Housing Fall 2021
September 23, 2021

The Best Place to Retire

Should We Stay or Should We Go?

by Anita Jenkins

ARTA retirees face many big questions, including “Where should I live, now that my job doesn’t require me to stay put?”

For some, the answer is easy. They want to remain in a community that offers familiar places and longtime friendships. For others, it is equally easy: their children live elsewhere and they want to be near them. Deciding to move is especially common if grandchildren are part of the picture.

Others struggle to answer this question, since every choice has pros and cons. Here are a few stories from ARTA members’ experiences.

Bobbi and Dean McMullen

Bobbi and Dean McMullen, 79 and 80, are content in their home of many years, even though their three children and four grandchildren live elsewhere. Their small farm near Vermilion, Alberta, is the place for them.

The McMullens bought the property in 1973 and in 1976–78 designed and built their dream home. Their careers took them to Edmonton for about a decade, but they kept their rural home and happily moved back there. “City life is too busy,” Bobbi says.

The pluses of their current life consist of close friends and active community involvement, including curling and golfing.

The McMullens’ two sons live relatively close by in Sherwood Park and Ardrossan, and their daughter and her children live in British Columbia. They stay in touch with their daughter via video conferencing and are still comfortable driving to the west coast to visit. Their daughter and her family also come to stay at their nearby lake cabin for several weeks every summer.

Dean mentions that at some point it might be good to live closer to a hospital and seniors services. The McMullens’ daughter has suggested building a bedroom and bathroom addition onto her house so they could live with her. Bobbi and Dean are considering this move in the future. “Better weather is a big reason,” Dean says.

Pat and Cec Race

Pat and Cec Race, married fifty-five years, moved from Leduc to North Vancouver in 2008. The main attraction for them was their three children and eight grandchildren, who all lived on the west coast. Also, Cec’s mother lived in Victoria. Even though the Races had been active members of the Leduc community for forty-three years, when their third child joined the others to live in Vancouver, “It seemed like a sign,” Pat says.

Pat and Cec wanted to be near their families and to help out as needed. “The children seemed very positively disposed,” Cec says.

The Races struggled with leaving behind many good friends and Alberta relatives. In addition, housing in Vancouver was a financial challenge, and they exchanged their large family home in Leduc for a townhouse in North Vancouver. Consequently, they had to do what they describe as a “huge downsizing,” and moved with approximately one-third of their belongings.

Pat told herself, “This is just stuff; it won’t hurt.” But it did hurt, she says. However, in hindsight, doing the downsizing and moving while still in good health made sense to them.

Pat and Cec are comfortable with their current lifestyle. It is a ten-minute walk from their home to the ocean and a ten-minute drive to the top of a mountain. They have become involved in many interesting pursuits with new friends, for example, hiking, dancing, and painting (Pat).

During the pandemic, they were able to support their family even more. For example, they used Facetime to tutor grandchildren who were learning online.

Marcus Busch

Marcus Busch experienced the “elder-moving” decision from the perspective of a son whose mother was aging. His parents had lived in Kelowna and Victoria during the latter part of their working lives for about thirty years.

In retirement, his parents liked living in their bungalow condo in Kelowna. They had what Marcus calls “a wonderful community.” When Marcus’ father died in 2012, his mother chose to remain in their home even though her three children lived in Alberta — two sons in Edmonton and a daughter in Red Deer.

However, Marcus says, in recent years his mother’s “margin of safety was getting thinner and thinner.” At age 92, she no longer had the ability to say, “I need to move.”

The family was very conscious of honouring their mother’s sense of independence and autonomy. But once the need for a move became clearly evident, his mom struggled with having to choose between Edmonton and Red Deer.

Marcus and his siblings met with their mother at Christmas 2018 and then had a phone conference about six months later. In October 2019, his mom relocated to a seniors’ residence in Red Deer and settled in quite well. But it has not been completely ideal. Five months after the move, COVID-19 struck, limiting her ability to get to know Red Deer.

Marcus says downsizing his parents’ long-time home was a larger challenge than deciding where their mother should live. Dealing with belongings collected over many decades was an “enormous job that required the efforts of five adults for a whole month,” he says. “It was unbelievable. And instructive for my wife and me.”

Another possibility, not discussed in this article, is choosing a retirement location that has an attractive climate. Many articles on the internet assess the “snowbird” possibilities: six spring and summer months in Canada and six winter months farther south where it is warm and sunny.

As Bobbi and Dean, Pat and Cec, and Marcus can all attest, placement decisions challenge seniors to determine immediate and long-term needs and wants, with the ever-present reality of those needs and wants changing without notice.

Anita Jenkins and her husband Richard’s decision to stay in Edmonton after retirement was an easy one, but they did make the big decision to move from a beloved house to an apartment when Richard could no longer handle the stairs. This turned out well, as Anita was healthy enough to make the arrangements herself.