Last month we shifted my Dad out of his home of 26 years on the Gold Coast to a very nice country club retirement community on the Sunshine Coast.
In fact it is so nice I am thinking of moving in myself!
No cooking or cleaning to worry about. A hairdresser, massage therapist and physiotherapist on site. A small theatre with on demand movies and best of all two dollar whiskeys on Tuesday and Friday afternoons when the bar opens for happy hour.
Sounds great doesn’t it!
And it is great however getting there has been huge.
The last few months for my family and I have been a mix of elation, stress, sadness, illness, hospitals and finally relief and happiness.
Reaching the tipping point
The decision for Dad to move somewhere with more care and support had been looming over our heads for quite a while.
Like most people my Dad was not keen to give up what he saw as his independence and leave the home he and Mum had shared.
His health was deteriorating however and the worry and stress it was putting on all of us including him was starting to mount up.
I knew we were coming to a tipping point and I was just hoping we would find a solution before we hit a crisis point.
And we did!
The tipping point for Dad was when he realised how much RACQ were charging him for insurance and membership for his car.
That combined with the fact that his doctor would be reassessing his license on his 84th birthday and he may lose his right to drive was what finally convinced him to make the decision to move.
After lots of searching my brother Mark had found a retirement village just around the corner from where he had semi retired on the Sunshine Coast.
A shift to the Sunshine Coast had never been on the agenda for Dad as he was very clear he wanted to stay at Robina however in our eyes this place was ideal.
- Noosa Private Hospital was only 15 mins away, had a small dialysis centre and they had a spot for him
- A serviced one bedroom apartment was within Dad’s financial reach. This would mean he would get all meals and cleaning provided
- They had inhouse nursing support as required
- The outlook was lovely over a golf course
- Mark was five minutes drive away and could take Dad to medical appointments and shopping when needed
No matter how good it looked I was convinced there was no way Dad would leave the Gold Coast.
Sometimes it is just meant to be however so when the issue with RACQ happened to coincide with the week Mark and I had talked Dad into having a look at this new place our stars aligned.
Dad loved the new place the moment he walked in and made a decision to buy a one bedroom apartment that day.
I can honestly say I was completely and absolutely flabbergasted and surprised. We had hit the tipping point.
Right time, right place.
Now we just needed to buy the new place, pack him up, sell his villa and shift him all in the space of a couple of months, including four new specialists, a new GP and get him started at his new dialysis centre.
We needed to get moving!
Remembering the memories
Dad’s villa on the Gold Coast was a home I had never lived in, just visited as a daughter.
So it was quite a surprise for me to discover how many memories came flooding back during the process of packing up.
This was a villa my Mum and Dad bought in 1987. It was to be their home on the Gold Coast where they would live out their later years once Dad could retire from his high profile job in Melbourne.
As with all good plans Mum and Dad’s plans changed very quickly when mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer in September 1988.
Within six weeks the tenants had moved out and Mum and Dad had returned to enjoy the remaining time mum had in their new home together.
It was not a big villa, three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a lovely back deck overlooking the Robina Palms golf course.
So when all four kids arrived with their friends it was noisy and chaotic which is exactly the way mum liked it.
Lots of laughter, lots of noise, lots of love. Everyone was welcome.
So as Dad and I were sitting in his villa on his last Sunday with packing boxes all around us, we took some time together to reflect on our lives in this home.
It was then that I realised I had been so focused on the “doing” of packing Dad up and shifting him that I had forgotton to think about how Dad was feeling.
This was his last day in his home of 26 years. He was saying goodbye to it.
It was also then that I realised it was my last time in this home and my connection to my Mum and the memories we had shared in this home came flooding back.
They were both sad and happy memories.
The front bedroom was where we had nursed Mum in her final week of life as she watched the Melbourne Cup and enjoyed a glass of her favourite bubbles.
The back deck was where we laughed together as we filmed Dad playing his first round of golf on the new Robina Palms golf course. The golf clubs were a retirement present from work and I think that was the one and only day they ever got used as golf was clearly not Dad’s game.
But there was one memory that will stay imprinted in my heart always and that is the memory I chose to share with Dad on that special Sunday.
In September 1989 I decided to give teaching up for the second time and head overseas with a girlfriend.
While I knew Mum only had about twelve months to live I really felt I needed to get away and sort my head out and decide what I wanted to do with my life.
Mum of course did what she would always do and that is tell me to go and have a great time.
So I headed off to Crete and across to Rhodes and then up the coast of Turkey.
It didn’t take long however once I left home to realise that Christmas 1989 was likely to be my last Christmas ever with my Mum and I felt an overpowering need to be home with her.
So on arriving in Ismir, half way up the coast of Turkey, I went on a mission to get myself a flight home in time to surprise Mum and Dad on Christmas Eve.
Not such an easy task as I was wanting to book an Air Canada flight out of Toronto to Brisbane as I would be spending the last few weeks of my trip with my cousin Leigh in Canada.
