My parents are selling and moving out of the house where I grew up. After 40 years of marriage–almost all spent at that house–they have decided it’s time to downsize. Moving means leaving behind a lifetime of memories.
I can relate, a little. One decade into our military marriage, my husband and I have needed to PCS away from home several times. Each PCS took us further from our families, and eventually landed us overseas.
For the past year, I have watched my parents go through the emotional struggles of cleaning out a house they love, and deciding which souvenirs are worth keeping for the next home. They have gone through the bedrooms where their five children grew up, marveling over some of the childhood treasures we left behind. I have received frequent questions on phone calls and emails and text messages:
“Remember that picture you drew? Do you want it?” (No.)
“What about this puppet your uncle made for you?” (Does he want it back?)
“Do your kids want your old dolls?” (Maybe, if you ship them to us.)
“What should we do with your old piano?” (I can’t take it.)
“What about your wedding dress?” (I want that!)
What I have tried to show my parents is that after you move a few times, things become less important. My kids have already lived in four different houses. There are some things we have had since we got married, but many things have been acquired or discarded along the way. Military life is not conducive to collecting family heirlooms. When you load everything you own onto a truck, and hope that you will see it again in a few months, you learn that life is more than stuff. What we do treasure is memories. These are easy to preserve with photos, videos, and family stories.
Now, I am flying home to visit the house one last time and attend their 40th anniversary celebration, which is also a goodbye party. It will be my last time in my childhood home, the house that contains all my memories of Christmas, birthday parties, sledding, apple picking, and swimming in the pond. It is also where my husband and I were married. I’m happy that my parents are able to move on, and they are satisfied with their decision too. But how do you say goodbye to a home you love?
When you PCS away from home…
- Take all the pictures. No matter how many photos you have of a house, take some more just before you move. Capture the kids’ bedrooms, the backyard, the kitchen–anywhere that you spent time hanging out. Photos are a great reminder that will last for years. We gathered all our childhood photos and made my parents a photo book that captures the memories of that house. They cried and laughed when they went saw it.
- Take time to relax. Moving is usually stressful and busy. You don’t have much time to stop and think and reflect. Often, moving doesn’t hit you until after you have already left. So if it is ever possible, take a break. Take some time with the family to laugh, reminisce, and share stories. My last night at my parents’ house, we made a fire and all sat around making s’mores and chatting about the past. It was a great way for my siblings and I to celebrate our lifetime of memories there.
- Make a tour of the area. Whenever we leave a home, I like to make one last trip to some of the places where we spent a lot of time– parks, church, doctor’s office, and friend’s houses. Of course I take pictures, to help my kids and I remember. When we PCS, I have to start this a few weeks in advance so I have time for everything. This weekend at my parents’ was rushed, but I was able to visit the church where my daughter and I were baptized –the same church where I was married. I was grateful to visit and say goodbye.
- It’s ok to cry. When you move away from a place you love, you may need to mourn a little. You can grieve the friends you will miss, the memories and family time, and even the house itself. Grief can take you through a range of emotions, from denial to sadness to anger. Don’t try to hide or ignore those emotions. Find ways to talk about them and share them with your spouse and kids. They are going through the same thing, and need to know that it is ok to cry, even a few months after the move.
- Plan for the future. Leaving is harder when you don’t know where you are going. But it is more fun when you talk about your hopes and dreams for the next place. Sometimes moving lets you change your habits or your lifestyle–new job, no job, new hobbies, classes, etc. It took several months for my parents to come to terms with their move. But now, the week of the move, they are looking forward to their new life, and that makes everything easier. So don’t clung too tightly to the past. Let one door close while another one opens.