Last month, my mother sold the ranch land that my grandfather had purchased in 1941. It was the end of an era. I have always known ‘the ranch’ – as we all called it. For much of my lifetime, it was a traditional ranch, with cattle and horses, and the place we went to every fall for elk hunting. Needless to say, loads of memories were created on that property for four generations. However, the time had come to sell and get my mother into a lower elevation and find a better place for her, without having to be on the tractor plowing snow each winter. Last week, the property was sold to a neighbor who will steward the land and hopefully make their own memories. It helped that it was the right time and the right people for the transition, but it is still the end of an era for my family. How do you end an era? How do you support transitioning away from a place after 70+ years and 4 generations? How do you transition cleanly, without a hangover where you drag unresolved things into the future?
- You Need A Plan – and A Ringmaster– this is a big, complicated project heavily sprinkled with family interactions and drama. Multiple pieces move and shift daily. Someone must be ‘on point’ to organize the efforts, communicate the plan to everyone involved, monitor the progress, and keep activities on track. This doesn’t have to be the person who is in the middle of the transition; sometimes a little distance is helpful. This person can’t get caught in the transition and then be unable to manage it. They also need to be skilled at listening, resolving conflict, and setting boundaries. A part of our project was to have a ranch auction to sell all of the ranch equipment, tools, etc. that wouldn’t be moved. During the preparation for the auction, there were multiple requests for items to be given out and for visit to the ranch one more time. These requests were politely declined with an invitation to see my mother’s new place once she is settled. Any offer of help must be evaluated as to whether it really will be help. People are well meaning but having to host visitors in a house where there is sorting and packing going on just adds work instead of being help. Be clear – you will need help, so focus on what things can be done by other people and bring them on early.
- You Need Patience – It Will Take Longer Than You Think– we all tend to be optimistic about how long it will take to do things and underestimate their complexity. This is absolutely true about a big transition. We had to sort through a houseful of possessions and ranch items in four outbuildings for keeping, selling at a ranch auction, give away, or disposal. At one point when we were all sorting through items, the same 4 questions were heard all over the property: What is this? How old is this? Whose was this? Who wants this? Many times my mother was the only person who knew the history and could answer those questions. It was terrific to hear the stories from times past and understand more about the people who came before us — and that took extra time. Rather than fight, or resent, that it takes extra time, acknowledge it and plan for it. Lastly, know when everything is ‘good enough’. Don’t let perfectionism take over and grind everyone into the ground. Delegate, and trust those that you delegate to know that there is a point where you are done and the result is good enough.
- You Must Remember: – It Is A Big Change– my mother was very cooperative and participative through the entire move. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if she had gone kicking and screaming off of the property. Quite the contrary, she worked very hard to get everything ready for the sale and move. That being said, this is a huge change for her. Even though she is excited about the next place to live and creating the next chapter, she had still lived on the ranch for 25 years. It is still an ending and a loss of what ‘has been’. As she sorted through decades, and generations, of things, she reminisced about the item, who it was attached to, and told stories. She had to be given the time, and good listeners, where she could express memories and emotions about the move – and not be rushed to ‘put a positive spin on it’. Giving her the space and encouragement to say what she needed to say and to express how she was feeling was absolutely the most important thing to do in the entire transition. She has to recreate herself and her life away from the ranch and that takes thinking about possibilities. Unexpressed emotions are like a fog around us, in which new possibilities can’t be created. Expressing the emotions completes them, and only then can possibilities be created. For the past 10 years, her email address (and identify) has been ‘ranch lady’ – it is going to be fun to see how she re-creates herself in this next phase of her life!
- You Must Really Remember – It Is A Big Change For Everyone– my mother was the focus of the questions, comments, and concerns about selling the ranch. But this sale impacted everyone in my family – from family that hadn’t even been on the property in 10+ years, to those who were there days before closing. Plan time, patience, and listening for everyone and for yourself. When something has been such a focus for such a long time, not having it is a loss. And losses, even for really good reasons, need to be mourned. Talk openly about any things left undone and any things left unsaid, with the goal to have nothing left at the end. I took loads and loads of photographs and walked the property nearly every day, creating all of the last visual memories for myself. My sons brought a water filter and drank water out of the creek (something I did as a young child). Feel free to do whatever needs to be done so that you feel complete.
Following the above tips are the only way to move forward without a hangover anchoring you to the past. It is the only way to transition cleanly so that new possibilities are created without the shadow of ‘shoulda, coulda, woulda’. Whether now or later, personal or professional, we all have change and the ending of eras and need to be able to effectively transition. When I was a kid, my Mom told me that when a door closes, God opens a window. But we can’t always see the window. These steps, with a lot of work and commitment, enable all the windows to be seen. End your eras cleanly, with possibilities and with windows! It is the only way to start the next era!
Let us know how we can support you as you end your eras!