Mom decided suddenly last October to move herself. To leave her home of 50 years, the home in which we spent most of all our childhood, and move to a retirement complex where she would have the three things she needed most: company, meals and freedom from the constancy of caring for her beautiful but rambling and now empty home.
Thanks to Barbara’s wisdom and the five-step program’s guidance, we had resources and a clear approach.
I hadn’t reckoned with my own internal sense of loss. It hit me, powerfully, like a tractor dragging a load of 100-foot tree trunks. The weight and enormity of going through 50 years of our family’s stuff and helping her determine what she wanted – I quickly realized that I needed help.
Fortunately, there is a local firm (Gentle Transitions) that specializes in having these conversations, holding mom’s hand and spending time with her so that she could, a few hours at a time, tackle what she needed to go through.
As is her nature, mom immediately started worrying about what was to go to everyone else, but I was able to calmly and firmly say, “Let’s start with you. What do you want and need? They will help you get that selected, organized, design a new floor plan for your apartment, figure out what will fit and where you will have to make some choices and then, only then, we will worry about the rest. Let’s get you moved and set up first! Whatever you want you take.”
So we did just that. The team at Gentle Transitions headed by dear Nan was wonderful. Their system was just like it says the book – File, Act or Toss became Move or Stay – a green dot sticker for Move, a red one for Stay.
It took six weeks to go through and prepare, meeting a couple of times a week so as to not do too much at once, and then it took one day to pack and one day to move and set up. Before the packers arrived I went around and took pictures of the colorful green and red dots scattered throughout her home. After the move I took pictures of mom in her new home with pretty much most things where she wanted them. She commented, “It is so wonderful having all my favourites in view. In the big house I often missed seeing them.”
Then the next step: we went forward with the File-Act-Toss technique, which turned into three piles: Give to Family, Give to Charity, and Junk (we color-coded all of the family members’ items and kept a written list of each person’s requests in mom’s little book as she requested a record of what was going to whom).
We had to go through every cupboard and every drawer. I laughed when my sister visited after we thought we had finished and she said she had found two drawers and a cupboard full of stuff. I replied, “Yes, I was sure I had gone through every drawer and had the cleaning done and I also found another full one last week”. Big houses are complex, with lots of nooks and crannies.
Then, we called the charities and had them walk through and see what they wanted, at which point we found a man who specializes in clearing the junk. They hauled off the oddest objects: rusting old bed frames, dilapidated wooden picnic benches, stained rugs, old blocks in the basement, paint cans, hardware, broken kitchenware, etc.
As the house gradually cleared and the piles diminished to just a few to be delivered, including two books of interest to the local library, the feeling was one of rebirth. The open, fresh joy of our family home came to life. Mom said she “loved seeing the house empty with its beautiful hardwood floors she had cared for.” She could renew her memory of joyful years spent within its adobe walls. And so could I. The last night there I could not sleep and found myself spending an early morning just breathing in the feel of the place in the living room on the old leather couch (which needed to be refurbished and ended up going to a foster youth organization that will refinish it and resell it to help fund their program), and for just that morning I was back as an eleven year old doing my math homework and getting help from my dad with the logic problems.
Thank you, Barbara, for your life’s teachings that made it possible for me to go through this transition with joy.