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Practical Caregiving

When the Inevitable Moving Day Comes for Mom and Dad

By Jean Donahue

It’s a typical pattern: your parents raised you, and then you left home. There have been good and bad times, but you have matured into a productive adult. Now, your parents need your help – and that’s a switch. You needed their help for so many years. Now they need your help.

They need to make a move, a big step at any age, but in your parents’ case, they may need to move to a smaller house, apartment, assisted living facility or nursing home. The reason for their move is my topic today. I’m talking about the fact that they must move away from what they’ve known – and if you are reading this, they probably need your help.

Moving is a very traumatic event in their lives. It would be for you, too, if you were moving. If they have lived in their home for at least several years, they have collected plenty of “stuff.” Some of it is junk, but it is their junk. If they live in the house you grew up in, some of it may be boxes of things from your childhood. You may not even know they kept those things, but it’s still there waiting for you to discover it. No matter what is there, someone needs to do something with it. And that someone may be you.

But how do you help your parents?

The first step is to talk with them about it. Then, talk to them about it again. And again. You need to have an understanding of what they’re thinking and how well they are thinking it through. And, most importantly, start talking and planning as soon as you know they are going to move. Don’t wait until the week before.

While you are talking about it with them, be sure to emphasize the positive aspects. Tell them how much better it will be to not have to shovel snow or cut grass in their new arrangement. They are doing it now, so the kids aren’t going to have to put everything in a dumpster later. Once they are moved, they won’t miss their stuff that sat in unopened boxes for years. They will have what they need, and they will have the things that are important to them.

Someone needs to make a realistic evaluation of whether they need to get rid of a lot of things, or a few. If they are moving into a two bedroom apartment from a four bedroom, three bath house, they will need to get rid of a lot of things.

Now you need to get them to go through their things. The problem with this is that they may not physically be able to do it. That’s where their family comes in. Someone may need to carry everything to them so they can decide what to take and what not to take. If there are several adult children, they should take turns helping with this instead of leaving it all to one of the adult children. If that isn’t possible, then older grandchildren may be able to help. Or trusted friends and other relatives.

As everything is gone through, put it in “piles” based on where it is going. Then, when they are sure they don’t want to keep something, start taking it to those places or people. Of course, at this point their living should not be disrupted, if possible. Start going through things in the basement and/or garage first.

Things that are going to be moved into their new home could be stored in one room. Things that are going to a charity can be stored in another room. Things for a garage sale might go in the garage. Things to give to friends and relatives need to be stored in a different place. While this is happening, someone should make a list of everything and where it’s going. Your parents may change their mind on a few things. You can handle those things as you go along.

If it is possible, have them take possession of the house, apartment or wherever before they actually move. There are always some things that you might need to move yourself in your car. They may be valuables, cut glass dishes, or other things. Get some things set up as soon as possible. Take your parents there as often as you can before they move in. This will help them become more comfortable in their new “home.”

On the day they actually move, help them by taking them to their new home before everything is there. They can sit and wait for their things to arrive. They will be happy to see this, and will be able to have a say in where it goes.

Then, the unpacking starts. If you can, make it a happy occasion where everyone helps. Make it like a family reunion or holiday gathering. Make it a pleasant memory for everyone, including your parents.