This summer I moved my parents from Kansas to California. It was a journey that took nearly seven months to complete. My parents come from what I call the “hoarder” generation. I’m sure you all have parents like this – they don’t throw anything away. I guess it is because they were alive during a generation where resources were scarce. Where our country was at war in a faraway part of the world and they were careful with how they spent their money.
My Parents Home in Kansas, 2013
It was difficult to go through a lifetime of their memories and choose which ones were the most important to take with them to California. Many of those memories didn’t make it here to their new home. I think my mother is impacted the most by the cross-country move. She served for 28 years in the city council where they lived. Everything that she took pride in helping to create is no longer visible outside her window.
Of course, the reasons why my parents moved are important to note. Multiple trips to the ER, extended stays in hospitals and aftercare facilities in a city where none of their children lived. It was time. It was time to have family only minutes away. It was time to spend Saturday night eating dinner with grandchildren. It was time to watch Saturday football where the whole family was screaming at the TV.
There was no way I could do this alone. Other siblings helped along the way. We even hired a company that did most of the legwork including coming out to California and putting their new home together using the important pieces of their lives. The process required endurance, attention to detail, and more than anything else it took love.
During the move, there were unexpected things like when the dog would not fit on the airplane. A frantic text was sent and out I flew, rented a car, and drove the dog through the five states to arrive at the new home. There was the injury the dog received from jumping onto a bed with piles of “stuff” and falling to the floor – destroying his knee. He has made it through the surgery and is recovering in a facility awaiting his return to his beloved family in the new year.
My Trip with Beethoven Across the US, 2017
The never-ending list of to-dos has been whittled down to non-life-threatening things. I’m exhausted. I’ve cried. I am not sure what I thought this was going to be like. I guess I didn’t think about it at all. My parents have been there for me through every significant challenge, every celebration, every birth of a grandchild, everything! Of course, it was without hesitation that I signed up for the year-long journey. I know that there will be that phone call in the years to come – the one we all regret. At least I’ll be 5 minutes away and able to make a difference.
After making the endless medical appointments, getting the med list managed by their caretakers, my mother turned to me and said: “We can never thank you enough for all that you are doing for us.” My stepfather added, “You are our angel.” I told them I wouldn’t have it any other way. My mother went to her room and took a $100 bill from her wallet and said I want you to have this. I sat there holding the crisp $100 bill and paused for a moment. With the holidays just around the corner, the money would come in handy. But I knew I couldn’t keep it.
I needed my parents to know that I didn’t do all of this for some reward. I did it because of all the little and the BIG things my parents have done for me over the years. I did it because I love them so very much – all the warts, the oddities, all the awkward moments when your children parent their parents. I can’t think of anything more important that I need to do at this point in my life to ensure that their final years are the best possible years they can be.
As we go into the holiday season, I just ask that everyone think about the things that they can do for others that don’t cost any money. I’m so tired of the commercial side of the holidays, the never-ending commercials telling us what we should buy for our loved ones. The greatest gifts cost us nothing. If we give a little piece of ourselves to the ones we love – that is a greater, more measurable, and significant gift than anything we buy with money.
I know my mother meant well. I know she was trying to show me love the only way she could. But as I put that $100 bill back into her wallet I knew she had already given me the greatest gift of all. There was no greater gift than to call her Mom.
Please share and spread the message this holiday season.