On January 20, 2014 I published a post entitled Home: 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 (2014), 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 mentioned that 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.
On March 2. 2017, Papa truly went home. As he closed his eyes to rest after his mid-day meal he drifted off to eternity to be with the love of his life. He left this world in the most tranquil of ways. It was peaceful, just like Papa was peaceful and loving and kind and I cannot imagine a better way for him to end his days on earth as he moves into the eternal world.
My chronicles of Papa are not done. I have hundreds of loose sheets of paper for the times I just grabbed whatever I could write on as he was talking. I have emails I sent to myself or notes on my phone and computer when paper was not available. And I even have some video of him telling me things when he was talking too fast for me to accurately put his words onto paper. I look forward to having Nana’s side table in my office and when I am at a loss for words, as I am tonight, I can gently caress that table just as Papa did hoping that it will bring me closer to him. I love you, Papa.
Please share your Papa stories with me. I would love to make sure they are included in our collection.
We still have a home phone but like many other people both smartphones and Bluetooth are conveniences I just can’t imagine living without any longer. Not a day, probably not an hour, goes by that I don’t use my phone to take a call, answer a text, add to my grocery list, search for directions, check email, find an address, update my calendar or, during baseball season, to follow my Washington Nationals. So, while my phone may be used for many things my actual cell number is provided only to people who need it so I try to answer each call as it rings even if it is not a recognized name that shows up on my caller ID.
I was driving with two dear friends on our way to dinner the other night when our casual talk and Christmas music was interfered with an incoming call. I paused briefly not recognizing the number, threw etiquette out of the window and with a flick of my thumb on the steering wheel I answered the call with a cheery hello. I was not prepared to hear the response, “Hello Sandy, this is Annette, a Hospice social worker from Mary Washington Hospital, are you able to talk?” I calmly said no, I will call you back in the morning, and we cordially ended the call, but my mind started wandering. I drove several miles before I said that was unexpected and tried (somewhat ineffectively) to put it out of my mind until the next day.
I have only had limited experience with hospice or palliative care but know another friend whose father is currently near the end of his days. Thinking about them I called Annette back at 8:00 the next morning, but even with a night of thinking about the odd call regarding Hospice care it didn’t make much sense to me. Papa does not have a terminal disease, why would they be calling me. Papa is in a wonderful environment with caring and compassionate staff looking after his every need, what could a Hospice program do for him? I was wrong, it makes perfect sense, but even after the call I really didn’t understand the importance until I had checked in on Papa later that morning and then compared it to Doug’s visit today. I am happy to report Papa was bright and alert for my visit yesterday morning!
My first misconception was thinking that once a person is referred to Hospice they have days or weeks or possibly up to six months to live. Hospice is for the end of a person’s life, and as much as I don’t want to think about it Papa truly is nearing his end of his life. Palliative care is to help improve the quality of care for patient and their family for the time they do have left, even though there is not a number attached to Papa’s time.
Secondly I did not consider Papa’s memory loss or debilitating neuropathy as a terminal prognosis, but in actuality his weight loss and malnutrition are. The nurses and staff at Greenfield caringly help to feed Papa but that does not mean his body is absorbing the nutrients as it should be. Papa’s body is starting to fail him just as his mind is not always working in the present time. Sadly, Papa’s memory was not as sharp today while Doug visited and he had a hard time recalling people and places, even to the point of asking when they brought all of the tables into the dining room he has eaten every meal in for the past year.
Papa is not living in a traditional home environment any longer, how do we fit in the Hospice picture? The misunderstanding that Hospice is solely for patients and their primary caregivers based in their home is also wrong. Hospice concentrates on the comfort of a person and their family, not the cure of a disease, but this care can happen anywhere.
It is a blessing to know Papa will have another team of people looking out for his best interests. Sadly, many people do not receive hospice care until the final days or weeks of their life and miss out on helpful support and quality time with their loved ones. I am thankful that others care about Papa let us know that perhaps the time for is now. Hospice is a community, another resource we can all use to assure that Papa is happy and comfortable on both his good times or more troubled periods for all of the days, months or even years he has left.
I am not sure if Pi Day, 3.14, a pseudo holiday with a cult like following, is more relevant to math geeks or bakers but I definitely fall into the later group. Pi day is just one reason (not that I need a specific motivation) to start digging through cookbooks looking for a new pie recipe. This is one of the silent agreements Papa and I have worked out, I bake pies and Papa eats them. Period. Papa has never turned down one of my pies.
Several months ago my brother sent me The Taste of Tradition, a small 24-page cookbook that Borden and None Such put out in the early 1980’s devoted entirely to apples, raisins, currents and spices, aka mincemeat. I had no idea that None Such Mincemeat had been manufactured for 100 years prior to the the printing of this small cookbook, and decided as I was looking through it for a new pie recipe for Papa that I would try one of the time-tested and traditional recipes from another century. Apple Streusel Mince Berry Pie.
Papa doesn’t understand π and will be the first to say, I wasn’t too good at math. He doesn’t know what the circumference of a circle is or why someone would ever have the need to figure that out. But he can look at a round pie and will tell you that the bigger the pie is the bigger the circumference must be. And the bigger the circumference is the more it is filled with whatever he likes, chocolate and mincemeat being his all time favorites. I knew Papa would not be disappointed in our Pi Day flavor, however I neglected to reason that by making small pies, they have a smaller circumference and what appears to be less actual pie for Papa to eat. We all laughed noting that his Papa math was spot on, his individual pie looked smaller than a full size slice, even though it wasn’t.
