I always think I’ll say the perfect thing so that someone hears what he/she needs. The magic of my words will break through the grid lock, lift the fog, provide that moment of clarity. Then, the right decision can be made. Rather arrogant on my part, don’t you think?

What I’ve come to realize is that moving from your home, where you’ve raised your kids, celebrated graduations, engagements, weddings, grandchildren, mourned loss and lows, collected memories is HARD. Leaving a community where you’ve made contribution and have dear friends is hard. Even when the move makes good sense, even when it is necessary, it’s still hard. Hard for husbands, wives, children and friends. We don’t like saying good bye.

When the move makes good sense and there’s no immediate need, usually nothing happens. So, we as a culture wait. I suggest that’s the time to do some exploring. Then, should the need arise, you’ve done your homework and have outlined some options.

When the move is necessary, the need is immediate and dictates action. There has often been an escalation in health issues, cognitive decline and/or an accident. Sometimes all of it. This does not make it any easier. In fact, it exerts its own emotional toll.

So, what I’ve seen is that we don’t always clear the hurdle. Sometimes we just bust through. Courage and necessity propel us. We may end up battered and bruised, but we get there.

This piece is dedicated with love to A and L.

You’re thinking about moving, your kids have been talking to you about it.  You don’t want to move, but maybe you should.  You’re looking for that clear sign. Please don’t let it be a broken hip.

Here are some things to think about.

 

What is important if you stay put?

Does the location of your home work?

How close are your neighbors?

How close are emergency services?

Will the size and layout of your current home meet your future needs and capabilities?

Do you have to climb stairs?

Are your bathrooms, kitchen and bedroom easily accessible?  Are they all on the ground floor?

Do you have plenty of lower cabinetry?

How wide are your hallways and door jams?  Can they accommodate a wheelchair?

Do you need a riding mower to mow your lawn?

Will care such as personal assistance, private duty, home health and housekeeping come to you?  Can you afford it?

Can family get to you easily?

Are you close to shopping, medical care, your hairdresser?

Do you have the financial resources to maintain your home?

 

What is important if you move?

Is it being close to family?

Or is it being close to the old neighborhood, friends and that which is familiar?

Are you looking for a smaller home with a smaller yard and less upkeep?

Are you considering some type of Senior Community with virtually no upkeep?

Are you looking for services such as prepared meals, housekeeping, transportation, social activities?

Do you need help with medication management?

What will your financial resources allow?

 

You have decided to move – what to do with your things?

You will likely move to a smaller space.  What of your furniture and belongings will fit in your new home?

What will you take?  What will you give away?

To whom will you give it?

How will you get it to them?  Will they want it?

What can you sell?  That beautiful piece of art may not command the same price you paid twenty years ago.

What will you donate?

What will you discard?  Will you need a dumpster-type-container or professional hauling service?

Who will pack, how long will that take?

Who will unpack and organize the kitchen, bathrooms and closets?  Who will make the beds and hang your art work?

Your kids?  How long will that take?  Do they have time?

 

These questions offer points to consider.  They cover the nuts and bolts and I hope they help in your decision-making process.  What they don’t cover is the emotions involved in this situation.  That will be the topic for June’s piece.

 

 

When Jon and I moved to Austin from Houston, my parents came too with an open mind and without complaint.  The move was a little harder on my dad, my mom was up for the new adventure.  They both knew that at some point they would need us and their move would make it easier for us.  They were right.  That need came all too quickly.  Because of their courage and grace, Jon and I were able to care for them while making our new home, home.  We were not commuting back and forth to Houston.  My parents gave us a great gift.  I am grateful for it.

How do you broach the subject of your parents moving when they are completely resistant?

Gently and confidently, and with good information in hand.

Sometimes parents don’t recognize the need to move.  Sometimes they don’t want to move because they have a picture of what life will be like after the move, missing friends and what’s familiar.  They believe it will be expensive.  They’ll be lonely, forgotten.  Sometimes they are scared.

For the purpose of this piece, your parents’ needs require more than a Garden Community or 55+ Community offer.  They are in decline though they don’t see it and you are worried.  It is your love that drives your concern.

So you do a little leg work.  You take a look at what’s available.  Visit Independent Living, Assisted Living and Residential Care Communities.  Your research provides a good idea of what each has to offer, meals, snacks, housekeeping, laundry, transportation, activities.  Is there a hair salon on premise?  Are pets allowed?

What levels of care are offered?  Can staff administer medication?  Is there a nurse on duty? 24/7?  What is the staff to resident ratio?

Is it better that your parents are near you so you have easier access?  Is it better they are near where they live now, near friends and what they know?

