Yes, there really is such a thing as Relocation Stress Syndrome!
Relocation Stress Syndrome, or RSS, was approved as a formal diagnosis in the early 1990’s. (And here you were thinking that everyone else must be so much better at relocating and that it was just YOU who weren’t handling this very well – not true!)
You are not alone if a relocation is stressing you out or making you feel like, perhaps, you’ve lost your marbles.
Although anyone can be impacted, the elderly are at greater risk of feeling the effects of RSS. Many NAPO professionals are skilled with organizing and managing relocations and the sometimes unpleasant side-effects. Some even specialize in senior moves exclusively!
Continue here to read more from NAPO Senior Move Management expert, Susan Osborne, as she describes the symptoms and strategies for facing this not uncommon relocation affliction.
Being a “baby boomer” with aging parents (we don’t use the “O” word) is a challenge. Someone has to manage their finances, medical care, etc., in addition to managing their own lives. Some people transition into this next phase easily, while others may struggle. My mother-in-law blossomed when she moved into a continuing care community. All the people, the activities, and the fine meals prepared there… visiting her seemed like geriatric camp.
The ideal situation is when parents make the decision to plan ahead, before something “happens.” They will have a say on how things will unfold and won’t be feeling left stuck. Communication is key. Remember, this is a huge life change for them so check your ego at the door. If you can’t communicate, get a mediator to help you through the process.
What if they don’t want to move?
The longer our parents wait or the more they postpone the process, the harder it will be. Period. As children, we can be a blessing and a curse. They want us there, but they don’t want our opinions. Personally, I was not invited to help my mother when she downsized. It was emotional and difficult to understand. I, the expert, was banned from doing what I do best.
Don’t wait for a crisis to happen; being prepared for every scenario is key. Think about the worst case and consider all the events that will follow: transportation, after care, meal preparation, hygiene and so on. These are all possible circumstances that will need to be addressed after a crisis. Once you are in the crisis, things move very quickly. This can be very disorienting and stressful for your parents (and you too).
Where to go?
Transition is hard for everyone. Finding the right place will give your loved ones peace of mind and security. A member of my family couldn’t return home and moved to a facility that was chosen by their kids. It was ok, but the quality of care quickly declined. This resulted in moving an 85-year-old with Parkinson’s twice within a few years. Very disorienting.
How a facility is managed can tell you a lot. For my mother, we opted for a place that is managed by the community or a residents board of directors.
What about the stuff? Where do you start with a lifetime of possessions?
Start as soon as possible. What does that mean? As soon as your parents start warming up to the idea of moving, talking about moving, or looking at new places, begin to sort.
Implement deadlines. Set a goal of when decisions need to be made, and if the deadline passes, the stuff goes into the trash or a donation bin. Start in the attic, basement or garage. The big things are easy (we call this cherry picking)— extra furniture, appliances, or things they no longer use. Then shift into the smaller items, like things they will no longer need in their new place: bikes, shovels, tools, etc., can all go…
Excess items are easy to let go. In a small space, you will only need so many household goods. Entertainment items can be paired down to just the basics.
Kids, our parents are not responsible for our stuff from high school and college. Help them make the decision to let go of your old things.
Emotional items are more difficult. It’s ok to leave those to the end. Pick your battles and make realistic decisions. Small stuff is good, but the bigger stuff might be more difficult. Find a balance.
To store or not to store?
The storage decision is hard. Be realistic on what you need to store. I have a client who has spent $50K on storage since her dad died. I am sure that what is in there is not worth the storage cost.
The only time I recommend storage is if there is no way you can get your parents to change their minds. Have the hard conversation, but know that sometimes it’s not worth the battle.
If it’s a non-negotiable decision, respect your parent’s choice. It’s okay to revisit the conversation later. Suggest going through the unit in six months. They might feel better about making decisions once they have settled into the new space and relaxed.
My number one word of wisdom is— do not bring everything to your house to sort! Too many people have called me with a basement or a garage full of their parent’s things. My aunt died thirteen years ago, at the last minute we packed a couple of boxes to sort through at my mother’s house… they are still there.
This is a difficult time for everyone. We need to drive the process, learn to listen and be supportive while maintaining a good relationship with our parents.
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“How can I make my parents organize their papers? They gave me power of attorney and named me as executor, but I don’t know where anything is.” I receive phone calls like this several times each year. The caller is usually fearful, frustrated, and worried about the state of the parents’ affairs.
Each time I hear this question, or one like it, I’m reminded of the old lightbulb joke:
Q: How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Only one, but the lightbulb has to want to change.
The same is true for a disorganized loved one – they have to want to change their situation. But even though we can’t make them change, there are a few things we can do to pave the way for them to request help.
First, a few things to remember:
In short, your parents likely feel some level of embarrassment or vulnerability. To be successful, you will need to be sensitive to their discomfort, and respect their pace. Here is the sequence I recommend to clients who are preparing to assume their parents’ affairs:
It might take a few iterations to build some momentum with your parent. The key is to respect your parent’s preferred pace. In time, your parent may trust you enough to delegate work to you, or let you hire a professional organizer.
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No Need to Hold onto Things for the Next Generation
When I give workshops, I am asked over and over again about what should be saved for children; if you don’t have children, you may be saving these things for friends or other family members. Many parents seem to think their children want what they have, so they hold onto items for when these children will appreciate these things. Items range from baby clothes to games to books to schoolwork to china to sterling silver and include tons of paperwork.