As a baker before a math major, I made the decision that providing a fresh pie on 3.13 was more important than a “day old” pie on 3.14. The decision turned out for the best that Papa had his Pi Day pie a day early, today has been a long day for him sadly without any opportunity to eat. Unfortunately, Papa was rushed back to the hospital during the early morning hours and has spent all of today, all of March 14, all of his Pi Day being transferred between two hospitals with another pulmonary embolism.
Papa has settled in his new hospital room, is stable and in good spirits and we are hoping he will be back to his regular routine in a few short days. Before he settled into his bed, he able to pick whatever sounded most appetizing for dinner and chose his favorite standby, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and, unless they are able to find a slice of pie in the cafeteria, some chocolate pudding for dessert.
Papa fell walking up the stairs on Tuesday. Recently we have been following him as he walks up or down the stairs but on this one occasion I walked in and he was comfortable in his chair so I continued upstairs after saying HI not knowing he would decide to follow me several minutes later. My heart stopped as soon as I heard him tumble backwards hitting his head on the tile floor. People who understand me and my beliefs will know I always try to look for the positive in every situation. I will update everyone on Papa’s prognoses, we still do not know where Papa will be or what will happen tomorrow, but this Thanksgiving holiday I am thankful for:
That fact that both Doug and I were home when Papa fell, I cannot bear to imagine if he had been home alone.
That Papa never lost consciousness and was able to move, even though we didn’t let him. We didn’t want him to see the blood.
The 911 operator, who quickly listened to me and called in units to our house.
The seven paramedics who were able to squeeze into our small hallway and put a compression dressing on his head wound, strap him to a back board and carry him out. It was like clowns tumbling out of a small car but they were coming into our home…there were two, then four, then five and when I could not imagine any more help the sixth and seventh paramedic walked in.
Our wonderful neighbors who came over to see what happened and if they could be of any assistance and have continued to checked on him daily. You guys are the best!
The crew chief who let me ride in the front of the ambulance transporting him to our local hospital.
The thrill of watching I-95 rush hour traffic part like the Red Sea as the experienced driver rushed us to the hospital.
The nurses and doctors who assessed his situation and stitched his laceration before sending him for an MRI. I have never seen so much blood or so many large clots and must have gasped and stepped back against the wall at one point. The doctor laughed and assured me they were just clots. The entire scenario made me think of our dear friend Dr. Dennis and I now truly understand his blood injury phobia. I could tell as he walked in that Doug had the same thought when he saw the wall peppered with bright red streaks running down.
The decision to transfer him to a larger facility with a Trauma ICU and a neurosurgeon on hand if needed when they noticed a small internal bleed on the MRI.
The two sweet paramedics who transported him on his second ambulance ride for the evening, with Doug along for this ride.
The amazing INOVA Fairfax Medical Campus. I cannot find words to describe how beautiful this new state of the art facility truly is.
My friends who kept texting me to see how we were, where we were, and what we needed.
The fact that I can laugh at myself at 3:30 am as we were leaving the hospital after Papa was settled in his room and I was attempting to put my parking slip in an ATM machine before Doug found the parking kiosk.
The medical team in the Trauma ICU. Cheerful and attentive nurses who called Papa handsome ad told him he was their favorite patient.
My close friends and our church family who have called and sent messages offering their thoughts and prayers.
The cards that Will and Annalee made to brighten Papa’s day.
My entire family, who has called and texted numerous times to see how Papa is doing, I love you.
The fact that Papa was transferred to the Intermediate Care Unit (a step down unit) on Thanksgiving evening so we were able to bring him a home cooked Thanksgiving dinner. We could not coax Papa to eat more than a bite or two of his meal, but he smiled when he saw what we brought him for dessert. Papa often talks about how his mom used to make him mincemeat pie. Not many people like it, but I do. Why don’t more people like it? You can’t find it anywhere. We have had a running joke for years, what is it made of? To which I would respond little minces of course.
With everything that happened over the past week, Papa was most thankful for his mincemeat pie. I will make sure to keep baking mince pies whenever he asks.
Endnote: I am also thankful for Allison and Christina coming home, the dynamic of our home changes to a different excitement as you bring up various discussion topics, sometimes I believe just to hear your dad’s responses. For anyone who watches SNL, I only had to pull up Adele’s Hello for Doug to hear on one occasion.
Papa does not walk as much as he did last year, but we make an effort to make sure he gets a bit of exercise in each and every day even if he isn’t looking forward to it. No, I don’t need to walk today or I walked yesterday are heard in addition to my feet are mushy. What does that mean Dad, do they hurt? No, they are mushy. They’re just not stable. I take a quick look at his feet before he puts on his shoes to see if they are swollen, or mushy, and hand him his shoe back. Boy, you’retough; I am not going to change your mind about this walk today, am I? Shaking my head I ask him if he wants to take the long or the short loop and off we go.
Papa found a new TV station a couple weeks ago, ME TV on channel 462. He was raving one night at dinner about how he found the new station just by pushing buttons on the remote. It has great shows; I remember them from when I was younger. We were pleasantly surprised that he had ventured away from the safety of his 4 proven networks and their violent SVU or CSI reruns.
