Our parents helped us through transitions such as our first day of school, our first romantic break up, or a cross-country move. Just as we have moved through our many life phases, our parents remain in transition throughout their lives.
About eight years ago my mother decided to sell the family home of thirty years so that she could live near her grandchildren and play a key role in their everyday lives. Mom spent the better part of two years methodically sorting through a lifetime of mementos, business records, and family heirlooms. She carefully selected among her favorite furnishings that filled a large, two-story home so that her new, one-story home wouldn’t be stacked to the rafters.
It was a difficult move. She was leaving the familiarity of a hometown where she and my father established a business, built a circle of loving friends, and where she created a new life on her own after Dad’s death. However, my mother insisted that she would rather tackle this downsizing while she was in control of her own decisions and she was able to orchestrate the move on her terms. She found a new house within a five-minute drive of our own home and she quickly joined a gardening group and exercise group where her circle of new friends grew fast.
However, life continues to go on and she is faced with losing three dear friends within a few short months. One friend is permanently moving to her weekend home while another friend is joining her own children in another state. Her dearest friend and travel companion has decided to move closer to her own daughters — much like my mom decided eight years ago. These two women have become inseparable and the move will be hard on both of them. Their friendship is the type where they finish one another’s sentences, crave their favorite ice cream at the same time, and arrive at parties dressed almost identical to one another. Mom’s friend has joined our extended family on vacations where I wondered if taking them both zip-lining along the rainforest canopy was the best decision!
What can we do to ease the pain of friends moving away?
1. Encourage letter writing.
Letter writing may be considered old-school, but there’s nothing better than saving and re-reading a note or a card from a good friend.
2. Phone calls.
Facebook and Twitter may be the communication of choice for our children, but a regular phone call keeps the connection fresh for dear friends.
3. Schedule road trips.
Everyone says they will visit soon, but help your parent make this happen by scheduling a visit before the actual move takes place. Both friends will know there is a firm commitment to see one another soon.
4. Create new traditions.
Start a new tradition that takes into consideration the two different locations. Consider helping your parent begin a journal before the friend’s move takes place and then mailing the journal to the friend so that they can complete details of their move before dropping the journal in the return mail to your parent. This give-and-take of information can continue at any pace.
Transitions may be difficult, at any stage of life. However, family caregivers can help their parents with changes such as long-time friends moving by anticipating the voids and helping their parents find new activities and develop new relationships.