When I was diagnosed with cancer, I begged God to allow me to live. I wanted my son to have his mom, retire with my husband at the cabin someday, and help move my parents into a senior living situation. I saw the latter as rapidly approaching and I knew what a daunting task it would be going through a large home full of things and needing to decide what to do with everything. I pleaded with God for the honor of being able to help them do this.
My prayer was answered. After 5 months of actively reassigning their possessions, the process was completed---not without tears and anxiety ---last week. I, my family, and a mover finally got Mom and Dad settled in their new digs. (My brothers and sisters-in-law were rock stars. We could not have done it without them.) It is a big change for the folks, with much less space, but it offers any service they may need in the future, and my sweet mom can finally, after 92 years, step away from the stove and have every evening meal served to her on linen tablecloths and a smiling waiter to do her gustatory bidding! She SO deserves this now. They are adjusting and we all really love their cozy new apartment that looks a lot like home.
My best friend Susan reminds me all the time that as you face tough challenges, wondering if you have the physical and emotional energy to perform a needed task, you simply walk in the grace God gives you for that time, for that day and hour. You can do no more or less.
I've made several trips to Fargo in the past year to help them get the ball rolling on downsizing. God meted out generous portions of grace during this preparation and transition time with my parents:
When I didn't think my heart could hold the sadness in my mom's or dad's eyes as they had to throw/give away yet another piece of meaningful memorabilia, God gave me the grace to be strong for them, saving my own tears for bedtime.
When I didn't know if I could spend another hour vacillating between being Hitler-daughter ("No, you just do not have room to take that with you. It's gotta go.") and Comforter-daughter, God gave me the reserve for the next hour of pouring through drawers and cupboards.
I am so not a morning person, but I walked in the grace of supernatural energy, ready to get the day begun by 7:30 and often working 10 or more hours sorting and packing. Only God could have produced that in me.
When I started coughing up bright red blood the night before the move, I had the grace of my doc brother's presence ten minutes away for advice and treatment.
With pain 24/7 in my right knee, I worried about keeping up with the demands of all the running around that this sort of task requires. I walked in the grace of adrenalin that kept my knee pain from limiting me in any way.
This rite of passage requires perhaps more organizational, emotional, mental and physical energy than I have ever put out for one process/task before. But I was not overwhelmed in any way. Pure grace. It was such a privilege for us kids to do this with and for our parents. They have given so much love and support and encouragement to us over the years. It seems a tiny thing to give back.
What did this experience leave me with?
- I am purging my own home NOW.
- I was reminded I can't take anything with me to heaven except the love in my heart.
- I hope Sam will cherish these family heirlooms that I have been given, as I do and as my parents did, and realize that he is a member of the next generation who need to be "keeper of the stories." I hope he values them enough that his children someday can feel that special belonging to a history larger than themselves. Each old chair, each old diploma, each quilt, each Christmas ornament has a Hieb story that we need to be stewards of.
- I was reminded that when Jesus told us (Matthew 6:19-20) to store up treasures in heaven rather than treasures on earth, He knew that there is always a danger that what we own has the potential to own us. Jesus wants us to hold our possessions lightly and to keep ourselves tethered to the eternal, not the temporal.
- As I have taught hundreds of classes over the years about relocation stress in the elderly, I have been armed with anecdotes from my clinical work as well as academic knowledge. From this point on, my lectures on transition will be far far richer with personal experience and not without great emotion.
- I have learned that Mom and Dad gave the 3 of us a great gift when they chose to move to a city where one of their children lived. If not, the three of us would be traveling on a rotating basis attempting to help from afar. I don't know how elderly couples make it without family in town. Friends only go so far when it comes to essential help needed (like medical emergencies, medical advocacy, moves, etc.). What a relief we have knowing my younger brother and his wife are right there for them. They are amazing, and I so respect their commitment to my folks. And I know my older brother and I both rest easier at night knowing they are not stranded in a city by themselves without our help. Dick and I are committed to doing the same thing for Sam someday. We will someday relocate to where HE is so that when we need his help in our older age, he can give it without taking time away from his job and his family.
- I told my family that after sleeping alone at their old condo the night of the move and walking around the large empty space, I realized that it suddenly was not "home" anymore. It was a vacuum, without laughter, without THEM, without a pulse. After one night, "going home" had already been transferred to the new place. The size and the shape of that space is meaningless. Home will always be where my mom and dad are.
- I have learned that God's grace is enough.