Memorable or ME TV is full of classic shows such as Make Room for Daddy, Gunsmoke, Car 54 Where are You, The Rifleman, or F Troop and many other shows that were filmed from 1950-1970. It is his new favorite station and every night as commercials air in between innings of the baseball game Papa quickly switches over to channel 462 for a few moments of The Andy Griffith or Danny Thomas Show or as I soon realized, the commercials that show up on that channel. After several days of channel hopping we heard, This is it! He found the As Seen on TV infomercial he wanted us to see.
The Foot Angel is an anti-fatigue compression sleeve. It claims to boost circulation, reduce swelling, and provide relief for achy feet. It is lightweight and comfortable and can even be worn to bed. Wow, even to bed! Isn’t this great! Do you think this might help with my mushy feet? To me it looked like a short, opened toe compression sock, and I wondered how many times he had seen the commercial. Doug just rolled his eyes as he finished folding the laundry, but Papa was sold on the Foot Angel. Last year Papa was prescribed 30/40 compression socks to wear daily, but just getting them over his very wide 11 ½ EEE foot and up his inflexible leg was enough of a workout that Doug broke out in a sweat and Papa was out of breath each time they were put on. The cardiologist told us to make sure he wears them if he is traveling for a distance by car or plane, or for long walks, but if he can’t wear them every day he understands. I was skeptical that the Foot Angel would be any different but Papa was emphatic, I think I need those.
I looked them up online and found several stores locally that supply them and while Doug was doubtful he quietly went along with us. I figured if Papa thinks they will work that is good enough for me, and we were off to Walmart. We spent over an hour on a Friday evening looking through the store with an anxious employee in search of the Heavenly Foot Angel. Correction: Papa spent 10 minutes and found a bench to sit and rest his mushy feet and Doug wandered off to see if they had any Nationals gear in the store. I looked in the pharmacy area by both the compression socks and foot inserts. I looked in the men’s and woman’s sock area. I looked by the workout gear and in the shoe department. I looked in the As Seen on TV aisle. I pulled out my ipad and showed an employee what the package looked like and when she finally tired of me she found her manager to assist the crazy patron. Before I threw in the towel I scanned what I had just renamed as the TV Crap Aisle one last time and finally found a pair, size small tucked under some empty boxes. Success! I ran over to show both Papa and Doug that they really do exist. You don’t think that pair will fit me? Doug rolled his eyes for a second time and I said no way Papa, this won’t even stretch over your big toe. Sadly we left Walmart without making a purchase and Papa wondered if he would ever find them.
It was getting late and I asked the guys if they wanted to stop atTarget on the way home. Simultaneously I heard ‘they are not going to have them’ and YES! On a mission for Papa I sided with the YES vote and pulled into the Target parking lot. Knowing where to look this time we quickly found an XL Foot Angel on the AS Seen on TV end cap. Papa smiled. I saw a visible pep in his step as we headed to the register. This would cure everything! No more mushy feet! By 8:45 we were home, tuned into the end of the baseball game and Doug was onto his 4th workout of the day squeezing Papa’s wide foot into his new Foot Angel foot sleeve. Papa loved them! My feet feel great! I am going to wear them to bed! I did not see it, but I imagined that Doug rolled his eyes for the third time that evening.
Saturday morning as Papa and I ate breakfast he asked, I was talking to my feet last night, did you hear me? No, what happened? I had to take my new socks off in the night, they were hurting my feet. I did a little talking to them because they didn’t come off too easy. I actually had to stifle a laugh and was thankful that Doug was working out so we didn’t hear his “I told you so”. The socks have been washed and are now hiding in the bottom of Papa’s sock drawer.
I still come home from work every day and if we don’t have a game Papa and I walk around the block or if it is too hot or humid we walk up and down the aisles of Target. I still hear, I don’t need to walk today or I walked yesterday or my feet are mushy. They just are not stable. But he has now added I am old; walking is going to kill me. To which I pleasantly reply that he has it backwards, not walking is going to kill him.
Papa has since moved on. Guess what I saw today, Brett Favre has some new copper socks that help tired feet. Do you think that will help me? Do you think we should get a pair? Thanks for the infomercial ME TV, but we are not rushing out to look for copper socks tonight, even if they work for Brett Favre.
It isn’t just doing something that creates a memory; it is reinforcing an event to make sure it stays with you. Watching baseball almost every night for six or seven months each year is one of the best reinforcements we have. Papa knows the entire Nationals team, who is playing, who is injured and how they are hitting, or as Papa recently said, they don’t need any bats today, no one is hitting. He has a framed schedule and reminds us what time a game starts and makes sure he has the TV warmed up and tuned in ready for the game if it is a day we are not sitting in the stadium. Sometimes he even watches the same game the following day if it is retelevised, after all, there is nothing like watching Bryce Harper hit his twentieth home run of the season for a second time!
