Trip, Days 1 and 2…..

In the on-going round of trips to Louisiana, this is the normal one where I always go for Daddy’s birthday. The flights were on time and uneventful – the weather no problem at all. That does help even though the planes between Atlanta and Shreveport are the “puddle jumpers” without much room and difficult for anyone who is above average size. Not a problem for short people like me, but my seatmate was pretty cramped. Anyway, I stopped by to see Daddy for a while, then proceeded south to visit with some old school friends since I hadn’t been down during the past few trips. This is the annual Antique Car Show in Natchitoches and even though the main event is tomorrow, quite a few were already on display. I think the oldest was a 1932 Ford, although there was a real variety of decades and models, to include a Studebaker.

Today will be all day with Daddy at the assisted living facility and I’ll take him to lunch somewhere. The food at the facility is okay and he keeps ice cream and other stuff, but there are certain things they tend not to cook considering the resident population. I’m not sure what he will be in the mood for and we will see how he is when noon rolls around.

This is one of those trips where I am doing multiple motels; one tonight, one tomorrow night, and a different one on Sunday. It’s the most practical approach even if it means not really bothering to unpack.

The Day Does Come…..

Serious content alert. Yesterday was a long day as I flew to Louisiana after getting word a few days ago of my stepmother’s passing. The event was not unexpected, although there was thought it could be a bit in the future. The point to this post is something I’ve written about before. Once an individual goes into genuine decline, you don’t know what the timing will be.  Without being alarmist, that’s when we should figure out how to make a visit or strengthen contact as a “just in case”. One of the aspects of hospice is to provide that framework since entering into hospice essentially makes the announcement of, “I don’t know when, but I am accepting the approaching stage.” Although I say, “our culture tends to make discussing approaching death an uncomfortable subject”, I’m not certain other cultures do a better job of it.

The concept of “Celebration of Life” does make sense and most people embrace that now, for that is what we hope family and friends can remember of an individual who is departed. I don’t know which culture is responsible for the old questions  of, “Did you find joy in life and did you give joy?” as a measure, but it is a good one to keep in mind.

Not Letting Too Much Time Pass…..

Serious content alert. No, I’m not feeling morbid, but with my recent trips focused on aging parents and three friends/acquaintances losing a parent within the past month, it brings reflection. There is an item that comes around periodically on Facebook to the effect of rather than spending money to attend my funeral, reach out to me while I’m still alive. (It’s a fairly long piece and I couldn’t find it on a quick internet search.) For most of us, not showing up to a funeral where we are “expected” causes a feeling of guilt, and in reality, if there is someone who can use you in particular for support, you should go if at all possible. On the other hand, going to visit the older (which is the topic of this post) relative/friend in their waning years is likely to be better for that individual. What to talk about can be the most awkward aspect and if it’s possible, getting the person to reminisce is often the best solution. Let him or her pick the timeframe they want to linger in and it doesn’t matter how often you’ve heard the same story before. And if it should be that the individual wants to express thoughts about their own mortality, don’t dismiss it with something like, “Oh, you don’t want to talk about that – you’re going to live to be 100.” Of course it’s not a comfortable subject and you certainly don’t need to be the one to bring the topic up, but be willing to listen if the conversation goes there.

In other situations, visiting is not financially possible, and telephoning might not work either if someone is losing their hearing or has dementia/memory loss. Cards and letters though – except for severe cases of dementia, they can make a difference. In this day of so much electronic communication, it’s easy to dismiss something as “old-fashioned” as a letter. And if you don’t feel comfortable with saying a lot, a card will be better. There is such a wealth of choices out there, whether you want beautiful or something cute. It doesn’t take long and you might be surprised at what a difference it makes.

 

It Isn’t Really Funny, But…..

A recent conversation led me to a discussion about having a “crazy branch of the family.” Most families have them and culturally in the South this is a given. One of our particular sayings is, “We don’t hide crazy in the attic. We sit it on the front porch with a drink.” It’s simply accepted that somewhere in the mix there will be a relative who falls into this category. There are, however, variations. Please, please don’t get me wrong. Mental illness is tragic and in general, we struggle to handle it properly in this country. That type of illness is not at all what I am referring to.

