Closing a House, Changing a Life

As mentioned in my last post, I spent much of the time between mid-August and Labor Day getting my mother moved out of her home and settled into an assisted living facility near her hometown.

At first I approached this as just another project; but soon found that project plans, schedules, requirements, and funding levels really played only a tangential role in this activity.

Funding wasn’t an issue (thank goodness) and I had a very rough project plan based on the requirements as I saw them. But, as the “project” began, it became clear that it wasn’t that simple.

Although we knew where Mom was going, we didn’t know when.  We’d all been in a holding pattern until an apartment for her was identified at the facility. When that happened, the schedule became quite accelerated.  We accomplished in two weeks what we had planned on accomplishing in a month.  (As an added touch, the long Labor Day holiday weekend capped off the activity, so there was little room for error correction after the fact.)

We’re not yet at the Project Closeout Review milestone, but I thought I’d share some things I learned during the process.

1.  Who are the stakeholders? Identify them and their “WIFM” [what’s in it for me] early and to the best of your ability. There were several stakeholders (including me) in this process.  We all had generally the same objective; but there were subtle differences.  Unless you understand these differences, many actions will have to be re-explained, re-justified, re-thought-out.

2.  Keep your eye on the goal. Remember what is most important. In this case, it was getting Mom from Point A (her home) to Point B (the facility).  When decisions on disposition of possessions seemed intractable, the question became “What do you want to bring with you, Mom?”  To paraphrase Hillel, “Everything else is commentary.”  It rally didn’t matter in the larger scheme of things what items everyone else wanted; what mattered most was identifying what Mom wanted to bring with her, and doing everything to ensure that those items were ready to go.

4.  Possessions vs. things.  Know the difference. Know that people have different perceptions of objects.  My mom was surprisingly unsentimental about her possessions.  Because of space limitations at her new accommodations, she took relatively few of them with her. She said of them (and the house she was leaving): “They have given me pleasure for many years, but I don’t need them anymore.” In the end, they became things that needed to be either distributed or disposed of.  It is much easier to dispose of things rather than possessions when they no longer serve a need or want. I learned a valuable lesson on the hazards of accumulating things: you have to get rid of them sometime.

5.  Get as much information as you can. The mundane parts of moving (e.g., securing a mover and packing) are relatively simple: You make a few calls and do a brief Source Selection.  When the move is small (limited number of items, short distance), the decision is fairly easy.

Further along the scale of difficulty was finding someone to take the items from the house.  A complicating factor was that some went to Person A, others went to Person B.  And Person C? Well the schedule dictated that he pick up the items after a contract on the house was signed. (The house wouldn’t “show” well otherwise.)

The top rung of the ladder of opacity was the process of applying for Veterans Benefits for my mom as a Surviving Spouse.  Advice for anyone whose parent is either a Veteran or a Surviving Spouse of a Wartime Veteran:  Get a copy of Checks for Vets and read it thoroughly, even if you or your parent doesn’t think your parent qualifies for benefits.  If the deceased Spouse was in the Service even one day during wartime, the surviving Spouse qualifies.

6.  Use the tools you have available. Unlike my past project experience, I didn’t have the benefit of Gantt charts, storyboarding, TEM’s, and other accumulata of big-P projects.  I had my mother’s balky laptop, my Smartphone, a telephone, and a spiral notebook.  That notebook became my Bible.  One thing I didn’t have was a bevy of contractors to support me.  I was a singleton managing the project.  My brother assisted with cleaning out the house and with getting my mother settled into her new location.  But, because I was collocated with my mom during the process and he wasn’t, I was responsible for most project activities and decisions.  I WAS the Project Manager.

7.  Don’t be afraid to accept help. I was blessed by having a lot of people available to help me.  The “star” of that show was my loving husband.  I had flown up to my mom’s 2 weeks prior to the move, and he drove up a week later to help the process.  He spent most of his time helping my brother clear the basement.  Bless him!  Family friends, relatives, and neighbors were also helpful and the task couldn’t have been completed without them.

The “project” is almost finished and I’m happy to report that Mom is enjoying her new life.   The date for Project Closeout Review is dependent on the Closing date for the house sale.  After that, all will be done (I think).

Stay tuned.

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