In my 19 years in the healthcare industry I have talked with hundreds of residents and family members and it helped me have a greater appreciation for what families go through when making the big, life-changing decisions for their older family members. But nothing could prepare me for what it was like – up close and personal. I did not know how things would transpire in my own family as my parents got older and suddenly, they were both in their mid-eighties and still going strong in their own home. Mom still prepared three meals a day for my dad and he was still the very qualified designated chauffer for their daily activities and appointments. No grass was growing under their feet!
Their health issues were relatively minor but in the last few years they became more frequent and the weight of maintaining a large home combined with my dad’s occasional hospital stay, caused a growing concern and sense of urgency. Dad was ready to move forward. Mom – not so much. It turned out that 2018 was the year of transition for my parents. They had been married 66 years at that time and had lived in the same house for the last 50 years. Once the decision was made things kicked into high gear. To help others avoid some of the unexpected “excitement” we faced, I would offer these suggestions.
- Start planning NOW. Are you currently still working and in good health? Maybe you can do things in stages. Sell your home and move into a townhome. Sell your townhome and move into an apartment. Sign a short lease on your apartment and start looking for the right facility to meet your “next stage” needs. You must start somewhere. Set a goal. Pick a date. It may change once or twice but it will eventually stop moving.
You don’t want to wait until you are physically unable to be involved. There is so much frustration if things are happening around you and you feel that you have lost control. Expect a certain amount of that at every stage regardless of the circumstances.
- Downsize. Recognize that you should not take everything with you to your next location so start to share your prized possessions with friends and family NOW. Do not think you will be able to sell everything at the last minute in an estate sale and get a nice little nest egg. The value you see in something is likely more sentimental than what you would expect to make in cold cash later.
If something has value, do not wait until the last minute to try to sell things online or give them to the local drama department. Partner with someone who has experience in this area. If you wait and must rush, you will make hasty decisions and relive your choices for some time to come.
- Start cleaning out closets, drawers, cupboards and the hidden gems sitting in your basement or attic. Learn to live with empty drawers.
Things that are hard to reach or seldom used are often forgotten. Checked the expiration on your spices lately? I dare you.
- Ask your family if they have a special piece of furniture or set of dishes or painting on your wall that they would like to care for starting now. Knowing you are eventually going to have limited space, be open to “let it go” NOW. Remember that you have enjoyed it for a long time and it will now bring pleasure to others. Consider the lyrics from Elton John, “Change is gonna do me good.”
Perhaps once a year someone played the beautiful piano in my parents’ home after we kids were grown and gone. I asked about passing it on to my grandchildren but that was perceived to be first step on a path Mom was not ready to take. By the time my folks were ready to break up housekeeping, there was not a member of the family that did not already have their own piano or lived too far to justify moving it. My mother was crushed when she learned how little was paid for that beautiful piece of furniture when all was said and done.
- Are you sentimental, a packrat or one box away from an episode of “Hoarders”? Recognize yourself and take baby steps to change. If you have the luxury of time, start sorting those old love letters, special cards or magazine articles you tore out years ago because they were so meaningful at the time. Unless they are Smithsonian worthy, this may be the time to toss them.
- Try not to be disappointed when your family does not harbor the same level of commitment to your old books, nick-knacks, vintage clothing or gardening tools. Time moves on. So does individual taste.
Note: If you have a family member that wants to pass on a box of old lesson plans, dress patterns or pictures of people you do not know, accept them graciously. If they have no value, what you do with them next is your own decision. You have done the giver a favor.
Everybody’s situation is different but some things are the same. You cannot understand the process until you have already lived it! Good luck.
By: Donna Wood
Donna Wood is an Executive Assistant at the StoneGate Corporate office and has written various articles for the staff. We have shared two of those recently regarding the local wildlife living in the “neighborhood” of the office. Donna loves to write and will be a contributing blogger on a variety of topics. Enjoy her unique take on the various aspects of helping aging parents, working in the healthcare industry and life in the big city.