Transitions. Older woman sitting under a tree by the water.

Movin’ on Up—Making Difficult Transitions

Well we’re movin’ on up,
to the East Side
to a deluxe apartment
in the sky.

—Theme from The Jeffersons

Life is full of transitions. Some are big, life-altering changes, others are small changes in habits or activities, but transitions happen all the time. The more you’re conscious of them, the more intentional you can be. Try to notice any changes in your routine and ask yourself if they are intentional or just convenient. If you can be intentional about the little transitions, the decisions about big transitions will be easier to make.

My life is chock full of transitions right now. I’ve started to work part-time at my “day job,” I’ve started a new job, I’m laying the groundwork for new music collaborations, and I’ve made significant changes in my lifestyle to improve my health. But none of these is as big a deal as the one my mom is going through right now. She has made the decision to move into a retirement community.

This sounds like one transition, but actually it’s a whole set of transitions. There’s the physical moving of herself and her stuff. That’s almost the easy part. Her apartment at the “home” will be almost identical to her living space in her house—the same feel, the same furniture—only the view out the window will be different.

But the door, that’s a different story.

When she walks out the door, she won’t be walking outside for the first time. She’ll be walking into a whole new world. There will be people there—new people. Some will be nice and will become friends, some will be scared and shy, and some will be indifferent. There will be a new set of expectations and social norms. She will have to navigate the details of living this new life. There will be new sets of activities, schedules, and regimens.

Some say my mom’s a control freak (“some people” being me on occasion), but her quest for control has generally been a good thing. She likes to know what’s happening. She makes sure everyone is involved. She keeps track of the details. This has served her well. In moving to a retirement community, many of the details of her life will be out of her control. This can be interpreted as a good thing—a lot of the headaches she’s had to deal with, someone else will be dealing with now. But it’s still not easy—for anyone, but for a control freak most of all.

She’s also meeting a whole new group of people. The staff of the facility, new doctors, and the other residents. It’s easy to say, “Oh, it’ll be great; you’ll make a lot of friends!” But it’s a scary situation, even for the most outgoing of people. We take comfort and draw strength from the people we know and trust. When we face a situation when everyone is new to us, we lose a big chunk of that foundation. She still has the people she knows, but they’re not there with her in this new environment. My mom is the friendliest person in the world and makes friends wherever she goes, but that’s easy to say. It’s still scary.

Moving to a retirement community is also an acknowledgement of entering another phase of life. This may be the scariest transition of all. Even under the best of circumstances, a move to a retirement community, with contingencies for moving on to assisted living and nursing care, is a recognition that one can’t take care of themselves as they always have. It’s looking one’s mortality right in the face and saying, Here I come. My mom still has many years ahead of her, but she’s not a spring chicken. It’s scary.

In some ways, my Mom is lucky. She’ll have us there (me and my brothers and sister) holding her hand all the way. She can “take a break” from the new place and come stay with any of us at any time. She’ll have us visiting her—likely until she’s sick of us. But it’s still a transition. And it’s still scary. A lot of people have to face this alone.

My Mom is facing this with the organizational zeal, good humor, and grace that she has faced all of her transitions in life, and I know she’ll thrive. And more importantly, she believes she’ll thrive. It’s a lesson all of us can learn from.

When faced with transitions, be a control freak, but be intentional about what you need to control, and what control you should  give to others. Be specific about what it means for all of the details of your life, including how it affects your emotional landscape, your people dynamic, and your ability to continue to pursue your best life. Be aware of all the “little transitions” that are associated with the big transitions. Be positive, enthusiastic, and open-minded. Be like my Zen-master mom. It serves her well—it will serve you well too.

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One comment

  • Sandra Erdle July 13, 2021   Reply →

    Thanks Pete – this is all great information. I’ve just begun reading “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande – some more information, it seems, on transitions. My best to your Mom – may she remain healthy and at peace. Be well my friend – Sandra

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