I’m sitting in the hospital waiting room as I write this, trying to distract myself while I wait for the doctor to come tell me the outcome of my Dad’s surgery. With so much uncertainty swirling around us, sometimes it seems unfair that the rest of the world keeps moving on – I’ll be honest that it’s become increasingly hard for me to continue blogging each day as if I’m not in the most heartbreaking season of my life. I’ve never been someone who struggles with anxiety, but the moment I learned about his diagnosis, it felt as though I was swimming in an ocean of fear, constantly fighting (and mostly failing) to keep my head above the waves.
It’s hard to talk about, to think about & to even begin to imagine what the future holds for my family. But, as difficult as it is, I’ve made the decision to bring you all along with me on this journey because I know there are so many others who are facing something similar. By sharing openly on this platform that I’ve been given, my hope is that it will help even just one person feel less alone in their own sadness & grief.
As I mentioned earlier, we will be permanently relocating to Oregon this summer & moving in with my parents to help care for my Dad. The decision to leave New York was one that we made pretty quickly when we learned the gravity of his diagnosis (read the post here). Though I’m the youngest of three, I’ve known all along that I would be the one to care for my parents when the time came…and, unfortunately, that time is now.
Today I thought I would update you on some of the things we’ve been doing in preparation for our big move and how we are handling the transition.
DOWNSIZING OUR HOUSEHOLD
Our #1 goal with this move is for it to have minimal impact on my parents. This means taking as little as possible into their space and not asking for them to make special accommodations for us. For example, our master bedroom furniture is not going to fit into their small guest room, so we will be using what they already have in place. We plan on having a huge estate sale before we leave NY to get rid of all our couches, our dining room set, the guest bedroom furniture, our piano & all of my office furniture – anything that we want to keep for the future will go into long-term storage.
In a way, there is something very freeing about purging so much and drastically downsizing our household. I’ve already started looking at my wardrobe differently with the understanding that we’ll be moving to a milder climate & that we will have minimal storage space. Out of necessity, I’m making a concerted effort to ruthlessly streamline my closet as much as possible and only the keep the pieces I truly love and wear the most.
While there are going to be some amazing perks of sharing a space with my parents (they have the most beautiful property in the country with a built-in pool), there will also be a lot of sacrificing we’ll have to do. It’s impossible to know how long this season of living with them & caring for them will last – and, anytime I start to think about what comes after this, I immediately get overwhelmed with all the “what ifs”, so I have to just surrender those unknowns to God & do my best to take it one day at a time.
PREPARING OUR KIDS
We’re already finding that this experience is not only bringing our family of 4 closer together, but it’s also molding, shaping & maturing our kids in a way that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Even though they are at tough ages to be moving (12 & 16), they took the news so well and want nothing more than to be near their grandparents again. There’s also something really special about them having the chance to attend the same school(s) that I graduated from & to be in classes with their cousins every day.
Beyond the changes of a new state, new schools & new friends, we also recognize that they will have a front row seat to watching all of the health challenges that my Dad is facing. Thankfully, we have an amazing counselor in NY who has been helping our family over the last few years – my daughter has seen her for anxiety and I also saw her during my battle with depression. So, one of the first things we did was set up a family counseling session so we could all openly talk through our feelings, fears & concerns about the move.
I cannot stress enough the value of therapy & how helpful it has been for our kids to process their emotions and provide them with tangible tools to cope as they face these big changes. If you’re going through any kind of significant transition, I highly recommend finding someone to talk to – it is always a worthwhile decision to invest in your mental health & I can assure you that it’s something you will never regret.
We’ve always tried to be very intentional about the way we parent because we do not want to raise entitled kids. One of the things we’ve done in anticipation of our move is to create some ground rules for them so they have a clear understanding that we are moving in with Grandma & Papa to be a help to them & to ease their burden. This means that their chores will look a little different than they do now – beyond just washing dishes & taking out the trash, we are asking them to go above & beyond.
Any chance they get to serve and/or bless their grandparents, we are expecting that they will make an effort to do it with a joyful spirit & without being asked. It’s our hope that having this experience will form them into more compassionate adults with a genuine desire to give of their time, money & talents to help others.
ADJUSTING TO CARETAKING
There have been so many of you who have reached out to me to say that you have or are currently caretaking for a parent & you’ve all offered such wonderful advice. I’ll admit that I’m still learning as I go and I anticipate that there will be even more adjustment once we are actually settled in the house with my parents & learning to live together long-term. In many ways, I feel like this is something I was born to do so it is my absolute joy to take on this role & serve them – I love my Mom & Dad with every fiber of my being and I truly would not have it any other way. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges that come with it too…
While his particular type of cancer isn’t curable, after countless hours of extensive research, I’ve learned that he can significantly extend what time he has left that with certain diet & lifestyle changes. Obviously, we all want as many more years with him as we can get, so we’re highly motivated to help him do that. But, as I know personally from my own experience with changing eating habits for health reasons, it isn’t always easy.
Because I’m the one now managing my Dad’s medications, diet and activities, sometimes I feel more like a “policeman” than his daughter – trying to make sure he eats the right things & gets exercise has, at times, put us at odds. Over Christmas break, there was a moment when he made some poor food choices and I didn’t respond in the best way and things kind of blew up. He was upset and I felt frustrated…but I think that conflict needed to happen so we could both learn how to communicate honestly with each other & gain a better understanding about how to handle those situations moving forward.
I’ve always been very close with my parents, but since this all began, I’m finding out more than ever about who my Dad really is as a person. Part of this comes because I’m seeing him at his worst – when his body is weak, when he feels discouraged, when his medicine affects his judgment, when he is fearful of the future, when he is at the mercy of the doctors.
I’m discovering his personality strengths & weaknesses in a whole new way and I’m having to learn how best to motivate him to keep fighting, while still offering encouragement & expressing my love for him. It’s a delicate balance that I’m still figuring out, but one that I’m determined to master because I love him so much & desperately want to do this well.
LIVING WITH INTENTION
This new season of life is teaching me so much about myself too – it’s deepening my faith, strengthening my resolve and revealing to me in such a real way about what is truly important. When you have a parent who is fighting for their life, it really puts things into perspective and forces you to not take a single second for granted. Though the circumstances are devastating, I’m honestly grateful for this gift.
As I watch my Dad come to terms with the limited time he has left, I see a beautiful example of someone who is seizing every opportunity he can – loving with abandon, saying words he has never said before, opening up his heart without fear of judgment and, even in the midst of his pain & discomfort, making it a priority to get out & serve others.
If there’s one way I can encourage you today, it would be this: don’t wait for a tragedy to jolt you out of your usual routine. Tomorrow isn’t promised & you can make a difference in each day, each situation, each relationship you walk into. I think we would all be a little better off if we were more fearless, more gracious, more joy-filled, more generous. I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of legacy I want to leave behind.