There has been a certain level of sadness with each move we’ve made…and, while this is hopefully the last we will need to make, this is also arguably the hardest one we’ve ever faced. Because it’s so much more than a cross-country move – it has meant leaving behind a job that my husband loved, watching my kids say goodbye to some of their closest friends, giving up a home that we made a decade of memories in and entering a new season that is full of big changes for our family.
I’ve been keeping a journal throughout this transition and wanted to share some of my thoughts, feelings and the 5 biggest things I’ve learned since this all began. I hope that this will help some of you who are facing similar challenges & that it will provide encouragement to those who need it most.
1) Things are just things
I was surprised by how emotional I became as we began the process of downsizing our household. There were so many pieces of furniture that we bought when we first got married 20 years ago that held countless memories for us, so parting with them was like saying goodbye to a bit of nostalgia. We finally realized that we needed to logically go through the process of paring down by coming to the understanding that things are just things.
I didn’t need to keep the glider that I used to rock my kids to sleep when they were babies…because, in reality, it would only sit in a storage unit and there was a young single mom in our area who truly needed it. I recognized that me not wanting to let go of it was really me not wanting to admit that my kids are older now & don’t need me in the same way as they once did. But, those memories can still be just as sweet without holding on to the physical object associated with them.
So we took the time to reminisce about those precious moments, share those stories with our kids & then let go.
2) Grief must be embraced
The night before we left NY, I was driving to pick up some last minute groceries & I completely fell apart while sitting at a stop light. I had been so focused on managing all the details of packing up our house for the move that I hadn’t taken the time to think about what it all meant. And it suddenly hit me that moving to Oregon signified the beginning of the end – the beginning of me caretaking for my Dad until the day that cancer takes his life. I found myself parked in the Target parking lot sobbing uncontrollably as the weight of it hit me like a ton of bricks.
This whole experience has been such a dichotomy of emotions – on one hand, I feel elated to be able to move back to my home state after 13 years of living so far away from family. And on the other hand, the circumstances of this move make me want to curl into the fetal position and cry for days because my Dad is everything to me and the thought of losing him is absolutely paralyzing.
I realized that I had been avoiding the grief because it felt too overwhelming & all-consuming. But, the truth is if you don’t allow yourself to truly feel those feelings, they’ll crash over you like a 50-foot wave with a powerful undertow that will toss you around & sweep you out to a sea of darkness.
Giving myself permission to cry, to process what is happening and to grieve for what I thought life would look like has proven to be a necessary form of self-care. And I’m learning more and more every day that the only way out is through.
3) Avoiding change prevents growth opportunities
Historically speaking, I’ll be the first to admit that I have not handled change well. Growing up, I lived in the same house for most of my life – my Dad always worked and my Mom was always at home with us. I had the same group of friends from childhood to adolescence and I had the familiarity, security & comfort that came with a routine normalcy.
Then I met my husband and the adventure began! We’ve had to move 9 times since the day we got married and, as difficult as that has been, with each new move, I’ve learned how to adapt a little bit better than the time before. My stubbornness about requiring consistency has now been replaced with a desire to go wherever I’m called and a willingness to embrace a “new normal” in spite of the challenges.
We’re often given the choice between the known & the unknown, the safe & the uncertain. For so many years, I feared change & would avoid it at all costs because it seemed to upset the balance of what I thought I needed in my life. When, in reality, it is repeated change that has shaped me into a more resilient woman who has learned how to be flexible, teachable & adaptable.
Even though I never envisioned our family living in three different states, I can look back & see that it has only served to grow our faith, bond us closer to one another & more deeply understand that home is not a place, it’s a feeling. I’m so thankful that our kids now have the tools to be able to transition to new settings well & I know they will carry that with them as they go off to college, begin their careers and start their own families someday.
It’s been said that the only constant in life is change – it’s unpredictable, inevitable & persistent. Sometimes the things we can’t change end up changing us instead…and that’s exactly what we need.
4) Compassion is the path to understanding
Naively, I believed the packing & moving was going to be the hardest part of this journey. But, now that we’ve been in Oregon for a couple of weeks, I can say with certainty that I was wrong. And this has been an equally hard adjustment for my Mom & Dad. They’ve had their hands full clearing out rooms to make space for our family, rearranging furniture and organizing their house in a new way.
I know my mom has had days where she’s felt completely overwhelmed by having to sort through 20+ years of stuff that now needs to either be donated or put into long-term storage. I’ve repeatedly struggled with feelings of guilt over how much work it has been for them, even though I know this was the right call for us to have full-time in-home care for my Dad.
My parents have been married for over 50 years and theirs is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of love – the kind they write books and make movies about; the kind we all long to emulate & experience. And, suddenly, it’s not just the two of them in the house anymore. As happy as they are to have us here, they’ve also had to become accustomed to losing some of their independence, privacy & freedom.
They are in a different phase of life now and I want to be sensitive to the things they need, even if it means it comes at a cost to my family. We are still in the early stages of learning to live together, but we’re already talking about ways that we can intentionally & consistently create moments for the two of them to be alone. Having open & honest communication has been essential to helping us clearly understand their needs & identify ways to meet them.
5) Gratitude is the antidote to self-centeredness
As most of you know, I was eager to embrace my new role as caretaker and it is my absolute joy to be able to serve my parents in this way. But, I don’t think I anticipated how difficult it would be to live in a home that isn’t ours. The dishes aren’t mine, the decor isn’t something I picked out, I don’t have my own desk or favorite coffee mug. I have to re-learn where things are stored, how the refrigerator is organized, how my dad likes his food prepared and what my mom’s cleaning preferences are.
These are all sacrifices that we have willingly made, but if I’m being honest, there are times when I selfishly want more things for myself – my own space, uninterrupted work time, the ability to crank up my music while I’m cooking. Anytime I catch myself wanting to cling to those feelings, I have to stop & ask what really matters. Do I have a roof over my head & running water? Am I surrounded by people who love me? Am I able to provide for my family by working from home while simultaneously caring for my Dad?
When left unchecked, our selfishness for things that we think we are owed and don’t get can lead to feelings of resentment & bitterness. Surrendering my inclination to declare circumstances as undesirable or “unfair for me” has been an important step towards realizing that, while challenging at times, I have so much to be thankful for right now.
Practicing gratitude is so often the antidote when we are tempted to complain. And I’ve found that there is a contentedness that can only come from focusing on what I do have, rather than what I don’t.