Transition is a tricky word. It can be "a musical modulation" or "an abrupt change in energy state or level (as of an atomic nucleus or a molecule), usually accompanied by loss or gain of a single quantum of energy." "Life transition," however, doesn't have a specific listing in the dictionary I consulted. However, comparing our family's recent life transition to the somewhat miraculous changes that occur in an atomic nucleus or the alteration of a substance from a solid to a liquid doesn't seem absurd. This transition has been every bit as significant and miraculous (as is the fact that we have survived it).
So much energy goes into the activities leading up to moving day that often, families are depleted and run out of steam for days or weeks following the move—which is when the real, and possibly the most important, work begins. These transitional days can set the stage for your loved one's feelings about the move over the long term. The prolonged stress over the months of this move has taken its toll on our family, generating the communication and relationship issues that, although normal, make the practical things that much harder to manage. And transitions inevitably take longer than you think they will—no matter how much you plan. As I write this column, almost seven weeks have passed since moving day, and the transition still fully engulfs us.
Advocating: A Caregiver's Role
It's important for older adults to have family or friends to look out for them and to take care of all the details. While that is an ongoing role for caregivers, the first two months after a move such as the one my parents made are crucial and demand quick action—both in the practical matters, such as setting up the services and supports, and in addressing the underlying emotional aspects.
One of the biggest pros of the facility we chose was that they have onsite physical and occupational therapy services. Within the first few weeks, we signed up Mom and Dad for both. Now, after several weeks, I am beginning to see a real difference in their strength, balance, pain levels, and safety.
The activities at this facility are not terribly exciting. If you don't play cards or bingo, there isn't much to stimulate the intellect. But socialization is important, and I do think my parents are benefitting from meeting other residents and enjoying the company of their peers. I spoke with another resident recently who said she and her husband moved from Missouri a few months ago and were distressed because they don't drive anymore, feel a little stuck here, and don't find the activities very interesting. They miss their big house and friends. She said meeting nice neighbors helps the most as they make the transition.
It's the Little Things…
There are periods in life when it seems not much change is happening. We drone along on auto-pilot, and in so doing, we miss the fact that changes are indeed taking place. In other seasons of life, change happens quickly—and sometimes drastically and in waves. One immense change generally brings a multitude of smaller changes that may seem insignificant to the naked eye of the observer. But in reality, it is often those slighter changes in a person's life that, individually or cumulatively, come around to "kick him in the butt." The enormous change that The Big Move has brought to our lives was not limited to the moving day itself. The Big Move is a phenomenon that has already lasted five months and will continue to affect us for many months to come.
The innumerable "small" issues have proven to be the most difficult adjustments to make—different schedules and routines, finding the dog food in the new kitchen, learning to use new thermostats, washing dishes instead of using a dishwasher, finding a phone number, finding just the right placement for a lamp. These are the kinds of things that have taken a great deal of time and energy, and the things that can cause the most stress.
It really is the "little things" that have pushed us over the edge at times. It may take my parents 10 or 20 times looking for the location of a light switch before it is concretely embedded in their minds. But the good news is that it neither surprises nor defeats me—or them. I expect it, and I expect that they will eventually "get it." And most of the time, they do.