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adapting to change

Winter light in Sweden

by Andrea
December 25, 2012

Today is Christmas Day and I am writing from above the Arctic Circle. Yes, true. I am visiting Gällivare, Sweden to celebrate the holidays with the family of my daughter's boyfriend. Swedish style holidays - with short days and long nights. The days are filled with the light of dawn for only about 5 hours. The sun never makes it above the horizon before that beautiful dawn light disappears into darkness. With an average temperature of -30C, pristine white snow blankets the area with silence.

I am struck by many things here, but one in particular is the constantly changing landscapes of many neighborhoods. Gällivare is a mining town, and the mines grow bigger, wider and deeper over time. Because of this, entire neighborhoods sometimes need to be evacuated; homes are either demolished and rebuilt elsewhere, or when possible, lifted up lock-stock-and-barrel and moved. I find myself shuttering over this, wondering how everyone feels about this. How do people adapt to being uprooted from their homes, neighborhoods, and familiar surrounds? An almost primal voice surges up from within, "Not my home!". And yet, the rugged people of this Swedish village know that they have to accept and adapt, as the mines are their livelihoods. I was told that those who don’t may become bitter.

It was not long ago that I had my own confrontation with giving up home. Not my own home, but my mother’s. It was difficult. The discussion of assisted living did not go in very easily, and I was admittedly the holdout amongst my siblings. I wanted to respect my mother’s wish to be at home till the end, and I questioned if she would have the strength to adapt to such a big change. Would the disruption crush her spirit? Would she feel betrayed by all of us? And of course there were my own attachments to my mother’s home and all the things she loved, which held meaning and memories. 

I fought to keep her at home. But eventually every scenario I came up with fell apart. Not rational, not practical, not affordable, not reliably safe enough. At one point it was clear - it was time to let go and put my trust in the good reasoning of my siblings. Then things moved very fast. With my mother still in rehab from her recent fall, we shared with her our concern for her living alone. When we asked if she would be willing to consider assisted living, she paused, struggled to consider this, and then said she did not feel capable of making such a decision at this time. I don't think there could have been a more honest answer, and in that moment we realized she was leaving this choice - and her future - in our hands. 

Letting go of my mother’s home was not easy. But just as the families of Gällivare have to accept and adapt, so did I - and so did my siblings. But most importantly, so did my mother. With the support of all of us, she has transitioned to her new assisted-living community with grace. After one month she has proven to all of us that human beings can adapt to big change, even at the fragile age of 94! 

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