted living was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Now, four years later, it still makes me so sad. But I know it was our only option. I hired a woman to help with the move and wanted to invite her to the house over the weekend to get started, but my mom freaked out. It took three moves to different facilities until we found one acceptable to my mom. Now two years after my father’s death, the sadness and grief continues. There is nothing easy about leaving one’s home.

It’s not a very pretty time of life. This is so hard and very sad, but we need a move date and it has to come soon.  When I suggested that we schedule the woman I am hiring to help with the move come over this weekend to discuss how she can help us, my mom freaked out and said she needed more time.

Washer and dryer, check. Two bedrooms, check. Granite counters, hadn’t asked for that, but nice. Balcony with a view, not bad, view of downtown St. Paul and a garden center, check. Nearest apartment to the elevator to go for dinners, excellent.

The melancholy of it all is taking a toll on me. It had to be done, but I am sad my parents did not get to live out their days in their beautiful home. I’ve been to many estate sales over the years, and it’s a bit of a surreal experience to see their things out in bins marked from 25 cents to $3.

My mom did want to go to the house one last time before the estate sale started. I warned her that it would be hard. We went on Sunday, and it was hard.

As we got into the car to pull out of the driveway, I looked over at her and could see the tears streaming down her face. I took her hand, and she said this was the hardest day of her life. I squeezed her hand and said, “I know it is.”  It was the most significant moment I’ve ever had with my mother. We are both learning about letting go.

Before the sale began, I finally told my mom that she better go see the living room, as that is where the things most precious to her were displayed. She didn’t ask to keep much of anything, but it was overwhelming to see it all displayed in that way.

I have always felt a bit emotional at estate sales I’ve gone to over the years, knowing that I was rifling through people’s lives. This time it was my parents’ lives. The sadness and melancholy grew stronger as I watched people gather their items.

Nothing prepared me for my reaction to this couple who came in and bought all of the vintage baby clothes, most of which were mine. Luckily, I had pulled a few things out that my mom said she made for me before I was born. I debated about keeping a few more, but decided that was enough for me and then left to let the estate sale people do their thing.

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By Terry Gydesen
Terry Gydesen  is a freelance photographer based in Minneapolis. She has documented politically and nationally for the past 20 years, and has been commissioned for projects including Prince's 1993 New Power Generation tour in Europe.  She is the author of Twelve Years and Thirteen Days, Remembering Paul and Sheila Wellstone.  A three-time recipient of the McKnight Photography fellowship, Gydesen's work has been published in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

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