The “crazy branch of the family” type probably actually is more eccentricity, and can be amusing from a distance and utterly exasperating up close. On the other hand, it does make for family stories that are sometimes carried down through generations. In all fairness, people who marry into the family should be properly warned before the initial meeting, although that doesn’t always occur. Such unprepared encounters can cause confusion and interesting after-the-fact discussions along the lines of, “Yes dear, _______does believe blue paint on the house will keep “haints” away and does like to explain it in great detail. I forgot to tell you about that. I hope you didn’t try to argue the point.”

Learning to smile politely and nod at appropriate intervals is usually the best approach and you become adept at knowing when you can either safely change the subject or escape the conversation. I’m not going to say that whoever invented caller ID may have been inspired by having such a relative in his or her family, but then again, I wouldn’t be overly surprised if that turned out to be the case.

 

Second and Third Days….

New Sports Bar in Covington

New Sports Bar in Covington

Ah, we hit a lot of rain (like four hours worth) on the drive home yesterday, but we did manage to not get rained on during the actual visit despite some threatening clouds and a few sprinkles. The situation with my mother-in-law is stable and probably as good as it is going to be under the circumstances. We were impressed with the facility and  I did meet with the director. That does come with a cost, however, and I will say again – go find a place in whatever area you think you might be in to find out the costs for such places to use as a planning factor. (Yes, there is likely to be sticker shock, but this is something you need to know.)

Okay, now on to the “fun” part of the visit. Catching up with family and discovering new (to us) restaurants was thoroughly enjoyable. I will do a separate post later for the two “nice” places (more couple-like), but today I’ll talk about Little Phillies/Tubby Tom’s. Apparently, the one we went to is a second location and we initially popped in for lunch thinking it was just a “sub place”. In actuality it’s a sports bar and grill, thus the Tubby Tom’s part. We highly recommend it, although their coleslaw was heavier on the mayo side than I care for. The sandwiches though were excellent and I suspect the rest of the food would be, too. They had a robust choice of beers which to us is a requisite for a sports bar and it’s the correct kind of ambience. The sandwiches are hefty and you either need to come with a good appetite or plan to take some home. Service was friendly and good and we do hope they thrive as a business.

First Full Day of the Visit…..

The visit with my mother-in-law was similar to with my dad. We/I now have a clearer picture of what the situation is. She’s in a more robust assisted living facility and they do have a memory care unit. I won’t go into that in this post because I’ll be meeting with the facility director later this morning to get an idea of their structure.

Let’s move on to an interesting idea in new pizza franchises. It’s called Your Pie and the building for the one here is the nicely restored old hardware store that is downtown. The high ceilings mean it is noisy, but the exposed brick walls are great as is the wonderful wood floor. Anyway, the concept is they have a brick oven and you have a choice of pizza, pannini, or salad. The pizza comes in one size (6-inch, I think) and you can upgrade to whole wheat or gluten-free. It’s like being at a Chipotle or Subway. They have some standard pizzas or you can create your own. There is a choice of sauces (you can mix), cheese, and lots of ingredients. I had marinara sauce, roasted tomato pesto, mozzarella, ham, pepperoni, red onions, and banana peppers. There were plenty of other choices. Hubby opted for the BBQ chicken as it was described on their menu. They give you a number on a stand and bring the food when it’s ready. It’s an intriguing idea and certainly not one we were familiar with. I especially like brick oven and wood-fired techniques. (Not that I mind ordinary pizza ovens.)

And Now The Next Trip…..

Family is family and that’s all there is to it. In general, I do not schedule back-to-back trips, but there are times when it can’t be avoided. This is one of those situations. We always spend Thanksgiving in Georgia with my husband’s family, but a crisis with the manuscript (Mystery of the Last Olympian) caused us to have to postpone. We actually intended to go in February and that didn’t work out either. So, even as I was making arrangements to take the unexpected trip to Louisiana last week, my mother-in-law took a bad turn. Although things appear to be under control, my sister-in-law has been doing an incredible amount of work for almost two years now and we needed to come up and at least give some moral support. This also provides us the opportunity to help make some plans for what comes next. I have too recently posted about what we as Baby Boomers should be planning for ourselves, and won’t beat that drum again at this moment.

We will be able to visit with one of the cousins as well and there are a couple of new restaurants opened that we’ve heard are quite good. We popped into Grumpy’s Low Country Seafood Camp last night for catfish. They have a nice, varied menu and several of the restaurants here are not open on Sunday.  They also have a very “hoppy” beer that Hubby likes and after the drive, we didn’t want to linger over a meal. Making it an early evening was the best option.

