Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Last Move is the Hardest

fter nearly ten years of indecision, my parents moved into a retirement community a few miles from their home in Miami. I'd been pushing for the move and not only for the selfish reason that it would spare me worry. I love the place. Possibly this is because it reminds me of the Army posts where I grew up, complete with sentry gate at the entrance. Residents live in their own units, but there is a lovely common garden and grounds for walking and basking in the sun. East Ridge has its own ceramics studio, woodworking shop, and library. There are regular exercise classes, including yoga, which, to my amazement, attracted my retired Colonel father. My mother decided that 50 years of fixing dinner was enough, and opted for the group meals. They both found like-minded companions, especially among the many University of Miami faculty members who have retired there, and every evening they join friends at a cocktail hour before dinner. Mom is even able to travel, knowing that my father, who is growing somewhat infirm, would be cared for in her absence.

As much as my parents loved East Ridge, it took a lot to get them there. They lived in the perfect Florida house, complete with a mango tree in the back yard, and a huge screened-in patio where they spent most of their time. Even as housekeeping became a burden, they resisted the idea of moving. In the way of adult children, I thought I knew what was best for them, and didn't hesitate to say so. They, for their part, didn't like being pushed. Eventually I got the message and stopped bringing up the subject. When they finally came around, the choice was all theirs.

My sister and I did what we could to make the move easier. We each flew in for a week to help weed possessions and pack. Jane organized a giant yard sale that doubled as a goodbye party for the neighborhood. Mom and Dad were reluctant to spend money on the new place, but we encouraged them to do any renovations that would make it feel more like home.

Once my parents were settled in, my husband and I threw them a housewarming party. No one at East Ridge had ever done this before, it turned out, and the staff was excited about the prospect. The subliminal message was, this is a place people come to live, not to die. The party was a great success, as my parents' old friends got to see them in their new surroundings, and their new acquaintances got to know them a little better.

Moving to a retirement community is not the right decision for everyone, but it was for my parents, and they ended up wishing they'd done it earlier. My husband's parents have come to the stage where they are reluctant to make a move that everyone else thinks they should. Now, though, there is an established cadre of professionals to assist in the transition. Their professional organization is the National Association of Senior Move Managers and they have an extensive provider list.

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