Papa’s granddaughter graduated from Michigan State University earlier this month. Doug and I had prepped Papa for months and we were all looking forward to our road trip to Spartan Nation to attend Tiara’s commencement ceremony and spend a few days with family. We realize how important it is to remain consistent when we tell Papa we are going to do something and after discussing the specific trip details repeatedly and putting the dates on his calendar he understood our schedule for the trip. It is difficult for Papa to comprehend the unknown or accept last minute changes.
Virginia, like many other areas in the country received unbelievable storms this spring. Daily rainfall records were shattered on April 30th. When I left work that afternoon the weather reports promised that heavy rain and thundershowers would continue through the evening and into the night with localized rainfall rates of 1-2″ per hour, so saying it was going to be a damp evening just did not do it justice. I picked up Christina from her New York City bus and we decided to stop and get Papa his new favorite hamburger for dinner (Bobby Burger Palace). We knew Papa would not only love the surprise burger, but he would enjoy that we would have more time to sit and relax with him that evening by not having to prepare dinner. My new car was already packed and we were ready for our first road trip the next morning.
I pulled into the driveway and the moment I saw water flowing out from under the garage door I knew we were in trouble. We walked in to find 4 inches of standing water covering our garage floor, and a raging river running through our crawl space. It was going to be a long night.
Papa was sitting in his recliner watching TV and calmly said Hi when we walked in just as he does every day, he did not offer any additional comments. Exasperated I asked if he had been in the garage. Yes, it is wet. Where is all that water coming from? I explained the crawl space has flooded and was overflowing into the garage. Why didn’t you call us? I don’t know. I am sorry. Christina and Papa went up to eat and I started picking up items off of the garage floor before Doug arrived home. We spent the next 8 hours pumping out the crawlspace, moving things and clearing water out of the garage not to mention hauling over 20 boxes of Christmas items into the house. Doug and I ended up eating only a few bites of our dinner and relaxing was now out of the question.
Papa apologized several times over that evening, he felt responsible for not contacting us when he noticed the water and he really wanted to help us clean things up. We explained that it was ok, the flood was not his fault and we would take care of it. In hindsight I can now see it may have been better to have him help; to assign him a task to complete along with us. At the time I was worried about him getting cold and wet, slipping in the water, or trying to lift a packed crate that was too heavy for him. But I also have to admit it was just easier knowing we could move things to drier ground a bit faster than his 80 year old body would have allowed.
We woke up the next morning to a bright and sunny May Day. The crawlspace was down to a small stream and the garage was damp with fans blowing and the door wide open to help circulate the air. Papa was excited. Today is May 1st. What time are we leaving? Just as we had discussed for months, Papa was packed and ready to head out on our 600 mile road trip to East Lansing, Michigan. He did not understand that one of us would now have to stay home. But it is nice out today. Yes, but we have to make sure things continue to dry, and more storms are forecasted over the next few days. It looks pretty dry. I know Papa, but unfortunately it is still wet. The garage will need to continue to air out until it is completely dry, if it is closed off now things will start to mold. Papa was not happy, his family is his life and he wanted everyone to be there as we had so patiently described in our trip details.
We could have flipped a coin or drawn straws to see who would go with Papa, but because I had already been on a road trip with him this year Doug offered to go. I was sorry I would not be there for Tiara’s big day, and I knew I would miss the excitement of both a road trip and seeing the rest of the family. Not wanting to take my new car without me, they switched vehicles, packed a few extra snacks and were ready to hit the road. Doug and Papa did not take my itinerary and did not stop at any of the locations I had planned to stretch our legs. They did not use Papa’s America the Beautiful National Park Pass. They were men on a mission and other than the five McDonalds they stopped at in search of a working shake machine their trip to and from Michigan seemed pretty quiet and uneventful.
I smiled and waved as they backed out of the driveway. I had a couple days off of work and I was ready to fill them. I cleaned the garage. I rented a movie. I dried and repacked the Christmas items that had been stored in cardboard boxes into new plastic crates. I drove my new car. I rented another movie. I cooked my favorite meals and ate them watching the movies I rented. I stayed up late checking the weather. I read. I slept in and was able to walk around the house in my PJ’s. I went to dinner with a friend. I rented a third movie. I sold Doug’s old car. I cleaned out my closet and went through my summer clothes. I didn’t have any extra cups sitting on the counter waiting for me to load in the dishwasher. I didn’t have to turn down the volume on the TV when no one was looking. I didn’t have to worry about what or when others ate or took their meds or if they showered. The garage didn’t seem like such a big deal anymore. I had not realized how much I had needed those few days to myself.
Last night during dinner, Doug mentioned the Ahi Tuna tacos he had eaten in Michigan and Papa looked at me and asked me what I had eaten there. I reminded him I was unable to go on that trip, and he just shook his head. We reminded him of the flood, of the 20 hours in a car with Doug and he just kept shaking his head. He finally conceded and that I was not a part of the graduation trip but sadly Doug and I both knew that his memory was playing tricks on him. Papa can clearly recall occasions that happened 70 years ago, but seemingly significant events now get all jumbled up. If the conversation came up today, he would again believe that I had been there.
Lesson learned: We love Papa and truly realize how much his life changed when he came to live with us, but sometimes we overlook that our life changed dramatically also. We want to help give Papa the best life possible. We want him to be happy and healthy. We want him to experience and enjoy his time, even if he doesn’t remember it all. Doug and I led a very full existence as empty nesters and much of that was put on hold when we became golden nesters. We are still busy, we just have different demands now; we have a third person who depends on us for many of his daily needs. But to give him the best life we have to make sure that we carve out bits of time for ourselves. We have to make sure that we actively spend small amounts of time doing some of the things that we used to enjoy, things that do not necessarily involve or revolve around Papa. By taking time for us, we will be able to provide a better life for Papa.
Congratulations Tiara, we all look forward to seeing you on another road trip!