Updated: Apr 25, 2022
Today I welcome Susan Gardner as a contributing author on a series of articles about moving. Whether you're moving cross-country to "be closer to the grandkids," finally going to your dream home, or finally going to a retirement community, you have to move. As our author would say, you get to "pick up every single item and put it somewhere else." Susan's expertise in this area is hard won. Enjoy this series.
I invite you to remember Mother Harris from the first article in this series. Widowed young, she began living with her son and caring for their young children. Later she voluntarily moved twice to ease the lives of her son and his family and to maintain autonomy and independence. Before the family could become concerned about her care, she addressed the issues preemptively, thus staying in charge of her living arrangements despite the changes aging brought.
Others, facing similar circumstances, could make different choices, including leaving such decisions until a crisis forces the decision. Think, for example, of the older adult who will not even consider moving. Aging in place is fine for now, but her physical mobility could easily become compromised. At that point what will the family do? Living with them is not a choice because their bedrooms and bathrooms are upstairs. Despite the loved one’s desires, they have no alternative but to move her.
Considerations and Conversations
The health of the individual is one of several factors to consider. Also important are the needs of the caregivers who may be “sandwiched” between the demands of caring for aging parents and simultaneously providing for growing children or teens. They may struggle balancing their own employment in that mix, as well. As things like grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and getting to doctors and so on become more difficult for the older adult, digging heels in and fighting change exacerbates situations, creating unintended costs to relationships. Beforehand, it is good as a family to talk about and look at options.
Change is the constant in aging, and resisting seems natural. Before allowing resistance to harm relationships or to limit possibilities, having frank conversations may be called for to explore such feelings as in these questions:
Is my resistance to moving increasing tension?
Will changing where I live let me put my physical strength into more enjoyable endeavors?
Am I afraid that a move signals giving up on my future?
Am I losing all control of my life?
Naming and dealing with the fears can bring a family closer. Attitudes are contagious. A change in understanding as well as attitude can open emotional, mental, and physical doors to something better.
For the last three years, Steve and Lisa have lived in the town home they had built to accommodate Steve’s progressing limitations due to Parkinson’s Disease. Lisa, a 56-year-old editor and realtor, greets life with vibrancy and confidence springing from inner strength and hope from God. She has agreed to share these details of their life that have led to their new home and what it represents—loss and gain—as she and her 68-year-old husband have learned to live with Parkinson’s.
Neither of them wanted to move from the home that Parkinson’s progression took from them. Everything about the move was wrapped in illness, changing roles, and strong emotions. Unable to find an appropriate house on the market, Lisa and Steve built their own, adding features they expect to need as his physical limitations increase. As they were building the brick and mortar house, they were re-building the home they had established as husband and wife. While adapting door widths and grading in floorplans, they were adapting to changing roles.
Naturally, as Steve’s need for assistance increased, his desire to maintain control did, as well. Lisa honored his need for as long as possible, but the weight of change became palpable. One day, in an exchange of frustration and anger, Steve started to cry. Lisa then shouted, “Parkinson’s! You’re not the only one who has Parkinson’s—I live with it too! I have to change my life too.” In this heated and upsetting conversation, they realized they needed to renegotiate control as the force of the disease increased. They also focused their anger on the disease—not on each other.
While building, every decision from light fixtures to color fell on Lisa’s shoulders. Choosing the brick became her breaking point. It was a difficult decision; and then, when delivered, she was convinced the brick was wrong. At this point the builder sent her to look at another house with the same brick, and she accepted it. Feeling bad about this mistake, she realized that breaking down is OK because vulnerability and loss are part of her reality. The other part is strength in relationships, confidence in their ability to recognize blessing, and sustained hope from their life in God.
Here are Lisa’s tips for facing an unwanted move:
Choose a realtor who can match your pace, whether it is slower or faster.
Be open to the new adventures the change can provide.
Take control, but also ask for and accept help.
Instead of living two weeks or months from now, live just today, taking a step toward packing or making a phone call.
She also said, “If I were to do things differently, I would make more time for me; but guilt was strong. It took over a year to get back in church activity.”
Embracing a Move
My mother, who moved to McKendree Village with my father (now deceased) in 2004, says a lot of people, after moving to a retirement community, wish they had made the change earlier. Supported routine and social contact contribute to doors opening to friendships, experiences, and ease of living. This contrasts with what they were beginning to experience in their previous residence where the friend circle gradually shrinks, home maintenance becomes more challenging, and activities and optimism take greater effort.
Take advantage of all the support that you can get, whether it is family and friends or professionals. There are more ways to stay in charge of the change than to do everything yourself! Then enjoy the positive things the move promises, whether that is a single-story house ready for aging in place, a retirement or co-housing community, or a place with increased care for your changing needs. After the move, take advantage of the opportunities your new community offers.
* Lisa’s name was used with permission
Susan Gardner, CPO-CD®, MDiv, is a professional organizer certified in Chronic Disorganization. Through Clearing the Way Home, she guides people in areas like organizing their homes, downsizing, or shifting expectations of organizing to meet individual challenges. Following a career as a pastor, Susan has organized for the last twelve years. She is a member of the Institute for Challenging Disorganization and the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals.
Published January 27, 2022 for distribution July 19, 2022