I have a client, with whom I have been working, whose father saved every personal and business record. He had checks from 1949 to the day he died. He had his and his wife’s medical records from the 1960’s (both of whom are now deceased), 8 estates that he had settled, and business records back to the 1960’s (including his stationery and business cards – from long retired positions). While everything was very organized and labeled, sorting through it has been a tremendous burden on his daughter.
Two 4-drawer file cabinets, one 2-drawer file cabinet, 2 desks, book shelves, and chairs had been used to store this paperwork. We are shredding and recycling 98% of these records. My client wants to go through everything to make sure there is nothing of value hidden away. We have talked about why her father would have saved all of this and cannot come to any satisfying conclusion.
Not only is there paperwork, but there are also items from grandparents and other relatives. Again, my client is going through all of this to figure out what she wants to keep and what she wants to donate or sell. Since her brother does not live in the area, she has to go through all these things by herself and save some things for him to go through, including his own items.
If you are saving things for your children/friends/other family members, please ask them if they want anything. If they say no, then either sell, donate, recycle, shred, or trash the items. There is no reason for you to hang on to this stuff, unless you really want it. If it is packed away and not being used, and no one in your family wants the items, give them away now so someone else may really be able to appreciate them.
Also, keep on top of your paperwork — shred or recycle old records. Settling an estate can take a lot of time. You can significantly speed up the process by getting rid of paperwork and any unused or unwanted items now.
This type of activity will not be one of your more fun things to do, but it sure will save time and heartache in the future. The lesson my client learned from all of this is to purge and continue to get rid of those things now that she no longer needs or wants. What are you going to do now with your unwanted and unnecessary items and paperwork?
No Matter How Much
We Wish For More!
Managing our time and never having enough of it seems to be a common theme these days. I hear the same complaint from students, single people, married people, parents of young children, baby boomers, working people, and even retirees — believe it or not. No matter what your age or what stage of life you are in, time management skills will make your life easier to handle.
We all have demands put upon us by others (e.g., boss, children, spouse, friend, other family members). However, we are in control of what we decide to do and what we decide not to do. If it’s between going to the doctor because you are sick or driving 5 miles out of your way to save $.50 on a gallon of milk, you may want to forgo the latter just to give yourself more time to do the things that are absolutely necessary. Then, you’ll be able to give yourself time to relax, take a deep breath, and re-energize.
If you always have too many activities to handle in a day, think about what you have to get done, what you want to get done, what you don’t want to do, and what you don’t have to do. Make columns on a piece of paper with these headings and write them down rather than keeping them in your head. This will help you to visualize what is going on in your life and may even spur you on to not do those things you don’t want to or think you have to do.
And, by the way, don’t forget to fit sleep into those 24 hours. What are you going to do to manage your time better so you finally are able to do those things you love? My goal is to see you go from Bedlam to Brilliance!
It happens in every family — a rite of passage that marks a new life stage — when you give up, or take over, hosting family holiday dinners. As I take out our Seder plate and Passover dishes, I think back to when I assumed this function for our family, and wonder when my children will assume it for me.
If you’re lucky, these role changes occur over time. You offer to make the chicken soup or brisket, you arrive early to help set up or stay late to clean up. And then one day — you are hosting the holiday meal — and your parents and children are helping you. These are happy transitions, that you make of your own will and where you control the timing. But sometimes, change is thrust upon you, because someone passes away or is ill. These changes are no less natural, but metaphorically and physically, there is an empty place at the table.
There seems to be no set age when you “become the grown up.” Some people host holiday meals well into their eighties; others shift the responsibility in their fifties, sixties or seventies. I’m not sure how families decide when to change their routine and custom.
Passover is unique, perhaps, because you can host the holiday meal while a parent can lead the Seder. You can assume the physical work, and an older family member can still have the role of patriarch or matriarch. Perhaps every religion has holidays and rituals that pass this same way from one generation to another.
My husband and I are hosting Passover this year, but already my kids have started the Passover passage. My daughter is arriving the night before to help set up and prepare her famous matzo-spinach lasagna. My older son is helping his dad make chicken soup, and my younger son will help arrange our furniture to accommodate a crowd of 20. We plan to hold Seder at our house for many years to come, but we are grateful for the help, and thankful that our kids are interested in preserving the tradition.
As with all holiday traditions, initiating change is hard. When we once suggested moving away from brisket, there was widespread family rebellion. Every departure from a favorite dish, it seems, is suspect or outright vetoed in advance. Dishes served year after year become comfort foods that define the holiday. And in part, I like this. For decades, a friend’s mother prepared a broccoli-corn casserole for Thanksgiving. Although her mom died five years ago, my friend and her dad still prepare the same broccoli-corn casserole together every year. In doing so, they honor her mother’s memory, and more important in my mind, they celebrate the relationship she has with her dad.
I heard today about a new custom, a lovely one, and although I am not sure it is right for us, it may be for others. Each year, everyone who attends this Seder signs their name on the tablecloth. My friend then embroiders the names, and the next year, the same tablecloth is used and that year’s names are added. They are starting their third year of this tradition, and already her children have said that this tablecloth is one of the things they most want when they “grow up.”
Personally, I like incorporating new traditions in with the old. It makes holidays into living things that evolve and change over time. Passing the baton to the next generation on Passover is like that too. It is as if, through change, we keep things the same.