On his first day home alone Papa went outside to check the oil in his car. The oil just needed to be checked right then. He walked outside and realized he could not get into the car so he turned around to get his keys and could not get back in the house.
The previous night we spoke to Papa and worked out a plan in case he needed to reach us by phone or happened to get lost in his new neighborhood. It was a good conversation; he had all the answers and could reach either of us at any time.
We charged his cell phone and made sure he knew how to use the contacts to call us
We provided a small map in case he took a walk around the block
We put a house key on his key chain
We wrote down his new address, and both our cell and work numbers, and had him put the paper in his wallet
We removed all of the prior entries in his GPS and added his new address as home even though he said he was not going to drive
We went back to the sheet of paper in his wallet and added the garage code and he put it back in his wallet
What I did not do is explain that although our doors open from the inside they are always locked from the outside.
Now Papa was locked outside. He was not wearing a jacket and our 32 degree weather was not quite the same as what he was used to in AZ. He looked at his watch and realized I would be home within the hour. His first thought was to sit in his car to stay warm until he remembered he did not have his keys to get into the car. He walked up to the corner and looked for cars coming, but it was too early for us to be home. He then thought he could call us until he remembered he did not have his phone. I can only imagine how frustrated he was getting. He walked back down to the house and noticed that the garage has a keypad on it. He pushed a few numbers just to see if it would open. Nothing happened. He walked back down the length of the driveway and looked up and down the street. Then it happened, he remembered that I gave him the code. Luckily he had his wallet with him. He looked up the code, opened the door and walked into the house.
When I came home a short time later, he was sitting and watching TV. I asked him how his day had been. He paused for a moment as he looked up from Walker, Texas Ranger and coolly replied, Great! I locked myself out but I was able to find my way back in.
They say that Home is where the Heart is. I cannot imagine the feeling of having your life was turned upside down all at once. In the beginning of this year, Papa not only lost his wife of almost 59 years, he left his comfort zone: his home, his friends, many of his belongings and much of his independence. He faithfully trusted us knowing this was the right decision and left the warm climate of Arizona, to move across country to a much cooler locale. I wanted to make sure he understood that Virginia typically has a mild climate, and caught myself repeating this information to him multiple times a day as the temperatures across the US were plunging. While Virginia’s winter temperatures usually average in the mid 40’s and sometimes much warmer, the past several weeks have been hovering in the single digits with several episodes of snow. It is not quite the mild climate I had promised him, but he is acclimating quite well.
Papa did not have the luxury of waiting and grieving privately before moving to a new location. He needed the immediate support of having people assist him in making difficult life decisions. He was not sure where to begin with funeral arrangements. He has never been hands on with family finances, as he says, I made the money and Mom spent it. He isn’t sure what his income is, what bills they had or how or when to pay them. He is not aware of any specifics in his health insurance, or how to reorder his medications or if they have life insurance. He is not concerned with expiration dates on perishables, and he was not sure who to rely on locally to help him. Papa is a polite and friendly person who talks to everyone; he doesn’t like to say no or to think he would ever disappoint another person thus making him an easy target to be taken advantage of. Sadly, with his increasing memory loss he may never completely understand some of the basic financial tasks we take for granted, but what he does know and understand completely is that he has a family that would do anything for him. We will explain things to him so he can be a part in the many decisions that affect him, and we will do our best to teach him to say no thanks to anyone who knocks on the door to make sure he is not the victim of another scam. Most importantly he knows that we will open up our home and make it his home. His family will take care of him.
Where do we begin? How do we turn our empty nest into a warm and comfortable environment for our grieving father? How do we make sure that Papa feels that OUR home is HIS home; that being here is permanent, he is not a guest. This is easier said than done, but we are doing our best. We started with the basics. He has unpacked his belongings and we have displayed some of his personal knickknacks or photos not only in his room but throughout the house. We have gotten him a new chair and put Nana’s favorite side table next to it. We made sure that we brought his favorite drinking glass and coffee mug. We have cleared out spaces in the kitchen for his medications or his coffee or his favorite foods, and in the bathroom for his personal effects. We have made sure he has his puzzle books and pens in several places throughout the house. We have checked out several global markets to make sure we can find his special coffee when he runs out. These things were easy.
