Long Distance Caregiving II: Helping a Loved One Make a Major Move

This week’s blog continues the story of SelectCare VP Carla Holub-Tarantino, her sister, Melissa, and their mother, Alice.  After the passing of Alice’s husband, the three worked together to prepare Alice for a move from California to Oklahoma, where she would be closer to her family.  To read Part I, click here.

Moving Forward and Starting a New Life

Less than six months after the passing of her husband, a lot had changed in Alice’s life.  She was leaving her home of 40 years for a new adventure in the Midwest, but making the move meant discarding many of the belongings she and her husband had collected during their life together.

Alice had already made good progress towards downsizing her belongings prior the move, but with a week left in California and half-packed boxes throughout her home, it was time for the final push.  Fortunately, Carla and Melissa had arrived to help.  What they hadn’t realized before arriving was that they would play a major role in not just packing boxes, but supporting their mother during this time of serious transition.

Every Item Has a Story

Upon arriving in California, Carla and Melissa found Alice had successfully moved most of her belongings into three categories: “bring along,” “leave behind,” and “maybe.”  Fresh off the plane, the two sisters set to work boxing items Alice wanted to take on the move.  While they packed, Alice was expected to continue narrowing down her rather large pile of “maybe” items.  Instead, she often drifted over to their work area and shared stories about the items as they made their way into boxes.

“When we first got there, we planned on knocking out the packing work as quickly as we could,” Carla recalled.  “But we realized that in order to make the move easier for mom, we had to be respectful of her personal mementos.  We were coming at this from a practical point of view, but mom was coming at it from an emotional one – we were packing up 40 years of her life and she wanted us to understand how important these things were to her.”

Third Parties

No matter how close a family might be the stress of an upcoming major move on a tight timeline can raise tensions for everyone involved.Alice DeFranco_Packing up 40 years of her life

Fortunately for the trio, they were not alone in their efforts.  Alice had relied on the assistance of Rose, a trusted owner of a housekeeping company, for support while she cared for her husband.  During the move, Rose had helped find new homes for some of Alice’s belongings, but more importantly, served as an independent third party during the sometimes chaotic final week in California.

“It would have been easy at a lot of points for one of us to throw up our hands in frustration, or feel like a decision being made might be unfair,” Carla said.  “But having someone there who wasn’t related to us, who was looking at the challenges from a purely practical standpoint, was a huge help. It was like having a referee.”

The “Maybe” Pile and Going With the Flow

With just a few days before Carla and Melissa would begin their three-day U-Haul excursion to the Midwest, the “bring along” and “leave behind” piles were completely organized, however the “maybe” pile, loomed large, full of items that either carried sentimental or practical value, but were either too bulky or impractical to easily make the move.

Carla and Melissa arrived on Wednesday afternoon, began packing and by Thursday afternoon the apartment was bare, the U-Haul truck was filled. It had been a strenuous experience for everyone, emotionally and physically.  Everyone involved had made their best effort to avoid hurt feelings and respect how drastically Alice was changing her life, but this was where the rubber met the road – what would they do with fishing poles she had used with her husband, or heavy picture frames that had held the couple’s favorite paintings?

Alice DeFrano2

Dave Myszko of Realty One Group in Mission Viejo, stopping in to say goodbye to his favorite client.

Rather than force the issue, the three came to a compromise:  They decided to rent a slightly larger truck to carry a few more of the items Alice simply couldn’t yet part with, under the agreement that the items would stay in Melissa’s home until Alice could decide what to do with them.

Carla recalls how, after 12 hours of frantic packing, the decision to bring along these items was a relief to everyone.

“We had accomplished a lot in a very little time span,” Carla said.  “We were so close to being finished and we had to ask ourselves, was it really worth it to push these hard decisions right then and there?  We had come to help our mother, and I think forcing those final choices would have run against everyone’s best interests. Looking back now, choosing not to compromise on this could have made the whole experience so much worse.  If I had not had colleagues who were professional movers and organizers for older adults, this could have been a disaster in the making.  Listening and learning from other professionals helped me take their wisdom and experience and apply it to this move.”

Saying Goodbye and Moving Forward

Finally, the U-Haul was packed. All of Alice’s belongings had either found new homes or were on their way to Oklahoma.  The utilities had been shut off and the apartment’s new occupants would arrive shortly.

Before setting off for the airport, Carla, Melissa, and Alice set aside some time for a final goodbye.  The two sisters gave their mother as much time as she needed to walk the halls of her home, remember the friends and family she had entertained within these walls, and gain a sense of closure before opening the next chapter of her life.  On Friday morning while sitting at the airport (she would fly while the sisters drove her items cross-country,) Alice recalls the gravity of the change finally set in.

“I was through security and waiting for my plane to board.  Suddenly, I had this horrible feeling that I couldn’t find my return ticket.  I checked my purse, my pockets, and couldn’t find it.  I almost called Carla and Melissa to tell them I didn’t know what to do,” Alice said.  “Then I thought to myself, ‘hey Alice,’ you’re not going back. You’re moving forward.  That was a shaky moment because that was reality setting in:  I was moving forward and starting a new life.”

Alice DeFranco    Alice DeFranco's New Home