Even though he has changed teams, Papa just might be a bigger fan of baseball than Doug or I ever understood. In addition to frequently reminding us that our manager Matt Williams both played and coached for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Papa on a number of occasions has mentioned that other players from rivaling teams used to play on the Diamondbacks. Because the Braves are in our division, Justin Upton was one of the first players he recalled as having played in Arizona. Now that he is with the Padres Papa wonders how just many teams Upton is going to play for. Papa might not recall vacationing in Hawaii or a photo of his own backyard so recognizing a player wearing another team’s jersey is a pretty big deal. In the past week Papa has mentioned twice that he knows a player from an opposing team. Sitting in Nats Park watching the Cubs over this past weekend he stated that Mug Mon-tee-air-o (Miguel Montero) used to play for Arizona. It has been several years since he and Nana watched the D-Backs baseball, but he remembered the name. Nana was an avid Diamondbacks fan and was often on the phone with her sister chatting the highs and lows of that day’s match so we never really understood how much Papa was paying attention to the game. Tonight watching the Yankees I heard Papa talking to himself, Steven Drew, Steven Drew, yes, that’s him, Steven Drew, he played for the Diamondbacks. I quickly looked Drew up and sure enough Papa was correct.
This year we decided to start early to extend our baseball season with Papa by heading down to Viera, Florida to watch our Nationals spring training and see a few early games. Now that the baseball season is well underway we can relive our whirlwind few days in Florida with gentle reminders reinforcing exactly who and what we saw, and along with memories of the sweet stories he told us about his boys for the umpteenth time.
Our first night in the hotel Papa looked at Doug and I and said this is where we stayed last time isn’t it? Doug and I looked at him and asked what he meant. Last time we came to Florida, we stayed here, right? Sorry, Papa we have never been here. It is funny how a mind can play illusions on people, it might make you forget something you have done in the past or trick you into thinking you have been somewhere you have never been. Our only explanation is that we have been building up this trip since our baseball season ended last October so in his foggy mind it was something we night have already done.
Just a few short hours after landing in Orlando we were sitting right in the middle of four practice fields watching our players’ jog from one drill to another. The repetitions of watching these professional athletes quietly moving between the fields opened the door for Papa to reminisce about watching his boys in the past. When Papa’s recalls an episode he is not just stating a chronological fact as it occurred, he explicitly remembers the feelings he felt, and continues to share those emotions in his stories. Papa has told and retold some stories for many years, reinforcing the same words, the same emphasis, the same hand movements, and the same emotions. Lately we have really noticed that Papa’s first response is often I don’t remember, so we truly enjoy the times Papa talks on his own without prompting, even if it is a story we have hears dozens of time. He very clearly brought up several events while Doug and Daryl played ball as if it were yesterday. They might be ones we have heard before, but they are worth repeating.
Papa mentioned coaching both Doug and Daryl’s teams until his boys were out of little league. He was always there for both of his boys, but his memories are a bit different than Doug’s during the time he was an assistant coach on Daryl’s Pinto team with Coach Taylor and Coach Creekmore. Papa didn’t know the ins and outs of baseball, he never watched or competitively played any sports, he didn’t train the young pitchers or teach the proper swing of a bat. Papa was pulled onto the field for several seasons because he was a supportive dad who had a good rapport with the kids on the team. He was a positive influence in the dugout that could keep the kids batting order in line and, if needed, on several occasions he might have been called in as the first base coach. His interest in baseball both then and now was because his kids were interested in baseball. He has always been a loving dad, is there any better coach than that?
They boys learned fast, they knew how to play before they even got into the sport. Well, Doug’s first year playing he stood in the outfield and picked flowers during the games but after that he was tops. Everything seemed to come easier for Doug, but Daryl worked just as hard. I will never forget a coach telling me what a smart player Daryl was. I said what to you mean? The coach told me Daryl could read the other players, to anticipate them; he knew what they were going to do before anyone else. He knew where they would throw the ball. That coach knew Daryl.
Papa went on to tell us how hard it was that some parents placed such high expectations on their children. They expect so much. They didn’t want their kids to listen to what we said. They thought they knew better. We had to be fair to everybody. The kids were just doing what we told them to do. They’re just kids. Then he flipped the tone of his recollection and said, but the parents never really gave me too much trouble. One time a dad was really getting on his son for the play he made and I was trying to explain why the boy did it. The boy told his dad that I knew more about baseball than he did and his dad should just listen. I was worried thinking that boy was really going to catch heck when he got home. Sadly, I don’t think parental pressure has changed over the years, but we kept that to ourselves as we let Papa continue talking.
I remember Doug umpiring little league when he was in high school. One of the parents had a smart comment at every call Doug made. Every call. I was mad. I wanted to say something but I knew Doug had it under control. Doug finally called the boy’s father down from the stands and said “here”. Papa held out his hands showing how Doug had attempted to hand over his mask and pads. What? What do you want me to do with that? the boy’s father asked. Papa went on to say that Doug told the boy’s father, you must be able to see things better from the stands than I can behind the plate; maybe you should be out here. I was proud of Doug; he never let anyone change his mind. He knew what he was doing. That boy’s father didn’t say anything after that.
Pausing for a moment Papa mentioned, Doug could have made it in baseball. He didn’t look any different playing than those guys on the field right now. He could have done it. A failing memory offers the ability to see familiar things as something new. Perhaps that is why Papa is able to hold interest to a TV show he has seen over and over again or to picture his own son as a teenager on any field full of baseball players. Going to Florida this spring was not just making new memories, although we did. It wasn’t just reinforcing what team Papa was going to support this year, although it did. It wasn’t seeing the same team in a different light thinking it was something new, even though it was. This trip also allowed Papa another atmosphere to replay happy memories of a past he is trying very hard to hold on to. It allowed him a visual to relive seeing his adult children as boys again.