What we are working on is making sure he has a purpose, that he feels needed. We are including him in helping to make dinner each evening, and spending extended time sitting and talking after our meal is over. We have taken him to church. We have taken him for walks, even in the cold, to show him the neighborhood and introduced our neighbors. We are showing him our routines for laundry or other household chores. We sit with him and watch TV shows we are not interested in, and try to encourage a few more upbeat examples. I have a “date night” with him once a week where the two of us go to dinner. But we are still working on this. We are open to any suggestions you may have on how we can help him make Papa’s transition to his new home come easy.
Each day I see gentle reminders in his behavior that shows he is more comfortable and we are hoping that with consistency he will truly feel at home. And then there are times as we are sitting in the family room and watching TV that I see him gently caress Nana’s side table and I realize that his first home will always be where his heart is, with Nana.
Pop’s was on our list as a quick stop in Oklahoma. It is tourist attraction along historic Route 66 serving thousands of different types of soda pop and has a 66 foot tall bottle of soda out front. We were on schedule to arrive just after noon for a lunchtime burger and a pop.
Christina was driving along Route 40 just west of Oklahoma City and had the cruise control set at 76 in a 75 MPH speed zone. I was attempting to knit, and Papa was wondering if Pop’s would have a chocolate milk shake to go with his hamburger. Leave it to Papa to go to Pops, a soda store, and order a milk shake. We noticed an undercover police car make a wide U-Turn through the median and start to follow us. Christina checked the cruise control and we continued driving, knitting and talking. After five minutes Christina mentioned he was still behind us and after 10 minutes he finally turned on his lights. Christina pulled to the side of the road, turned off the car and we waited.
Officer Friendly came up to the passenger side of car so I rolled down my window; he popped his head in to look around and asked to see license and insurance. Remember we have three generations, our vehicle car is loaded, tail end dragging, and has windows tinted so dark that we are not even sure it is legal in state of Arizona let along the rest of the country, and we have handicap plates. Christina pulled out her license and I gathered the insurance card while he was asking where we were headed. After several minutes of discussion on our trip and final destination he finally broke the news as to why were had been pulled over. He had called in and our license plate and they did not have a registration associated to it. He asked for Christina to accompany him to his vehicle while they called it in again. Papa and I were to wait in the car.
One minute passed, Papa asked, Should go talk to him? No, Papa he said we should stay buckled and wait in the car.
Two minutes passed, I inquired as to what his plates are, and without a pause in his memory Papa said ABC123. I pulled out the vehicle registration and noticed that the registration was WCABC123. Officer Friendly is right, they don’t match.
Four minutes: Papa said, I better go back there. She is fine Papa; she can work it all out. They will contact Arizona to check on the registration.
Six minutes: I don’t understand why they are talking to Christina, it’s MY car! I understand Papa but he needs to talk to the person driving the car, she is OK.
Seven minutes: What is the problem? That is the registration that came in the mail with the plates. I know, I am not sure what the problem is but she will work it out, it is OK.
Ten minutes:How long is he going to keep her? Do you think I should go back there? No, just wait here with me Papa; Christina will be back soon. I am sure everything will be fine.
Twelve minutes: I am still holding the registration and wondered why he hadn’t asked to see it. I checked it one more time and it finally occurred to me that WC stands for Wheel Chair. I smiled.
After just over 15 minutes they returned to our vehicle. Christina quietly got in the car and Officer Friendly leaned into my window again and told us to continue driving safely to our destination. I mentioned that I perhaps the WC on the registration matches the picture of a wheel chair on the actual plates. You could see the same light bulb go on above his head just as it had for me after looking at the registration for an extended period of time. He also smiled, suggested that once we reach our final destination we contact the DMV to make sure that is actually the case, and sent us on our merry way.
We continued driving and Christina filled us in that Officer Friendly was with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics. Apparently Oklahoma has a large drug and human trafficking problem and our vehicle fit their profile. I am not sure if the field interview felt longer for Christina or for Papa but we were happy to be driving again. This is the only time during the entire road trip that Papa seemed a bit anxious, and it was our only brush with the law.
After our unexpected delay we arrived at Pops for a late lunch. The glass building is covered floor to ceiling with glass soda bottle has an entire wall of refrigerated coolers filled with thousands of types of soda. Both Christina and I played it cautious and had a cream soda, of which they had 77 varieties to choose from. Papa was no longer upset and had his chocolate shake. If I were to go back again I might live it up and try: Dougie Dog Butterscotch Root Beer, Manhattan Special Expresso Soda, Cookie Dough Bites Fudge Brownie Soda, or perhaps a Jackson Hole Snake River Sarsaparilla to wet my whistle, and Papa mentioned that next time he would have a cream soda.
