Role Models for Positive Aging: Marion Balcerzak

The last place an older adult wants to live is in a large rambling home—alone.

That was the circumstance for Marion Balcerzak, 77, whose wife passed away in 2006. It’s an all too familiar situation for families who experience a loss, and now, a single parent.

“Our house in Northbrook was the family home since 1971,” says Marion’s daughter, Stephanie Graves. “I’m the oldest of four siblings and the house was the place where we dumped all of our lifelong memories and belongings.”

Not unlike many extended, busy families, Marion’s children are scattered in various places, from Ft. Wayne to Phoenix. Stephanie, a Winnetka resident and attorney with three young children, says, “The problem is we all have careers and our time is crunched.”

Feeling Isolated

Stephanie knew that her father was feeling isolated, and that the cold winters were limiting his mobility. “Everything pointed to a move,” she says. “We considered moving dad to an apartment but we wanted him to have socialization as well. On balance, an apartment was not the solution.”

As Marion explains, “The house was too big for me to manage alone. One of the biggest problems was food—I’m not a cook!”

Stephanie conducted extensive research on nearby retirement communities and targeted five to visit. “At first, it seemed like an overwhelming process,” she says. “But, it ended up being easier than I thought.”

Location is Key

Looking at a retirement community is not unlike searching for any new home, especially if it’s independent living. “All of the places we visited have different personalities and you get a feel as soon as you enter,” Stephanie says.

One of the key reasons the family chose Covenant Village in Northbrook was that it’s close to many familiar places and services, including doctors, church and even a shoemaker. “We also liked that the apartment home is in a low-rise building with a large, landscaped, walkout patio,” Stephanie says. And, of course, his new home is a short drive for Stephanie.

The Hardest Part is Starting

For Stephanie, the hardest part of the process was getting started. “I really hated taking dad out of his home. I questioned myself on whether this was the right thing to do,” she recalls. And for Marion? “Downsizing was difficult as all of a sudden you have to be selective about what you take to your new, smaller home.”

Marion moved to Covenant Village in November 2010, and he has adjusted to well to his new surroundings. Stephanie sums up her dad’s journey: “We wanted to make sure that this was a decision we were making with my father, not for him. We shared control over the decision, and that is what’s really important.”

Back to story