Papa has already mentioned going to Florida next year and this season isn’t even over yet. Is it too early to start planning?
Papa has his own schedule during the week; he can sleep in if he chooses, change from pajamas into sweats (otherwise known to him as lounging clothes) and drink his morning coffee while tuning into Walker or Gun Smoke. He is not on anyone’s schedule and can be as fast or as slow as he wants to be. While we may not know the exact time he starts his day, he leaves many signs along the way for us to track his movement around the house. He leaves a crumpled towel on the bathroom counter if he chose to shower that morning. We see a coffee mug in the sink along with a bowl full of water if he prepared the oatmeal we left out for him OR crumbs on both the cutting board and counter by the toaster if he decided he was in the mood for a bagel. We see a green plastic water cup sitting beside the sink with a Tupperware container next to it if he ate the lunch we prepared. If we don’t see an empty container we know he probably made himself a peanut butter sandwich at noon, leaving more crumbs on the counter and a knife in the soaking oatmeal bowl. I don’t need to dirty a plate; I will just hold my food in my hand. A few times we have not seen any dishes in the sink or crumbs on the counter and had to ask him what he ate that day. He smirks and says, I don’t remember, not thinking he left an empty PowerBar wrapper (or two) on top of his banana peel in the trash. He sets the mail on the kitchen table and lets us know as soon as we walk in the door if there is anything addressed to us, expecting us to check it immediately not realizing that most of goes right into the shred bin. And lastly every day we notice several new drops of coffee that have been splattered on the carpet or walls as he carries his morning cup of Joe downstairs to the family room.
Sundays routines are different, we are up and trying to get out of the house by 9:00 to make it to church on time. It never works; we typically slide into our pew as the congregation is midway through the opening hymn. It does not matter if we wake Papa up at 7:30 or 8:15 he heads down to the kitchen at precisely 8:55 and asks, how do I look? After confirming he looks great, he says, I am not really hungry and grabs a banana knowing we will remind him to eat something with his morning meds. He peels the entire banana and throws the peel in the trash before taking the first bite then lays the open banana on the counter. Papa walks three steps to the left and turns on the Keurig, opens the cabinet above the coffee maker and pulls out both a fresh green plastic cup and a coffee mug and starts violently shaking his small packet of Vietnamese Coffee before tearing it open and pouring it into his the mug. He fills the water cup by the sink and walks back to his banana. I always look at him and smile at this point and he defensively mentions, the water on the refrigerator takes to long, I don’t mind tap. While I think he does this to save from walking across the kitchen, I assure him he can drink whatever water he prefers. He goes on to take another bite of the banana before he pulls out his daily pill container and dumps his morning medications onto the counter next to his banana. He licks his finger and sorts the pills on the counter by size before he starts swallowing them. By this time it is 9:05 and he is finally ready to push brew on the coffee maker. More often than not Doug is waiting in the car as Papa and I both watch the water fill his mug and then proceed to stir the coffee no less than 20 times (I have counted), he takes a sip and loudly sighs, WHEW! He looks at me and asks, where is Doug? I pull out an insulated travel mug, pour his coffee into it and cheerfully say, “in the car, let’s go!”
This morning was different. Doug ran a neighborhood 5K and not wanting to be late I knew there was a good possibility we would be driving two cars to church today. Papa asked, where is Doug? and I reminded him Doug was racing and he would drive separately today. Will he meet us at the church? I handed him a new insulated travel mug with his Vietnamese Coffee and assured him that Doug will meet us before communion and we started walking to the car.
I glanced at the stained carpet at the foot of the stairs as we were walking outside and had a brainstorm, the perfect solution to our daily drips of coffee dilemma. If Papa used one of the insulated travel mugs every day he wouldn’t spill any coffee walking down the stairs! Why hadn’t we thought of that sooner? I smiled to myself thinking this is great; sometimes the answers are so simple and right in front of you the whole time.
Halfway to church I realized Papa had not had a sip of his coffee yet, so I reminded him it was warm and ready. He picked up the new mug, looked at it and twisted it in his hands. He pushed the locked button with his thumb on his chin and attempted to drink from it using the vent hole. I realized my genius idea of having him use a travel mug every morning will only work if he knows how to use the travel mug. Fortunately there was a red light where I could quickly show him that the lock button faces away from him and he can hold it down with your fingers as he drinks out of the larger hole. Papa took a sip. Huh! This is pretty sharp! I never saw anything like this before.
Tomorrow we will leave a bowl on the counter with two packets of instant oatmeal in it, along with his white board with a note saying there is either a ham sandwich or tortellini on the second shelf for the refrigerator, but we will also leave a travel coffee mug. And hopefully when I get home from work I will see the empty mug in the sink along with his oatmeal bowl. Now, if we can just find a way for him to use a plate so there are fewer crumbs on all of the counters…..
I am not sure if my bucket list is actually longer than my husband’s or if it is just my active drive to complete the many items on my unwritten quest for adventure. Doug knows me, and my imaginary list well and last Christmas he thoughtfully provided me with a voucher for a hot air balloon ride. I have been patiently waiting until autumn to see the seasonal changes from above and put the proverbial check in the hot air balloon box. Over the past two weeks our ride has been scheduled, cancelled, and rescheduled several times due to less than optimal weather conditions. Papa knew Doug and I were planning a ride and yesterday when we asked Papa if he wanted to go with us up into the hot air balloon. He answered immediately; sure I’ll try it!
