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To Move or Not to Move? When is the Question!

Moving is not fun. It is exhausting to go through all your worldly belongings. It is stressful to meet the deadline for the truck backing up to the door. Saying good-bye to the community that has been your support and your home is emotionally draining. It can be stressful making all the arrangements, financial and otherwise. I don’t know anyone who likes to move. Trust me, I know. I write this as I am surrounded by boxes and bins as we prepare to move to a new home this month.

Unless you are like “Auntie Ruth” who lived in the same house for 80 years, most of us have to move at least once in our lives. Our daughter recently moved to a safer neighborhood. Our son moved last month to cut down on commuting time. For some, moving is to be closer to family. For others is has to do with needing to be closer to healthcare professionals. But moves happen in spite of our grief, fear and resistance.

Tending to the Grief

Tending to the grieving process is important in the moving process as we are aware of what we are leaving behind. It is easy to be aware of what we lose, of what it costs — literally and figuratively — as we pack. The anticipation of what is coming, of what we are gaining, of why we are engaged in the move is more difficult to name and grasp. That which is in the future is still unknown. These are all common processes and feeling regardless of our age at the time of moving.

“Never” is a Dirty Word

For those older individuals who have moved multiple times in their lifetime, one more move can feel like the weight of the world. Or for those who love their current home, many just want to say “Been there. Done that. Never again.” But if I have ever learned one thing, it is to avoid saying the word “never.” We can’t see into the future and the thing that we didn’t want to have happen sometimes does. And the healthiest, most loving and safest thing is to do the thing that we “never” wanted to do.

In the 2010 documentary film, Gen Silent, Sheri and Lois, talk about how they are going to age in their Boston townhouse.  “They’ll have to carry me out!” was their hope. They lived in a neighborhood surrounded by a strong community of support. As  a lesbian couple, they were fearful of the care and support that they might receive from retirement communities given their sexual orientation.

The film’s producer recently revisited the couple and released an updated clip. Lois and Sheri have moved into a senior living community due to health issues. They are doing well. Changes had to be made. They had to do that which they never were going to do. But it was the right thing for them as they continue to age into their 80s.

Choosing to Decide

There are some individuals who choose where they want to move when and if the time comes to leave their own home. The challenge then becomes knowing when that time is “right.” Is it when their adult children become so paranoid about their parent’s safety and nag them into moving? Is it when the older adult is no longer able to drive? Does it come when there is an acute health crisis and there really are very few other options? Or is the decision made when the individual realizes that they can no longer take care of their own home? The need for relief from the physical, financial and emotional burdens of home ownership becomes too great.

Ruth, the Planner

Consider Ruth, a pillar of our church. Shortly after she turned 80 she decided it was time for her to move out of her home of 50 years. She had chosen a senior living community about 10 miles away because she wanted to make the decision in her own time and on her own terms.

About 14 years later, Ruth was having some health challenges and hospitalized for the first time in her life.  She told her children to clean out her apartment at the senior community and move her into the nursing home back in her hometown. The doctors advised her to wait, feeling very confident that she would heal. Her children asked her to reconsider. But again, she wanted to make the decision on her own. So at 94, she moved into the nursing home. For her final two years of life, after her acute situation healed, she was one of the healthiest people in that home. Ruth was always good at making and executing her life plans.

Laura, Open to the Spirit

Laura, a widow of 25 years, lived down the street from her “adopted” family. Between the parents and their four kids, she had all kinds of support. Laura had not indicated that she was stressed about her home. When she saw the notice in the church bulletin that the affordable senior apartments in town had openings, she knew it was time. She met with the manager the next day. She was moved within the month. Laura admitted later that the stress of caring for the house had been more than she wanted to continue to assume. At the age of 89, she made the adjustment and enjoyed another six years in her new apartment and the community it brought her.

Moving Words of Advice

As you consider your own journey and you reflect on your experience of moving, particularly in later life, I would like to make a few suggestions:

  1. Ban the word “never” from your vocabulary. We don’t fully know what our needs will be if we are blessed to live long lives. So don’t put limits on future needs and possibilities that you can’t anticipate now.
  2. If you are a person who likes to be in charge, consider Ruth’s example. Make the decisions of when and where before there is a crisis. However, know that there are others who can help advise you in the process. Consider the wisdom of your doctor. Consult with your children — both those who carry your DNA and those who are a part of your family of choice.
  3. Reflect on the reasons why you are considering a move: Are you concerned about the quality of your life? And if so, what is it that gives your life meaning and purpose? How will your new home help to nurture this for you? Also know that your children are going to be most concerned about your safety. Name these differences of priority and consider what each other is saying. Both are important.
  4. Be aware when the spirit is moving that the time is “now.” This may be what allows you to take advantage of an opportunity that you never considered before.
  5. And when certain options seem to be taken from your grasp due to health restrictions or limitations, place the options available to you in the frame of considering what is the most loving thing for this junction in my life. Sometimes the loving option is difficult, but it usually is the right option because your best interest is central.
  6. And finally, even as the grief threatens to consume you, take the opportunity to remember that there will be benefits to the move. Talk with others who have made similar decisions. Listen to those who can objectively give opinions. And remember that the grief does not have to consume the future. With time, the new will become familiar and you may just be able to experience joy in a whole new setting!

About Rev. Beth Long-Higgins

Rev. Beth Long-Higgins is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, musician, fiber artist and mother of two adult children.

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