Saturday evening was Papa’s last night in his home as he knew it and we were all relieved to sit back and spend some family time together before everyone went his or her separate ways the next morning. Typical to the Marocco family, we ate pizza. I am not sure if we will miss Little Bite of Italy more or if they will miss making pizzas for our hungry family.
Sunday morning came bright and early and the slumber party of everyone sleeping in Papa and Nana’s small home was over. Doug and Allison left at 4:30am to catch their flights to DC and NY respectively. Tiara took off at 6:30am for her flight to MI, which sadly ended up being delayed for days due to the snow and cold weather hitting the rest of the country. Daryl, Lisa, Tati, Tessa, Tyler and Thalia were eating and packing up their car to head back to CA. That left Christina, Papa and I to set out on our week long, 2700 mile cross-country trek.
Before we could leave, Papa took one last walk through his home making sure he had everything he needed. A Mercury Marquis might look like a big car but after spending two days filling the trunk like a large Tetris game and we did not have any more room. The trunk was packed, half of the back seat was loaded and the car was definitely riding low. Every item he touched on his final walk through was “good” and he asked us if we wanted to bring them. Look at this drill, should we bring it? Here is a good air compressor or hammer or screwdrivers. Do you need a vice; it is a good vice you should bring it. Did you pack some of the boxed paper towels; they are good paper towels. What about this magnifying glass, it is a good one. My mom painted this Christmas tree; does it fit? Of course we found room for another box of towels, we fit the magnifying glass and several more screw drivers and anything else we could squeeze into an already packed car. We left the ceramic tree and a few other items to be shipped so he has it next Christmas. Papa had an extensive set of tools and it broke my heart to not be able to bring everything. Two hours after we had expected to leave we were finally able to get into the car and start driving off.
Christina helped me plan a detailed route; each day was planned highlighting a few short stops at various points of interest or restaurants that we had researched. Her meticulous map put my countless lists to shame. We were ready and just hoping for good weather for our adventure. We did all the driving while Papa sat comfortably in the back seat. He shared the back seat with an end table, a TV, 3 suitcases, a bag of meds and toiletries, a backpack, a computer bag, two pillows and a box with cans of spray paint, and of course an extra box of paper towels. It might sound crowded, but he had more room in back than we did!
Our first stop was lunch in Flagstaff, a mere 2 hours and 6 minutes from Sun City. We were hungry and ready to stretch our legs and eat. Just before we arrived, Papa said, Are we there yet? We should be in Canada we have been driving so long. Christina and I looked at each other, laughed and thought it could be a long trip. Luckily it wasn’t, we all had the trip of a lifetime. Here are a few pictures of places we stopped along the way.
Since we have been home Papa has asked us every day if we brought the vice or where it is. I hope who ever gets that vice knows how much it meant to him.
January 1st is seemed like the perfect day to begin Papa’s new walking program. He had not left Nana’s side during the months she was ill and really needed some fresh air and exercise. It was the first day of the year, a warm and beautiful sunny Arizona day, and by an unfortunate miscommunication we had been committed to having lunch at two separate places that afternoon. A walk around the block would really feel good for all of us. During our first walk I realized Papa’s shoes were quite worn and he was shuffling his feet so a new pair of shoes was probably in order. He really needed more than just new shoes, but they happened to be the top thing on my newly created shopping list.
Papa’s needs are small. We had a quick discussion before we left the house and all he requested for his walking shoes were plain white, Velcro, and cost $25.00 or less. Always up for a challenge I figured I would break his needs down one at a time.
Color – Plain while shoes without any added color. That was easy; all of the shoe stores we looked at had several pair of plain white walking shoes. We were off to a great start!
Style – Velcro. I was worried about this as we were driving to the mall, I wasn’t even sure they still used Velcro fasteners any longer on shoes. After some looking we were able to find at least one pair of white Velcro shoes at each of the stores we went into. Wonderful!
Cost – I knew this would be a bit of an issue and was working out ways to break the news to Papa that we just would not be able to find quality shoes for the price he thought they should be. I explained that it probably has been a while since he bought new shoes, and inflation has hit everywhere. Surely once he put on that new pair of comfortable shoes he would realize you cannot put a price on that. I had him somewhat convinced.
