Relocation grief. I feel it already, though I won’t move for at least four years. When I look out the kitchen window at the apple trees, birds flying back and forth, and visiting wildlife, including deer, turkeys, and pheasant, I feel a sense of loss.
My husband and I have already reserved a unit at a Mayo Clinic assisted living community in the heart of downtown Rochester, Minnesota. Knowing that we will live there years from now is a source of comfort. But it’s also a source of relocation grief.
Moving is one of the most stressful experiences of life. It’s so stressful a new response, Relocation Stress Syndrome (RSS), has been identified and documented. When I move to our new apartment, I think I’ll have RSS big time.
Colleen Smart describes the syndrome in her ABC Elder Care website article, “Relocation Stress Syndrome.” Identified in 1992, the symptoms of RSS include depression, anxiety, withdrawl and confusion. Losing control of your life contributes to the syndrome.
Older adults have a wealth of life experiences, yet coping with RSS can be a challenge. “Research shows that seniors may take longer to adjust than younger people,” Smart observes.
David J. Sorenson, MSW, LSW, writes about the grief of relocation in her ElderCare Advocates website article, “Moving and Griefwork.” As Sorenson explains, “Even if the elder made his or her own decisions to move, grieving will occur related to the loss of the previous home.” The grieving time depends on the person’s reaction to the move and the help he or she receives.
Sorensen thinks parting with the small stuff – kitchen items, knick-knacks, photo albums, and holiday decorations – is “one of the most traumatic events in the lives of elders.”
Moving involves more than the loss of possessions. When my husband and I move to assisted living, we will be leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar. This is scary. We’ll be leaving the home we have lived in for many years, our cozy street, our community, and our privacy. That’s hard enough, but we will also have to adjust to living in smaller space. We don’t know what type of unit will be available when we relocate, but it will be far smaller than the 2,700-foot home we live in now. We will also have to adjust to new rules, new services, and new timetables.
Friends of ours are moving to the same high-rise next year. They started planning for the move two years ago. “We will only be able to take one sixth of our things,” the husband explained. “I don’t know what we’ll do with the rest.”
Like other older adults, the things we don’t need will be given to our remaining daughter, charity, or merged into an estate sale.
Another couple I know is in the process of moving to assisted living. Two one-bedroom units are being merged into one. “We’re waiting for a wall to be knocked down and then we can move in,” the wife explained. She went on to say they had given their good dishes to their daughter, “but she will probably never use them.”
Family members can make relocation easier by helping with planning and having a meaningful farewell, according to Jeanette Franks, PhD, author of “Moving Seniors: Settling Into a New Home.” Her article is published on the Assisted Living website. Franks thinks older adults shouldn’t be rushed into decisions. Instead of buying new furniture for a new place, a wiser decision may be to use old, familiar furniture.
While I respect this opinion, I won’t follow it. When we move into assisted living, no matter how small our unit is, I will make it a little gem. I have a graduate degree in art and decorating is one of my passions. So I’ll put as much effort into decorating a small space as I put into decorating a larger one.
A new field, Personal Relocation Expert, has come about to assist those who are relocating. Moving is never easy, but sometimes it’s necessary. When I become anxious about moving to assisted living, I think of a friend of mine. She was fortunate enough to get a corner unit with windows on two sides and plenty of light. “I didn’t want to move,” she volunteered. “You do it for those you love.”
Her wisdom gives me courage for the days to come.
Harriet Hodgson 2011