Today was a beautiful fall day, the temperature was in the mid 70’s, there was minimal wind and the visibility was amazing. We received the mid morning call that the flight was on. I raced home from work and Doug tried to contact Papa to let him know that today was the day. Calling multiple times Doug was not able to reach Papa by phone. In a bit of a panic we arrived to home to find the power had been out all morning. We have cordless handsets located throughout our home, but only one hard-wired phone. Papa heard the telephone ringing as we tried to contact him, but the wireless model that he was attempting to answer was not working. I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been to keep trying to answer a telephone only to hear it continue to ring. After we pulled up Papa was standing looking out of the window. The power is out, and the phones aren’t working right, they only ring and ring. The mystery of the ringing phone was quickly forgotten when we told Papa we were going to ride in a hot air balloon. Today is the day! He was ready to go.
Papa quietly sat in the back seat for our hour-long drive just looking out the window. We tried to make conversation but he provided the short one-word answers he typical does when he is nervous. It was a scenic drive but I was concerned that he might have been second-guessing his decision to come with us. Shortly after we arrived at the meeting place the truck pulled up and he saw the basket all of his questions came flowing out like a gust of wind. Where are we, is this still Virginia? It is country, not like where you live. Where is the balloon? It looks like a big basket, are we all going to go in that basket? How does the balloon fill? What kind of fuel do they use? I wonder what makes it float? The pilot quickly started unpacking and putting everyone to work while Papa started checking it out just as if he was looking under the hood of one of his old cars. I asked him if he was excited and ready to go and Papa just smiled and nodded.
The balloon was quickly laid out and filled with air using two large fans while the pilot gave us instruction. He explained he was going to fire the burner, the gondola would stand upright and just like watching the Wizard of Oz we would have to quickly climb in the basket before it floated off. This is when my second wave of concern hit. Papa is not very flexible…or fast. Hang on; my leg doesn’t bend that far. Someone pushed, another person pulled and a third person helped him lift his leg over the edge. He rolled over the rim, grinned and off we went. Wow! It is floating. Wow! This is nice.
Several times during the flight Papa looked at the pilot and asked, how do you steer this? I just wonder how you make it go to the right place? The pilot would chat with Papa for a few moments on an unrelated subject and then have to turn back the burner hoping to distract him. Papa would look at the beautiful fall foliage or watch the animals below and several minutes later he would ask again, how do you make it go where you want it to? I am not sure he understood that the pilot can only change our altitude by climbing or descending and other than that we were depending on favorable wind currents to direct us safely from one open field to another, and I don’t think any of us was about to explain the flight of a hot air balloon mid-air. We enjoyed our spectacular birds eye view and changed the subject each time Papa asked about how the balloon moves.
After a gentle upright landing we watched the pilots and chaser pack up the balloon and I mentioned to Papa that he had been very quiet on our drive and asked if he had been concerned before we went up. The words, which seemed so sparse as we were in the car, were still easily flowing. I wasn’t worried, I was just thinking about what it would be like. I laughed and mentioned that this was a new experience for all of us, we didn’t know what to expect either and we were very happy he had wanted to go with us. Was it what you expected? Did you have fun? Yes!It was smooth; I never knew they used fans to fill it with air. I just couldn’t imagine that it would be that smooth or quiet. Well, it was pretty loud when he turned on the fire. Did you see the animals? I liked watching the animals. Did you hear the dogs bark? I never knew sound travels up in the air. Why do they use a basket? I don’t know how it held us; it was just a basket, a wicker basket. How far did we go? How are we going to get back to our car? I never thought I would ride in a balloon at eighty. I just never thought I would have the opportunity. I liked it. Thank you, I really did like it.
Papa had as much fun on our adventure as we did. And now he gets to check something off on his bucket or in this instance, his basket list.
We declined the champagne this time, but many balloonists recite the Balloonist’s Blessing with the toast at the end of every ride:
The winds have welcomed you with softness
The sun has blessed you with its warm hands
You have flown so high and so well
That God has joined you in your laughter
and set you gently back into the loving arms of mother earth.
Last weekend we were looking for something to do that might interest Papa and decided to go to an antique car show. Papa was hesitant at first wondering how far he would have to walk, but quickly warmed up to the idea as soon as he saw the lines of old cars stretching over several blocks. It was fun to see his excitement at the different model vehicles, and to see the old mechanic come out in him. He could name every pre-1975 car and tell us the year it was made, if the colors were replicated correctly and if he had ever worked on that type of vehicle. Pausing to look under the hood of most of the vehicles he made sure the engine was not only properly refurbished but also as clean on the inside as it was outside. Look at that engine, look at all that room! I have fat Italian fingers, see how there is room for me to work on these cars; cars aren’t made like that anymore. After we completed the first row of old cars I realized he was walking by some vehicles much faster than others, and while we were into the second row I looked over to Doug who nodded and whispered, “He has always been a Ford man.” Sure enough, he was walking by every one of the Chevys. Papa reminisced about his cars the entire trip home prompting us to start looking for pictures of the various vehicles he has owned.
