Moving the Parents

Last week was a week consumed by parental relocation. It was no small logistical feat to move my parents from Midland, Michigan to Silver Spring, Maryland. It would not have been quite the logistical feat it turned out to be if my mother weren’t in such bad shape. This is the biggest logistical exercise my family has ever had to face. It was also one of our most emotionally draining experiences too.

There are so many minor heroes in this act. But it was a time to be very proud of my far-flung family. I am also grateful for a sterling set of in-laws as well as my nieces and nephews. We all went the extra mile.

My father has borne the lion’s share of the work for many months. He has had to deal with major issues like selling their house and selling/giving away/donating most of his possessions, including some that are very cherished. His workbench, for example, has been a fixture in our family for all our living memory. I was going to take it but last month my wife Terri got a workbench from her office. His workbench was left behind for the new owners, but I already grieve for that which I will likely never see it again. I spent many a weekend or evening with my Dad at his workbench, watching him fix things. It was not his skill in carpentry that he imparted to me. I still seem inept in that department despite all that observation. No, I associate the workbench with quality time with my father. With seven other siblings it was hard to find time to talk with Dad by myself. But I could always find time to talk to him alone when he was at his workbench.

Now it is gone along with many other cherished objects. This is what must be done when you move from a single-family house into a two-bedroom apartment. But downsizing their life was just one of my father’s many chores. There was also my mother, who was nearly a full-time occupation by herself. She frequently had to go visit doctors, and ended up in the hospital a couple times. She was often incontinent and needed help in the middle of the night getting to the bathroom. Dad did all that and more. This is no small feat for a 77-year-old man!

Then there was my sister Teri, Mom’s spiritual coach. Before the move my Mom’s spirits were as low as they have ever been. In her last hospital visit she told me she longed for death. She wanted to be out of her misery. Teri came up for the move to keep my mother in one piece while her world changed around her. Teri fussed over her, loved her, consoled her, cheered her up and distracted her. She even flew down from Midland to Washington with them so they could navigate things like airport bathrooms between flights. And of course she steadied Mom who did not have her walker. My mother picked up a bladder infection from her last hospitalization. It was Teri who recognized the symptoms, gave her some pills she had that helped reduce the pain, and took the initiative to get her treatment at a hospital clinic near my house.

My brother in law Tom deserves a son-in-law of the year award. Tom is Teri’s husband. Tom was Mr. Move It Man. He rented a 24-foot truck and directed the meticulous packing of the truck so that everything fit tightly and nothing was damaged. That truck was filled to the brim by the end. And it was all neatly arranged so that furniture could be dropped off at various households on the route. And if directing all that loading and unloading were not enough, Tom actually drove their belongings 600 miles all alone towing their car on a hitch. And yet Tom was unflappable as always. Teri got lucky marrying that guy. Yet his role was absolutely crucial. I don’t think anyone else could have done it.

My brother Tom also played an important role. He flew out from Boulder, Colorado to spend a few days helping to box and load the truck. In the process he got to see my mother at her worst. Mission accomplished brother Tom had to return back to Colorado to resume the meteorology business.

And then there was my sister Mary. It was Mary who took the initiative to find a new and better home for my parents. She spent months looking at retirement communities in the Washington area before settling on a handful near us for my parents to consider. My parents chose Riderwood. But her role went much further. She helped them find the perfect apartment in the place. It has a northern exposure so my Mom wouldn’t have to deal with bright light. Their living room window looks down on a lovely courtyard with a fountain. There is likely no nicer view in all of Riderwood. Mary also worked through numerous logistical issues such as ordering carpet and the types of kitchen cabinets and counters they would get. Once moving day arrived of course she was there to help and patiently involving my Mom in the process. She spent hours with her just asking her where she wanted various items placed.

On move in day there were an even dozen of us altogether. My parents didn’t have to do much of anything. In addition to Mary, Teri and myself there were two brothers in law: Tom and Mary’s husband John. And there were also the grandchildren: five in total, including my 14-year-old daughter Rosie. The grandchildren were wonderful! My daughter, usually something of a fussbudget, did not fuss and all and cheerfully moved furniture up two flights of stairs. She was joined by four of her cousins, including my sister Doris’s son Vincent, daughter Cheryl, and Mary and John’s son Ryan and daughter Margo.

It was still stressful for my mother. It was a challenge to get her bed out of the truck and in place so she could lie down and rest. But we managed. They are still sorting through boxes and doubtless will for some time. But at one week they are reasonably settled in. And although their payoff has yet to come for all this work soon their lives will be simpler. They are already enjoying their gratis evening meal every night in the Riderwood dining facilities.

My mother’s spirits are better. She is still as fatigued as always, but she is moving on. She is still so obviously depressed (and won’t get treatment) but she at least has distractions. There is the evening meal and new neighbors to meet. A woman just like my Mom, a Catholic with 8 children is just across the hall. Perhaps her social isolation will end and she will discover at the end of life that life can still be good.

My parents and I are blessed with a remarkable family. There are times when I think we are an acerbic, cynical and depressing lot of people. But our hearts are full of love. We were there for our parents in their days of most pressing need. I am sure most adult children would do the same for their parents. This was just another minor miracle driven by love. It feels good to give back in some small measure the love that we received all those years.

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