Sunday, July 5, 2009

Guest Blogger: Sally Allen of A Place for Everything

We are pleased to present Sally Allen, President of A Place for Everything. As a Certified Professional Organizer and a Certified Relocation & Transition Specialist, Sally knows what to do with stuff. She also knows that a person's "stuff" holds memories, emotions and sometimes the very soul of an individual. Handling those treasures carefully and thoughtfully differentiates these services from those of more traditional moving companies. Sally writes about a situation that might sound familiar to many of you. Please join Sally on July 21 at 3 p.m. at Capabilities for her free workshop.

After reading the story about "Where the Journey Takes you Next", I thought about the trip I just made to CA to help guide the journey for 86 yr. old Aunt Sue from Independent Living (she definitely stayed independent way too long) into assisted living in CO to be near her daughter, Mary. I had never met Mary or Sue and was looking forward to meeting and providing assistance with the transition/move management process.

Two days before her departure from CO, Mary had a lively and spirited phone conversation with Sue. The day I arrived at the Independent Living community in CA, I found Mary sitting at the head of Jane’s bed holding Sue in her arms and trying to feed her. Sue could not sit up, nor keep her eyes open, nor feed herself, nor speak in sentences. One day before our arrival Sue had a very significant drop in physical ability. She had been sent to the hospital and with no significant findings she was sent back to her apartment. Mary and I realized that Sue was in no condition to be at home and called First Responders. Sue was returned to the hospital.

I have never before walked into the "crisis" environment while attending to the letting-go and relocation process. This was a first for me, and took me places I never expected to go. I was reminded how important it is to get your house in order before the crisis sets in. I truly understood the language of tears.

Mary spent the rest of her visit with Sue at the hospital while I researched and organized our next steps. I realized that there was an abundance of sorting and editing that needed to be done regardless of Sue’s whereabouts. I called in another organizer who lived in the area and fortunately was also a Certified Relocation and Transition Special (CRTS).

We dug through the art room and the craft room that had paintings and projects that were started and not completed. We collected boxes of fabric that were going to be used “some day”. We consolidated Sue’s clothes so that Mary could make better decisions about what to leave behind and what Sue needed and could fit in her small closet at destination. We found vital documents and financial papers scattered throughout the apartment.

We checked with Mary as to what was important to her and Sue, and encouraged Mary to make some ruthless decisions about what Sue needed to surround herself with in assisted living. We took three vanloads of “give aways” to the art institute and to the quilting center the first day. We returned to continue the sorting and editing and categorizing for another day and took one more vanload of items to charity.

In the meantime the search was on for new accommodations for Sue in CO as it was obvious that she would not be accepted in assisted living at this time, and would need to be in a skilled nursing and memory care community. Through my contacts and senior care associations I was able to find a bed for Sue in a skilled nursing community near Mary in CO. This brought up some major new decisions about what stayed behind and what would be shipped to Sue’s, one room, smaller quarters in skilled nursing.

Ten days later Sue was finally released into skilled nursing in CA and the caregivers were desperately trying to get her stable enough to fly to Colorado. Let us not forget that during Sue’s days in the hospital we were frantically proceeding with sorting, editing, identifying (while loading up the car van) what must be packed and shipped and what must stay. Originally, the transporting of Sue’s belongings to CO was thought to be a shipment too small for a moving company. I found a pack and ship company that could handle the transport. As the chaos continued, it became evident that neither Mary nor Sue would be able to make many of those ruthless decisions about letting go and saving only the treasures that would fit into the new apartment The transport of Sue’s, larger than expected, shipment to CO was still up for grabs and was in process.

Our next concern was if, and how, Sue would get to CO. Again, though my contacts in NASMM (National Association of Senior Move managers) I was able to find a company in Chicago that is dedicated to giving peace of mind when transferring an ill, injured or elderly relative by air. Their Registered Nurses fly for a living. They accompany travelers on commercial flights, but also have experience with patients on air ambulances, as well as arranging for and attending to the needs of those on charter flights. I am reminded through this whole process that it takes a “team” to get you to the “village”.

Two weeks later, Sue became stable enough to be released for transport and was transported successfully from CA and settled into skilled nursing in CO.

Several days later I visited Sue in her new environment and was totally taken aback at how she had transformed herself into a perky, feisty, and full of smiles “young” lady. She is adorable.

Just last week the skilled nurses reported to Mary that Sue could move from skilled nursing into her own apartment in memory care. Mary proceeded to visit the memory care unit and was extremely despondent with the level of activity and awareness of the residents living there. After much discussion and sole searching, Mary went back to the original assisted living community to ask them to visit Sue and make an assessment of her abilities to live in the assisted environment. They gave us the thumbs up and we are now in the process of relocating Sue to her new home.

My concern is that Sue may truly not be able to stay assisted, but Mary has made the determination that if Sue only lasts in assisted living for even 2-3 months, at least she will have lived a more energetic life for a bit longer, and Mary is ready to move Sue again if necessary. I asked myself….how can I argue with that reasoning?

Now all we need is for the shipment to arrive so that we can make Sue’s apartment into her new home. The decision has been made to ship everything and sort, edit, and find storage in Sue’s new, larger apartment during the settling-in process. As an organizer, we would suggest to those of you reading this blog, to ruthlessly sort and edit before the move to save money (you pay to pack, load, unload, your clutter) and precious time at destination. In this case the crisis had set in and became the dominant factor in the relocation process.

We know that every nook and cranny holds memories. The thought of leaving them behind is overwhelming. Look at it this way; you are making choices of what physically goes with you and what mentally stays with you. Planning ahead is crucial. Remember that the letting-go process does not get better with age, and the greatest legacy you can leave your family is to have your house in order before the crisis sets in.

In retrospect, one wonders if, subliminally, the 86 yr old body went into toxic stress due to the upcoming journey. Relocation stress is defined as a state in which an individual experiences physiological and/or psychological disturbances as a result of transfer from one environment to another.

We are ready and eager to create a new home for Sue, full of her treasures.

Post Script: Sadly, Sue passed away a few weeks ago. Our thoughts are with her and her family.

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