Once we knew exactly what we were looking for we started talking to sales people, and asked them for a selected shoe in his size, 10.5 wide. Nothing fit. As he was trying to squeeze his foot into the shoes we picked out store employees were beginning to look as us as if we were requesting a cobbler to hand make his shoes. We went to store after store and everyone provided the same advice to us, “go to the New Balance Store”. So we did.
Size – I learned something very important that day; Papa had not bought a properly fitting pair of shoes in such a long time that he did not know his shoe size. His foot was measured and the New Balance rep went to the back of the store and came out carrying one box. He must have flipped a soundtrack switch while he was in the back room because it was as if Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah started playing softly in the background. Smiling, the New Balance Rep slipped a shoe of the box and onto Papa’s foot. Papa grinned, put the other shoe on and asked if they would dispose of his old shoes. He proudly walked out of the store wearing his new 11.5 4E, white, Velcro walking shoes and did not mention the cost.
End note: We have since been shopping for dress shoes. Papa’s memory is not great, but when he gave me his requirements for what he was looking for he said black, slip on and size 11.5 4E, cost was no longer a factor.
I celebrate my Birthday on Christmas, and this past Christmas was not just any birthday, it was a big one, maybe the big one. I expected 50 to be something different, something more substantial. I thought maybe I was entering a new phase in life. As paraphrased in a Victor Hugo quote, I am now in the youth of old age, and I just assumed that somehow this birthday would be different that things would change. But the day happened just as every other birthday that I can remember; my family helped me to celebrate and feel special on my day, but in the end there was not a major transformation. Maybe age really is just a number. But then it happened…. One week later my life was forever altered. Not only did I become a first time grandmother, but we inherited Papa.
Papa is my 80 year old Father in Law, and has been in my life for over 35 years. He is kind and gentle, he is sweet and funny, he is humble and uncomplicated. My own dad passed away when I was very young, and I met Papa just a few years later. He became the father I sorely missed. Papa is recently widowed, has moderate memory loss, and was coming to live with us.
On January 1st, as other people were sleeping in after a night of ringing in the New Year, I was flying across country making arrangements to bring Papa home. It is amazing how many lists can be created on a flight from Virginia to Arizona. I had countless lists going at the same time: Things to Pack – immediate; Things to Pack – later; Cross Country Travel Needs; Preparing the Vehicle for a Cross Country Trip; Closing the House; Selling the House; Doctors; Medications… I even had a Master List of all my lists. I am happy to say, in the middle of frantically typing my lists at airports or on airplanes I was able to find an escape to calm myself. As soon as I started feeling overwhelmed, which happened quite a few times that day, I would pull out my phone and look at, or in most cases show off, photographs of my beautiful Granddaughter who was only hours old. I now wish I could thank every one of the strangers sitting near me who goggled over the new and absolutely perfect addition to our family.
We are now back in Virginia and adjusting to our new life. Papa is acclimating to his new surroundings and we are modifying our lifestyle from being Empty Nesters to what I have personally phrased as being Golden Nesters. I want to make sure that not only do we enjoy this transformation that really is occurring as we begin the youth of our old age, but that Papa is both happy and heard. I want to make sure that Papa’s memories are maintained and shared with others. So, I have started jotting down ideas and making more lists, with my first record being some of the wise advice I have received from people in the past few weeks.
My brother told me to listen for the Eleventh Story. He has eternal patience in listening to people tell the same ten stories countless times waiting for the hidden gem of the eleventh story as it starts to develop. I am sure I will hear stories one through ten countless times but I will always try to keep my ears open for number eleven. Thank you, Scott.
I sent my cousin a text last week with the excitement of a tidbit of information that she was not aware of about Papa. Cindi is an educator and has built her life with the thrill of learning. She asked me to take advantage of all of the stories and share them with our family. I plan to do that.
A sweet coworker listened to me talk about Papa after I cornered her in the kitchen. She seemed truly interested in our travels and suggested I start a blog to keep his stories intact. I informed her that was a bit overwhelming, but thanks Madeleine; you really did have a great idea.
Lastly, we spoke to a very dear friend last week who is in the midst of beginning a new undertaking of his own. He reminded me that as early adults we felt fearless and could do anything, but that should not change as we age. We still can do anything! Chris, I look forward to our call every couple weeks to discuss both our new adventures, and that just maybe I have a few words in me that people would be interested to read.