Reduce Seniors’ Angst During Cross-Country Moves

Elyse
elderly couple with moving boxes

Moving senior parents or loved ones across the country can be fraught with overwhelming logistical challenges, to-do lists, and unanticipated glitches.

In such circumstances, it’s easy to overlook the emotional well-being of the family member who’s moving.

But to make the transition smoother, it’s important to consider the person’s anxiety and misgivings, whether it’s a fear of the unknown, a sense of loss, or coming to terms with losing some independence.

When sisters Rachel Wineberg-Kaufman of Hastings-on-Hudson, NY,  and Johanna Kellman of Naples, FL, started planning a move from Chicago to Naples, FL, for their 90-something parents, Bernice and Julius, they carefully planned ways to ease the stress and trauma.

Here are four takeaways from the sisters’ experience.

  1. Respect parents’ wishes

A successful transition sometimes starts with the timing and approach children take when suggesting a new living arrangement. Some kids issue an order to their parents and say, “You’re moving.”

But being forceful wasn’t an option for Wineberg-Kaufman and Kellman.

Despite worries about their parents’ safety and well-being, the sisters grew up in a gentle, loving, and collaborative family and wanted to respect their parents’ wishes and autonomy.

Several years prior to the 2018 move, they raised the issue of relocation to assisted living but were shut down by their parents.

After all, they had lives.

Bernice was a quilter and jewelry maker and had a close-knit group of friends at an art center where she did metalsmithing every week. Julius, also an artist – a drawer and printmaker – still had lifelong friends in the city.

The sisters didn’t push. “We opted to preserve the relationship, rather than to protect their bodies,” says Wineberg-Kaufman.  

  1. Invite. Don’t Dictate

Parents don’t want to feel like their children’s children, so consider asking someone else to initiate the difficult relocation discussion.

When it became clear that a move was urgent – Bernice and Julius experienced a rapid health decline – Wineberg-Kaufman’s husband simply said to her parents, “We’d like you to move to New York near us.”

It was a warm invitation, rather than a heavy discussion about illness, the dangers of living alone, and the challenges of long-distance caregiving.

It worked.

“What a great idea,” Bernice responded. “But let's do Florida instead. The weather’s better.”

Wineberg-Kaufman recalls her mom saying, “We’ll be snowbirds and go to Florida in the winter and come back to Chicago in the summer. I need to think of it this way. Otherwise, I won't be able to do it.”

  1. Humanize, personalize institutional environment

 Discuss the furniture and other items that are most important to your loved ones. “When you move to assisted living, you need to bring very little – clothes, medicine, toiletries, and a few personal items,” comments Judith Kahn of Judith Moves You, a senior move manager in New York City.

That said, some furniture and décor items from home do minimize the institutional aesthetic of assisted or independent living communities and create a warmer, more familiar environment.

Kellman, an interior designer, took measurements of the place in Florida and shipped several of her parents’ most loved pieces of furniture to their new apartment.

For instance, every day, their mom sat at a dressing table to fix her hair and put on her makeup. That piece made the new apartment feel more like home. The same goes for her dad’s desk and her mom’s handmade quilts.

  1. Purge later

Consider leaving the house or apartment intact before the departure.

For Bernice and Julius, it was clear that this was their last move, and Wineberg-Kaufman and Kellman wanted their parents’ memory of their Chicago home to be pleasant and beautiful, not one of chaos.

So their final glance around their Chicago high-rise condo included Lake Michigan and a space that reflected their taste and life – artwork, decorative objects from their global travels, and Julius’ printing press, for example.

“It was better for them to have that memory of the apartment the way that they’d created it,” comments Wineberg-Kaufman.