Regarding pricing, is it inclusive?  Are there additional fees for additional services or is there block pricing?  Needs can escalate and accidents happen.  Does the community provide the additional care or does an outside agency?  Who sets that up?

On the subject of pricing, the numbers can be scary.  Remind your parents that they’ll never have to replace a roof or water heater, or repair an A/C or sprinkler system.  They won’t pay for yard work or utilities and their grocery bill will go down.  There is some trade off.

I know this is a lot to take on.  Just think of it from your parents’ perspective.  Think of what we ask of our parents when we ask them to make this move.

In late August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina came barreling up the Gulf of Mexico towards the Louisiana Gulf Shores.

The week before Katrina hit, the company my husband worked for, Sweet Tomatoes, fed the volunteers for the Houston SPCA’s telethon.  Sweet Tomatoes was always a strong community partner; and there were many animal lovers who worked there so this was a natural fit.  Sweet Tomatoes provided lunch and an hour of working the phone bank.  It was always a fun event to do.

Jon and I went back to the SPCA to pick up a few utensils that were left after the telethon.  The place was abuzz with activity.  It was getting ready to take as many “Katrina” animals as it could.  Hill Science Diet had donated pallets of food.  Individual Houstonians were bringing food, crates, and toys.  Animals up for adoption were moved into the lobby to make room for what would surely be a crush of animals coming in from New Orleans.

One of the little guys up for adoption was a four-month old black lab mix.  He had been surrendered on Wednesday; we brought him home on Friday.  Because he was so beautiful, we named him Beau, and because of the Louisiana connection, we added an x – Beaux.  He was the blackest dog I’d ever seen – black nose, black toenails, black fur.

We brought Beaux home and he was just what the house needed.

As a puppy, he was always eager to play and please. He still is.  I would sit on the floor and read and he would climb all over me.  He loved to play keep away with Jon.  We had a huge oak tree in our back yard and Beaux would run around that tree, teasing his dad, “You can’t get me!”

That first day we had him home, Jon opened the back door to let him out.  Beaux started, he had three feet out, the fourth was still in the house and he turned and looked at Jon like, “You’re coming too, aren’t you?”  I thought, “this will be our life for the next 12 years,” and it has been.   He won’t go if we don’t go with him.  His favorite place to be is with us.  If we’re in the kitchen, he’s in the kitchen. If we’re in the living room, he’s in the living room.  He loves his walks, his toys, his car rides and his peeps.  He is a really sweet boy.

Last week he was diagnosed with Lymphoma.  Prognosis is one to two months without chemo, maybe a year with.  Chemo would be a one to two hour infusion, once a week for three weeks, with the fourth week off, for three or four months.  I can’t see putting my sweet 12 year old through that.  Like most dogs, he is really anxious at the vet.  He had a splenectomy on Monday to remove a tumor the size of an orange.  The surgery was palliative. Had the tumor burst, it would have been an awful end to such a sweet life.

He starts a steroid on Monday to slow the progression of the disease.  We may buy a little time. What we do know: we will be wherever he is, stay close and keep him comfortable.

So what does this have to do with older adults or planning and preparing for the future?  Not much. However, this is a story about family, love and the cycle of life. Of bringing home, falling in love and letting go.

And selfishly, this is a story I needed to share.

It’s time to have the talk – no, not that one, and you are a little embarrassed, a little unsure.  You’re not certain of the reaction you’ll get; there may be some resistance, some surprise, maybe a delaying technique.   But your love and concern override and you push forward.

Mom, Dad, have you thought about how and where you want to live when you are older?  Do you want to stay in this house?  Would you prefer a smaller home?  What if you need help?   Would you want someone to come into your home?  Would you consider some type of Senior Community?  Would you want to live near us?  With us?

Starting the conversation early, it’s forward thinking and planning ahead.  Your parents are integral to the preparation as they should be.  They have their say in what they want to be so for them.  Everyone gets a clear picture of cost and logistics.  Starting a little later can be a whole different ball game.  It can be reactive rather than proactive.  Your parents may not get to have their say.  You may have to make decisions you wish they had made.  And you may not be ready for the costs and logistics.

Cost is a factor, a big one.  Home modifications can run into the tens of thousands of dollars or more.  Home care is usually $18-$22 per hour.  Senior Communities can be several thousands of dollars per month.  Moving in with adult children has its own rewards and challenges.

Every solution is valid.  We do the best we can.  We generally do better when we plan.  Start the conversation, start looking ahead, start planning.  And while you’re talking with your parents about what they want for their future, let me ask you:  What do you want for yours?