 

Second Full Day of Trip……

It’s funny in a way how we become so accustomed to things that when we travel, it can be disconcerting to not have them. Connectivity being the example for today. Now, I acknowledge part of that is my average (some days less, some days more) ability when it comes to technology. I don’t have the high speed take-it-with-me doo-dad that can find a hotspot just about anywhere. In-room WiFi (preferably free) is one of the criteria I have for booking a room though. That, however, does come with the simple fact that a lot of those systems are definitely not the fastest and sometimes not the most reliable in the world. So, I spend at least part of the time staring at a screen with whatever device I am using not responding in the manner I would like. On the other hand, I suppose I could try to let it teach me patience. (Not that I hold out much hope on that point.)

Anyway, the trip has been successful in the sense of now understanding where we are in this stage of my dad’s life. There are elements of the situation that are better than I expected. His Alzheimer’s is still manageable and he can function well with most things. He seems quite comfortable with the walker. Fortunately, he has never had an issue with hearing and he has regained some vision in the eye that was damaged a few years ago. His short-term memory loss keeps him from reading these days, but he can still enjoy shows like on Travel Channel and National Geographic.  I hope we will have some time today to capture a few of the old family stories. Yesterday was filled with other tasks.

Trip and Other……

This is not exactly a fun trip. I have literally dashed to Louisiana to check on the situation with my dad. At ninety-one, there will be a certain level of slowing down. The assisted living facility he and my stepmother are in is basic, but nice. His Alzheimer’s seems to be as manageable as it can be. He is quite functional with predominantly short term memory issues. It’s distressing for him of course and part of the reason for me coming is to try and help him process through this stage. No, it won’t really help him since he won’t remember, however, I might be able to “impress” a few supportive phrases he can hold to. I am not a practitioner in neural linguistics programming (NLP), but will do what I can. What I can do is capture some of the old stories he has because if you’ve been through this, you know those are often the memory links that become more vivid. It’s always been a source of interest to researchers. Anyway, I’ll get as many of those as I can over the next few days and we’ll take a couple of short outings. Daddy is on a walker now, although moves quite well with it.

The trip itself was fairly smooth – minor delays on both flights. There was a situation out of Atlanta I had not previously encountered (to the best of my knowledge). During the pre-flight inspection, they discovered a small hole in nosecone (I think they said). They patched it, but had to wait for the epoxy to dry and be inspected. Okay, yes, that would be a good thing. Smooth flight after that and on a larger aircraft than I was accustomed to coming to for this route.

Assessing Stress….

Somewhat serious content alert. Okay, this isn’t a bubbly Easter greeting, but due to a couple of different situations, I’ve recently been giving extra thought to the stress that impacts our lives. Perhaps more accurately, I’ve been thinking of how our responses to stressors affect us. The Serenity Prayer really does capture the essence of need to differentiate what we can and can’t control. As humans, we can easily get tangled up between the two. I’m not talking about the far ends of the behavioral spectrum when someone frequently plunges into depression or total denial when an individual refuses to accept there’s a problem to deal with.  The focus for this post is the “normal range” of people who face our modern lives with lots of demands.

Bad things happen to good people and those, in general, are things we can’t control. There are, however, plenty of stressors in our lives that we have some measure of control over, yet don’t necessarily exercise that control or recognize the temporary nature of the stressor. An example that covers both these situations is when we overcommit. I’ve written before about my reluctance to say, “No”, to requests and while I have gotten a little better, what seems to work best is for me to try and “lump” my overcommitting so it’s a tough stretch for a given period, then I can recharge. It might not be the right solution for other people, but the point is to find what works for you as an individual. And that leads into a much trickier issue.

Most of us overreact at times and might need someone to help us put things into perspective. There are people though who seem to seek stress and want to pull others into the same degree of frenzy. This is where we sometimes have to step back and say, “Hmm, do I need this?”  When you’re around incredibly “high maintenance” individuals, it can be somewhat contagious and you might find yourself responding with more drama to something than you otherwise would. This is where you can decide to pull away and either come up with a plausible excuse or be candid (which might also cause you stress) and accept that the other individual/individuals might never understand why. Again, most of us deal with enough stress on a regular basis and metaphorically speaking, it can be like cleaning out that closet where you’ve been shoving things in until you can barely close the door. If someone or something is crowding out your “comfortable emotional space” it may be time to get the big garbage bags out or at least box things up to give to charity.