Great article in today’s Chicago Tribune – the other side of “moving seniors.” Take a look:
A while back, I wrote in this space about adult children moving their elderly parents to live near them. It was an experience a friend was going through as his father’s health was declining precipitously in Florida.
As did I when I arranged for my mother to move to Chicago from her New York home. And as have countless other children of elderly parents.
Our stories can sound alike. We shared the same worry that our parents might fall in their faraway homes. We felt the same urgency to get them out. We did the same tours of assisted-living facilities.
But that was only half of the story — ours.
Our parents know the other half. What is it like to move to a new city where you know no one but your child? To leave a home where you lived for decades?
When I gave a talk last week at the King-Bruwaert House, a continuing care community in Burr Ridge, I asked to talk to some residents who had moved from out of town so I could tell their stories. They had moved to a senior citizen Shangri-La. King-Bruwaert is a historic Georgian manor home on 35 wooded acres crisscrossed with walking paths. Residents sing the praises of new friends, a caring staff and a constant thrum of activity.
But Burr Ridge was not these people’s home.
For 45 years, Marianne Andre’s home had been Dayton, Ohio.
“I moved here so my daughter would not have to make the trip to see me,” said Andre, 87.
Her daughter, who lives in Willowbrook, was driving to Dayton once a month — a six-hour trip each way, which she drove alone.
Andre worried about her, because that’s how mothers are, no matter how old their children. So in 2011, she moved to King-Bruwaert.
“This is a better situation for her, and that’s what it’s about now,” she said. “I had my time.” Elizabeth Larson, 93, moved from Champaign to be near her son, who lives in Hinsdale.
“My son said that if anything happened, if I needed him, he was too far away,” she said. She thought he was right.
And she knew the solution, and that it would involve her leaving Champaign.
William Voss, 89, moved with his wife, Alice, who suffered from dementia, from the home they had built in Williamsburg, Va.
Their children were worried about them. “Our daughter was bringing frozen food down,” he said. “They knew we needed help.”
Voss knew it too. He was struggling to continue caring for his wife as her condition worsened.
His son, who lives in Hinsdale, was so concerned that he chartered a plane, flew there and told his parents to pack their bags.
“We left the next morning,” Voss said.
He was glad to go.
“I’d say it was probably a relief for us to move,” he said.
Larson was sorry to leave neighbors she liked. But she didn’t have to leave her two closest friends. They had already moved to out-of-state retirement complexes near their own adult children.
“So it was easier for me to move,” she said. And “in a way, it was kind of exciting. I thought it would be nice to be near my son.”
Andre moved more reluctantly.
“I didn’t want to come here,” she said. “I wanted to stay where I knew where everything was.”
But she moved. She enjoys her daughter’s regular morning visits over coffee now. She has made friends she cherishes. Still, she has been struggling lately.
“It was exciting the first year, but I’ve become homesick,” she said. And without her car, which she gave up when she moved, she feels trapped.
“I miss my stuff,” she said. She is an easy weeper, and now the tears came. “Oh, darn,” she said.
Larson sometimes thinks about the possessions she left behind, which is almost all of them. The souvenirs from the trips she and her husband took after he retired, the music boxes she collected — there was no room for them in her place at King-Bruwaert.
“I’ll wonder what happened to this little vase, where it ended up,” she said. “I don’t worry about it; I just wonder about things I really liked.”
Voss, whose wife died in January, thinks they made the ideal decision — one that felt more familiar because he and his wife had once lived in Chicago, when Voss was getting his doctorate at the University of Chicago.
“It worked out very, very well for us,” he said. “We were here with our son and his family. This is a very warm, friendly place. You move here and get to know people pretty quickly.”
Even Andre considers the move the best option under the circumstances.
Though she does wish she had kept her car.
They are a tough bunch, our parents making these cross-country migrations.
We share some of the emotions of these moves. They are often as scared about their safety as we are. And we are as worried about how they will manage in their new homes as they are.
But they are the ones moving. They are the ones watching as their belongings are readied for donation. They are the ones leaving their homes for communal living arrangements in unfamiliar cities.
Their stories are worth telling. They honor our parents’ experience, and may presage some of our own.
Because someday, we may be the ones packing our bags.