There were about three years when I did not have much of a relationship with my parents. I had stuff to work out. They had stuff to work out. It was a difficult and heart-breaking time. I am so thankful to serve a God who never leaves us bereft, but always gives us comfort and offers healing, and in many cases, reconciliation. My parents and I are once again on speaking terms, and I think we have finally learned how to give each other grace.
My father has been declining lately. First came the physical things: a tumor removed from his face, a bout with prostate cancer, both knees replaced. Those things happened mostly before our rift. The harder thing to see is his mental decline. He often cannot remember basic words he needs to finish a sentence, or sometimes he will replace words. (Like yesterday, he said the sun was too bright in his house when what he meant was that it was too bright in his face.) So when Daddy called to ask me if I could take him to Washington, D.C. to see his father, I had to say yes. (That was after praying about it a bit! As we near the end of school, this was not exactly the best timing for me.)
Dad thought his father was in serious decline–not expected to live past a month. In reality, Grandpa is going strong at 96 years old. Slower, to be sure–walking himself around in his wheelchair for everything, taking lots of naps throughout the day, limited by choice to the world of the assisted living facility where he lives–but sharp as a tack and in wonderful health. Even after we determined that Grandpa was fine and that it is really Dad’s sister who is losing her battle with cancer, I realized that this trip was important to my father, and that three days of my life were a small price to pay for Dad to have this trip.
Because you see, Dad has finally grounded himself. At first he wanted me to drive him because “they won’t let me drive to D.C. by myself.” But something happened–he got a huge scare when he almost caused a serious wreck while gassing the car the morning we were leaving–and now Dad knows that he is no longer safe behind the wheel. This is a man who drove over 4 million miles all up and down the East Coast for his job. This is a man who thought nothing of a 12 hour jaunt to Maryland or Pennsylvania, or when we lived in Maryland, to Maine. A thermos of coffee in his hand, and Dad was always ready to go. We thought Dad would fight me about wanting to drive, but as it turned out, Dad was only too happy for me to do the driving.
We had a quick if uneventful visit with Grandpa. The place where he lives is fantastic. The staff there is amazing. They have guest rooms for family of the residents, and Dad and I each had a room on the third floor. A twin-sized bed, a sofa, a desk, a bathroom. The kitchen staff will make meals to order for those who cannot eat what is on the menu, and every one of them know that Grandpa needs his hot sauce, and that Grandpa and his companion (a 92 year old sweet-heart named Adrienne) like two packs of crackers with every meal. And that Grandpa gets two glasses of orange juice at breakfast while Adrienne gets only two fingers of coffee. The staff was so amazing at accommodating my needs for the eating plan I am following. Oh, and did I mention that the dining room has crystal chandeliers and serves wine to the residents who request it for lunch and dinner? (Watered down wine, to be sure…)
Grandpa is stone deaf and wears an earphone hearing aid. It works well, but only when he actually has it on his head. Conversation is limited when he is not wearing his ears. Grandpa takes a lot of naps–sometimes just sitting in his wheel chair. Dad can nap in a chair, too. It is a good thing I took a book.
Traveling with Dad was interesting. We left Monday about an hour before noon. I had to do some school with my kids, so we could not leave at the crack of dawn as was Dad’s preference. My brother Eric offered to find us a hotel room if we knew we were not going to make it to Grandpa’s place before 9 pm, as after that it would be hard for us to get checked in, not to mention that the residents are often in bed by then. Eric found us a hotel room just north of Richmond, VA. I told Dad I was not eating McDonalds (he kept calling it Mickey Mouse) for dinner, and he chose Outback. (Can you say extremes in price comparison?) We both had steaks and then headed for the hotel. Eric got us one room with double beds. It was then that I discovered that my father was wearing two right shoes. Both black sneakers. He had not packed any spares.
Dad woke me up at about 4:30 AM. (“Are you awake yet?” “NO!”) And again at 5 AM. At 5:38 I visited the rest room and he asked me if I was up, to which I replied, “NO. I get to sleep until 6:30.” At 6:30 on the dot, he said sweetly to me, “Time to get up! We’re going to be late!” Eric had specifically suggested that we not leave before 8 AM as to avoid rush hour traffic. I got up and suggested to Dad that he go find the breakfast room. I showered and was dressed when Dad came back announcing that he could not find the breakfast room, but he was really proud of himself for remembering our room number. I helped him find the breakfast room, made him his waffle, and then went back to our room to eat my boiled eggs, cheese, and red peppers. We drove the rest of the way to D.C. where we found Grandpa and Adrienne in the activity room watching CNN.
Dad went to bed right after dinner that evening. I had a corner room and had three large windows. I opened them and
suffered through endured enjoyed the sounds of city life–traffic, people talking loudly on the sidewalk at odd hours, the occasional siren. The cross breeze and noise of Georgetown were preferable to sweltering in a stuffy room. I heard Dad talking to someone in the hallway before light. I ignored it and went back to sleep. When I woke up at 6:30, I discovered that Dad’s room was empty. I readied myself for the day, grabbed all my stuff, and headed for the lobby where I discovered my Dad. He was reading the newspaper with his packed bag standing in a corner. It was 7:15, and the dining room would not be open for 15 more minutes. Grandpa was awake but not ready to come down when I called him. We loaded the car and waited for Grandpa. He was ready at 8:00, and Dad was so impatient that he was already in the dining room drinking coffee. Dad was ready to go before Grandpa and Adrienne had finished their breakfast. We said our goodbyes and gave hugs and kisses all around, and off we went.
We headed out 66 East to go down the mountainous route–81 to 77 to 85 south. Just north of Charlotte, in Statesville, NC, Dad’s car broke down. We sat for an hour and a half waiting for the tow-truck. We had to rent a car, and I was very thankful that they were able to come get Dad to do the paperwork. (The tow truck and Enterprise showed up on the side of the road with us at almost the exact same time.) They closed at 6, but they were really sweet to work with us. By 7 PM we were finally back on the road in a rental car–Dad’s car safely tucked away at a Toyota dealership. (His car will be fixed today–but we cannot go get it until Saturday. I think Eric and I are going to do that together.) We spent 14.5 hours total getting back to Dad’s house from D.C., and then I had another 75 minutes back to my house. Including the drive up there, we spent over 33 hours on the road for a 23 hour visit. Oh, the things we will do for love!
And when I think how tired I am, all I have to do is imagine Dad’s feet wearing two right shoes.