Papa’s first car was a 1935 Ford convertible. He was 17 at the time and bought it for $150.00. My Ma and Dad never paid for my cars, and my Dad was worried when I bought this one. It had mechanical brakes and my dad told me to be careful, he didn’t think they were safe.
Papa was working at Strang’s Cities Service, a local garage on the corner of North Avenue and Ridgeland in Waukegan, Illinois. It was across the street from Louie’s, do you remember Louie’s? He laughed when I remind him I wasn’t around back then. As with all of his cars Papa did the engine work, but left it to auto body professionals to repaint this car’s exterior from black to blue. It looked really nice; I wish I had a picture of that car. He went on to tell me about a near miss he had while operating that vehicle. I was driving one day on Glen Flora at the North Shore tracks and could not stop; I had to swerve to get through a train gate. I must have looked concerned because Papa assured me a train was not coming even though the gate was down. I ripped the car top on the train gate and left my car at the shop that night. When I came home without my car my Dad asked me if I wrecked it. I said Nooo Dad; I am putting hydraulic brakes in it. My dad said, “Come here, let me kiss you, now I can sleep at night.” Mechanical brakes were not made for panic stops; I guess my dad was right they weren’t too safe. I think Ford was the last carmaker to use hydraulic brakes in all of their cars.
Papa smiled when he saw a picture of his 1950 Ford Convertible. I asked him why he liked convertibles, and was told they were the style. I didn’t put the top down in the winter, but I liked to drive with it down in the summer. It never bothered me in the cold weather. Look, this car had skirts, it was neat. I didn’t know what skirts were but he explained they covered the back wheels. See how they come half way down in the back. And look at the tires, white wall tires back then were wide. I used a lot of steel wool and soap on this car keeping the wheels clean. It was sharp. Every Friday night we would Scoop the Loop on Genesee Street between Grand and Belvidere. It was the main business area in Waukegan for a long time. We just drove out cars back and forth and made a lot of noise honking and yelling at our friends. Everybody did it. The police controlled us if we got too loud, but we didn’t really cause any trouble. It was a lot of fun. I can picture a handsome young Papa getting dressed up on Friday nights just to Scoop the Loop with his pals so they could show off their cars.
We were on a mission and pulled out another box of photos digging for more car pictures. Papa smiled when he found the next batch, he was about 23 and had just completed basic training in Fort Leonardwood, Missouri after being drafted in the Army. My Ma and Dad came to my graduation and so did Marge and Clarence Geib, they were like second parents to Geri. They brought her to Ft. Leonardwood in their 1955 Ford Fairlane. That Ford was a comfortable car. It was like a big family having everyone there. He took one more look at the photograph before saying I don’t know whose old Chevy that is next to their car. Yes, Papa is a Ford man. He was also a pretty sharp looking Private in 1956 standing next to his beautiful young bride.
As I continue digging in the box, Papa explained to me that he had owned a lot of cars. We just traded them for other cars. This is my 54 Mercury Monterey, it was a stick shift. That Merc was a really nice car. We bought it used but it was only a couple of years old. Papa smiled again as he looked at Nana posing next to his really nice car and told me, she was pretty nice too. Yes Papa, she was. I don’t see a picture but I had a 54 Ford junker. I used that car to get back and forth to work after I was married. I drove that car and never even washed it once. Not once. It was a rust bucket, but then all cars in Illinois rust pretty quick. I had a 53 Ford hard top too, that sure was a good one. I drove the hardtop when I wasn’t at work. I don’t see any pictures of that either.
I handed Papa another photograph and he continued on. That is my 1969 Ford F100 Ranger. We bought that new, but it was not our first new car. That is a 15-foot Kent behind it, our first trailer. Man, that pulled good. We had a lot of fun times camping. That is just what we did back then, it was enjoyable. I wonder if I asked Doug and Daryl if they would remember camping as fondly as Papa does.
We also found a picture from 1991 of his 68 Ford pickup pulling their 5th Wheel. That was a 30’ Real-Lite, it had everything on it. We bought that when we retired and I wanted to travel over the United States and visit all of the friends we met in the service. I wish Geri and I had been able to do that. That truck was OK too, I wanted another 69 but this was almost as good.
After his boys left home Papa bought a 1968 Barracuda to refinish. I am not sure what year I bought that car but it took me a while to finish. I did all of the engine work, and the guy that did the interior and the outside did a super job. I wish I had kept that car; I could have driven it forever. Someone is Arizona is probably still driving it.
I do recall that car sitting in his garage for quite a few years in the mid 80’s, and definitely agree that it was a pretty cute muscle car; I wish he had kept it also.
The car Papa brought up the most and was most excited to talk about was his 1963 ½ Ford Galaxie 500 XL. He knew we had to have a photograph in our growing pile. I was glad Papa was the one to pick it out. Found it! That was the first car that I bought brand new. It cost me $3400 and I even had to finance it for three years. It. Was. Sharp.
The color was called heritage burgundy and Geri picked out coral for the interior. It looked really good. It was a fastback, you know, the kind that looks more streamlined. We had that car for a long time. We pulled the trailer with it and took a lot of nice trips when the kids were young. I think Geri liked that car as much as I did.