It took a couple of days and some rather confusing conversations but finally I was booked on a flight leaving at 5.10 pm Christmas Eve due to arrive on the Gold Coast Christmas Eve morning.
I could get on with the rest of my trip with a happy heart.
As is often the case with international travel however things did not go according to plan.
Thank God for those wonderful Canadians
On Christmas Eve I said goodbye to Leigh and her husband Tim at 9.00 am as they put me on the train to Toronto. The train journey was scheduled to take about three hours, giving me plenty of time to have a bit of a look around Toronto and make my flight at 5.10 pm.
It was a bitterly cold day however and what I didn’t know was that train tracks do not like minus 30 degrees.
They tend to crack, which means if you are on a train you are not going anywhere which is exactly what happened about two hours into my journey.
I was stuck on a train that wasn’t moving and no indication of when it might move and we were still an hour from Toronto train station.
My plan to be home for Christmas was falling apart in front of my eyes. It was looking less and less likely that I would be on that Air Canada flight.
In desperation I begged the train attendant to let me off the train so I could hitch a ride on the freeway I could see only metres away but she assured me that wasn’t going to happen.
In my heart there was only one place I wanted to be at 5.10 pm and whether I was there or not was completely out of my control.
What else could I do but sit in my seat and sob.
Just as it looked like it was utterly hopeless however magic happened and the train began to move.
Our new time of arrival was 4.00 pm at Toronto train station.
The challenge for me was that Toronto train station was at least 30 mins from the international airport and it was 4.00 pm on Christmas Eve. Everybody would be leaving the city and heading home or off on holidays.
Traffic would be a nightmare.
The only thing to do was hightail it to the taxi rank, pay the taxi driver as much money as he wanted to get me there as quickly as possible and fall on the mercy of the check in staff if I got there before 5.10.
After a crazy ride I arrived at 4.50 pm.
20 mins until my flight was due to leave.
I took one look at the line for checkin that was snaking out the door and decided to run straight to the first Air Canada counter I could find.
This happened to be a first class counter and to my immense relief they didn’t turn me away.
They took pity on what can only be described as a crazy woman and opened the flight for me, took my back pack and told me to hightail it to the gate.
The flight attendants were expecting me and hurried me on to the plane as they slammed the doors shut behind me.
The stress of the last 6 hours melted away.
I was on my way home.
Many hours later I walked off the plane onto a stinking hot Coolangatta Airport tarmac.
The sun was shining and it was about 30 degrees.
I was home and much to my surprise so was my backpack which was full of Christmas presents.
My brother and sister were there to pick me up and I can still remember the feeling of anticipation as we drove home to Mum and Dad’s villa.
I couldn’t wait to surprise them.
I walked in the front door and could see mum with an oven mitt on, lifting a dish out of the oven. No doubt something delicious she was preparing for Christmas day. Mum was a great cook.
She looked across and spotted me and cried out as she realised it was her eldest daughter standing there in her lounge room.
I moved into the kitchen to give her a hug and knew it was going to be a lovely last Christmas together.
I then remember Dad coming out from the bedroom wandering what all the noise was about.
He looked at me and smiled. Clearly overjoyed to see his itinerant daughter home for Christmas and the family together once again.
Old and new memories
When Dad shared his memories with me on that Sunday they were all about Mum.
Even though she had only lived in this villa for two years they are and will continue to be Dad’s fondest memories of his time at Robina.
I knew that there was a new memory of Mum that Dad would be adding to his memories of Robina that related to his only big regret about his shift to the Sunshine Coast.
Mums ashes are buried in the Garden of Reflection at Dad’s church at Robina.
This is a church that Dad helped to create and build and it has been a very important part of his life for the last 20 years.
Every Sunday he has sat in the Garden of Reflection and said hi to Mum and I am sure asked and received her guidance many a time.
It has been his ritual.
So while it is sad for him to give up his church and his friends, giving up this ritual on Sunday morning with Mum is definitely the most difficult part of this move for Dad.
I also realised that Sunday I also would no longer be visiting mum in the Garden of Reflection every time I went to church with Dad.
That realisation made me incredibly sad and still does.
But both Dad and I have moved on.
We know that Mum is in our heart wherever we go and the ritual of sitting and talking to her in the Garden of Reflection will now become part of our memories.
Hello Sunshine Coast
After what can best be described as a rocky transition Dad is now in his new home.
It makes me smile when he tells people he has moved to the beach even though he has lived on the Gold Coast for the past 26 years.
He sees this as his personal “seachange”.
He even had me pack his swimming shorts which have not been worn in roughly 15 years and has bought himself a new hat so he can walk on the beach.
He knows mum would be very proud of this change he has made and I am sure she has said to him many times, “Just get on and do it Ken”.
So as Dad settles into his new home and starts to put the pieces of his new life together I am settling back into my life and focusing on my future.
While the last few months have been incredibly difficult and I have had to stop doing what I love doing for a while I wouldn’t change it for the world.
It is a wonderful gift to be able to support your parents as they age and help them take whatever next steps it is they need to take and I will be forever grateful that Dad let me share in his memories.