Family team eases grandparents’ downsizing trauma

The full-press family crew marshalled at 9 a.m., minus the grandparents, who were entertained off-site by a caregiver

VANCOUVER, B.C. Oct. 9, 2016/ Troy Media/ – After just cresting 70, Grandpa and Grandma moved from Vancouver to a Vancouver Island retirement home designed for them by their daughter (my wife). Here, 20 years of gardening, fishing, golfing and family visits have passed in an instant.

Now cresting 90, the pleasures of a larger home and two cars have given way to the need for more centralized services (medical, shopping, and visiting), and the end of driving.

One generation back of these realizations, I watch my elders carefully. More to the point, last weekend I participated in their move to a 1,000-square-foot condo as the next phase of life begins.

My marital in-laws are an organized bunch. Among them are a cluster of professions: engineering, architecture, teaching, banking, and dentistry. When confronted with the need to move the grandparents, they mustered a plan and a team of workers that could have taught Henry Ford something about industrial efficiency.

Two sisters and two brothers became joint planners of the move, organizing the sale of the family home, the purchase of the new condo, the selection of the moving company, the planning of the moving weekend, and the assignment of tasks.

I watched with great interest as the house was sold and a right-sized condo purchased in a facility that caters specially to seniors. Household and personal effects of all kinds that would not fit in the new place were judiciously allocated to those who could best use them. As the weeks quickly passed to the moving weekend, the house was somewhat emptied of items that would not fit into the downsizing.

The main moving day fell on a Saturday. The full-press family crew marshalled at 9 a.m., minus the grandparents, who were entertained off-site by a caregiver.

Task assignment was skill-based: the engineer unhooked both home computer system and television, and disappeared to the condo to set up and install technology. The architect and the teacher sorted and packed clothing closets, linen cabinets, and chests of drawers, and planned furniture placement. The banker packed the kitchen up. The college instructor organized the garage cleanup, and work-bench and garden tool redistribution. The dentist power-washed the driveway and organized the crew catering.

My task was garbage dump runs in my pick-up. I followed directions precisely, only to arrive at what a sign confusingly referred to as a transfer station.

Here I was quickly schooled by the transfer station cashier in a host of new protocols: “Cardboard, wood waste, plaster board, and metal (any object with more than 10 per cent metal in manufacture), goes down below; yard waste goes to that shed over there; household waste goes in the adjacent shed. We don’t take any electronics. You take them to the bottle depot on the highway. Any questions? Report back here after your transfer for weigh-in. Thank-you.”

This isn’t your father’s garbage dump any more.

Back at the house, the movers were loading scores of carefully packed boxes and large items like sofas and beds into their truck. The sisters were conducting a final inspection of the empty premises. They next charged me with taking the paintings and framed photographs to the condo for hanging, “because you used to run an art gallery.” Grandpa’s Saturday football game was turned on and ready for his viewing. Soon the truck was loaded and the entire crew decamped to the condo.

A frenzy of furniture placement (precisely according to plan) and box unpacking followed. Unbelievably, in just three hours, the condo was provisioned and decorated, complete with familiar art on the walls. I was delegated to pick up the grandparents, and the dentist disappeared to get a feast of Chinese takeout.

I watched from behind as Grandma and Grandpa entered their new condo to a family chorus of “Welcome home!” Their reactions were joyful and tearful in equal measure. Both gave impromptu speeches of thanks. I am struggling to imagine a better collective use of our weekend. Or a better veneration of elder parents.

Troy Media columnist Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum, and the Bill Reid Gallery. Mike is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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