Papa spoke about other cars, but we were not able to find pictures. I had an old Dodge charger I wanted to redo. It had a Hemi with dual exhaust, positive traction and nitrous oxide boost. Wow! That is in the early 80’s and with two teenagers in the house maybe it was a good thing he never finished a speed car like that. I can vividly remember the sound of that engine revving up the few times Doug or Daryl did drive it to school. I reminded him it also had holes in the floor, or as Papa might say, another Illinois rust bucket. Of course I had a Gremlin. I smiled this time. Papa actually had two Gremlins. One was totaled in an accident, but that is another post. I fondly remember his second Gremlin, and while we did not Scoop the Loop, Doug and I spent many a date night in High School driving in and around Zion in that beige car.
The car show was a great way to spend last Sunday, it was a beautiful day and we logged over two miles that afternoon examining all the cars Fords. But as it turns out, the Bowling Green Virginia Car Show was really not the highlight of our week. Because Papa had come home talking about the many vehicles he had owned we were inspired to spend the rest of the week digging through old pictures with him. We found photographs he didn’t remember existed and brought back memories that he had not thought about in years. Papa told us some great stories, and it was in Papa’s own words, entertaining.
Papa might have arrived back at our house in mid September but it took a couple of weeks for him to really come home after his summer vacation. His July vacation turned into an extended two-month stay in California and a quick jaunt to Hawaii vacationing with the West Coast Maroccos’. Traveling can take a lot out of anyone but is extremely difficult for a person with memory loss. Not only does a person experience the anxiety of actual travel, but adjusting into a new environment and then re-acclimating once you arrive home is not easy. Familiarities and routines that may have seemed dull to an outsider are actually a lifeline for people with memory loss. The stability of his day-to-day routines offers a sense of peace, which can be disorienting if broken. He left being an active part of our home life and returned as if he was only here for a temporary visit. In the past month I have realized we may never get back to all of his former routines, but we are constantly working with Papa and reassuring him we will find new ones.
Some things did not change. The day Papa came home he walked directly to his chair, sat down, picked up the remote and said my chair is still good, and I missed my TV. We call Papa’s fancy electric recliner his command center, like his room it is his space entirely and does not change no matter what else is going on. His table that was brought from Arizona is covered with his belongings and we use caution in dusting it to make sure everything is put back in its place. He might offer his seat to another person, but you can sense an anxiety in his voice as he says it. Do you want to sit in my chair really means please sit somewhere else in the room and I will turn on Walker, Texas Ranger for us to watch. That chair is his space, his bubble, his comfort zone. It holds photographs, unread magazines, word search books and his calendar at his fingertips. He controls the remote and screens every telephone call without stretching more than an arms distance. He is able to sit in that space and make immediate choices that affect both him and everyone else in the room.
Other changes were quickly noticeable. Papa never really said NO before, he has always been game to try new and different experiences and would let us know what he thought afterwards. When he first returned home I was worried with the frequency of the two letter “N” word. He may have mentioned he was tired of walking at times but he never stopped doing things. Now we heard NO, I am old; my feet don’t work right; I can’t walk like I used to. No, I will just wait here. I don’t know if I want to do that or No,I don’t know what I want to eat. Sometimes he would just look at us and shrug his shoulders. I had not realized how much of an issue this really was until he decided to sit in the car instead of going into Costco with Doug his first week back. Costco on a Sunday afternoon is like a playground for Papa, he enjoys the free samples at the end of every aisle or picking up a hotdog or a frozen yogurt on our way out. He did not exercise as much on vacation due to a medical issue, but that has been resolved. We realized we have to start from scratch to build him up again, to find things he is interested in doing, increase his stamina and encourage him to say YES! We started slowly walking again, very slowly. But every step he makes is a moment he is up and experiencing life.
I am not sure if Papa had forgotten or if he just didn’t feel comfortable any longer loading his breakfast dishes or bring his dirty clothes to the laundry each morning. He didn’t remember that he used to help me cook dinner every evening or help Doug clean up the kitchen afterwards. His new habit after a meal was to immediately go right back to his chair and ask us when we were going to come sit down with him and watch TV. Where he used to involve himself as the center of our activities he was now worried about getting in the way. But most discouraging for us was noticing he was pausing and waiting for someone to answer for him. We reassured him constantly that indecisiveness is not an option. Papa has a voice and must be an active part in discussions and decisions that affect him. Even if he does not recall each conversation we want him to always be able to freely express his questions, wants and needs and he is never, ever in the way.
I was not prepared for Papa’s slow acclimation back home and was thrilled each time I saw his comfort level expand from his chair to the rest of the house and then to outside activities. We noticed he started feeling more confident after his first ROMEO (Retired Old Men Eating Out) breakfast with the guys. Our weekly Costco runs have improved to where in week two Papa went inside and waited by the snack bar but by week three he watched the Smoothie demonstration for 15 minutes and then wandered over to pick up each and every one of the free samples being offered that day. He loves seeing his friends at church on Sunday, especially when Karen brings him cookies. We went to a car show this past weekend and he looked under every hood and ended up walking over two miles without noticing the distance. We have set out a white board to remind him what his options are for breakfast and lunch or if there is something he can do during the day to keep busy. Last night after running a few errands and then sitting at our neighbors little league game he mentioned I think I want to let my hair grow for a while and It is good to be home. No longer feeling like he is on vacation he has started acting like he lives here again. Yes Papa, we are happy you are home too!