My mom will celebrate her 87th birthday this month. Eighty-seven years is a long time to be alive. It’s a long time to inhabit a body. It represents roughly 762,626.34 hours, 45,757,580 minutes. And I am grateful for all of them.

 

I‘m grateful for every moment that has made and makes my mom. I’m thankful for her successes and failures, her great loves and her heartaches, the mountains she’s climbed and the molehills she’s let be. I admire her steadfast work ethic (she retired at 83 from her full-time job of 45 years) and her sense of adventure (she moved to Austin at 83 after half a century in Houston). I’m awed by her calm courage during crises. I am humbled by her unwavering devotion to her daughters. She has a trusting nature and a sweet naiveté that I envy.

 

My mother was born during the depression and grew up poor. Her father left the family when she was 10 and never looked back. He offered no help or assistance, no birthday cards or Christmas presents, no child support until he was ordered by the court.

 

My mom and her brother lived with their grandparents during the war (WWII) while their mother, my grandmother, Mimi, worked in Houston. Mimi worked to send money home to provide for her children and help her parents. Every six months, Mimi would take a Greyhound Bus from Houston to Corsicana, then catch a cab to her parent’s home. One Christmas, it had been raining cats and dogs. The cab could get close to the house but the last mile was too muddy to drive. My grandmother walked that mile in the rain and mud carrying suitcases of presents for her children. She set an impressive example.

 

Their farm was near the tiny town of Eureka about 10 miles outside of Corsicana. There my mom developed a love for horses and a dislike for picking cotton and milking cows. She learned to back up a team of mules while driving a wagon. She learned to herd cattle on her neighbor’s farm. She could fell a tree in the direction she chose and sharpen the ax on a whetstone. She learned to use leverage when lifting a heavy object. When my mom was not outside, she was frequently behind a book. She credits her first grade teacher, Miss Parry of Miss Parry’s School, for her love of reading. To this day, she is a voracious reader.

 

At school, my mother was painfully shy and teased unmercifully for being smart. She graduated Valedictorian from high school. My mom was part of the first class to attend Navarro Jr. College, now part of Texas Tech. Her class mates were veterans home from the war.   She did not graduate; her generosity got the best of her. Her brother needed a final project to graduate high school and my mom gave him her final project that would have allowed her to graduate college. She has always put her family’s needs and wants before hers, even when it’s to her detriment.

 

These moments and countless others have helped shape and make my mom. And me by extension. There is no person living or dead who has had more impact on who I am. The best of me springs from her. She is, to steal from Beethoven, my Immortal Beloved.

 

Happy Birthday, Mother! I wish you good health, a good night’s sleep every night, good food, great books and many more wonderfully happy, decidedly delicious moments!

We started Essential Next Steps after working with our parents.

My mother-in-law passed away unexpectedly after complications from surgery.  She had done a beautiful job and given the great gift to her children of having her affairs in order.  She provided a clear roadmap of how her estate was to be settled.  My husband and sister-in-law were co-trustees of her estate and executed her wishes beautifully.  My mother-in-law represents one end of the spectrum.

My father went to the hospital suddenly and was discharged in to skilled nursing for rehab.  While at the skilled nursing facility, his decline became strikingly evident as well as the cost it was exacting on my mom.  He became a full-time resident.  It happened so fast and my family was not prepared.  We had talked about it only lightly in that someday-far-off-in-the-future kind of way.  We certainly had not planned for it.  And now we were in full blown transition going full throttle and we were overwhelmed.  There were countless details to manage, finding the right facility for my dad, paying for it and not bankrupting my mom, taking care of my mom, what to do with my parent’s stuff.  My parents represented the opposite end of the spectrum.

We got lucky.  We chose a nursing home for my dad that has a wonderful and dedicated staff and loads of support from the community.  We met a highly skilled and incredibly kind elder law attorney who helped my parents get their affairs in order.  We got my dad taken care of.

For my mom, we converted a 750 square foot workshop into a mother-in-law cottage.  We used Universal Design Principles which include zero step entry ways, wide doorways, smooth floors and a roll in shower to offer a few examples.  We gifted, donated and consigned her furnishings so that her smaller home would be pleasing and feel spacious as her larger home had been for her.

We learned a lot working with our parents.  There was benefit to working both sides of the spectrum.  Jon and his sister honored their mother’s wishes.  We found the right place for my dad and created a safe and lovely home for my mom.  We met so many good people along the way, I am proud they are part of our network and life.

We appreciate and recognize the heightened emotion in dealing with the challenges that life can throw our way. Life comes at us quickly. It can be hard to catch our breath. With planning and preparation, please know there are untold resources available to help make life’s transitions a little easier.