Aging Parents

There is an email from my father in my email box this morning.  It’s full of worry and anxiety about my grandmother.

My dad’s mom is 93 years old.  That in itself is amazing.  She’s been around so long, I think, that everyone has long since taken her presence for granted.  That is, until the last little while.

She had a life threatening infection last year, and was hospitalized.  But miraculously, she recovered.  Her knee replacement, years old, had inexplicably become infected.  It had to be removed, and she lived without a joint for six weeks until all of the infected material was sure to be gone.  Then she had surgery to replace the missing knee joint.

At age 91, that seemed crazy.  And that she wouldn’t pull through.  We all rallied around her bedside.  But she pulled through.

Nearly a year later, she fell in the hallway at home on the way to the bathroom.  It was a few days before Christmas; my family was with my father in Florida.  She was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, where her shattered hip was repaired.  After a few weeks at rehab, she was sent home.  No one could believe it.  She pulled through again.

But when I visited a few months later, this past May for Mother’s Day, I wasn’t so sure.  She really didn’t look any better than when I’d last seen her in January, a week after returning home.  She could hardly walk, and needed her walker to do so.  She couldn’t use the bathroom unassisted.  She complained of being tired, so tired.  And she just didn’t seem to have the spunk and the fight that we’d all been so very used to.

I warned my father to be prepared when he went to visit his parents this summer.  That she wasn’t as resilient as he might be thinking based on his phone conversations with her.  That things were headed down a one way road.  And I made plans to visit her again, while he visited.

When I came, just two months after my previous visit, she didn’t know who I was.  When I entered her living room with my two kids in tow, and kissed her cheek, she spoke to me as if I was a kind acquaintance, not a granddaughter who comes around every few months.

It shocked me.  Even though my grandmother certainly is old enough to be losing her memory, it’s the one thing that has always seemed infallible throughout all of her physical troubles these last few years.  Later, she confused me with my sister, and confided to my father that she didn’t remember my visit on Mother’s Day, at all.  She didn’t even know I’d been there.

I sat my father down, before he left to go back home to Florida, and told him that he had to really start making some plans.  It’s an odd thing, to talk to a parent about how to lose their parent.  It’s a conversation I have had now with so many people that I’ve lost count, the inevitable awfulness that comes with illness and approaching death.  But it’s not a conversation that I ever imagined that I’d have with my father.

He seemed lost.  No, they hadn’t made any plans.  No, they hadn’t discussed anyone’s wishes yet with either his mother, his stepfather, or any of his siblings.   Did I really think these uncomfortable conversations had to happen now, or could they wait?  I reminded him of how much my mother prepared for her death, and how that had helped all of us left behind cope.  She’d untangled every difficult thread for us already, so that all we had to do was follow the threads of the plans she made ahead of time.  He seemed to agree that these conversations were necessary, but like most people I’ve had this conversation with, seemed willing to look for reasons to wait on them.

So for now, I continue to get emails like the one I did today.  My dad will do everything he can around the edges of what is emotionally too hard for anyone in the family to face.  He’ll send repairmen to fix up the house, he will keep an eye on the bank accounts from an Internet Explorer window a thousand miles away, and he’ll make plans to visit again in a few months to see if things still look as grim as they did this summer.

It is all he can do, he says.  And for now, he believes it.



Trip Diary Part Two

Day 10, Saturday:  Time to leave the coast.  Supposed to be out by ten.  Make it out by 11 am, not too shabby.  Unfortunately, driving up the Magistrala on a Saturday in August is a little like leaving your beach house and making your way up the Garden State Parkway or Delaware Route 1 on same.  We end up driving south on the Scary Mountain Road With No Guard Rails to avoid this, going about an hour out of our way.  Inexplicably, my husband’s father makes plans to meet up with a cousin while on the road.  After much delay we meet him two hours later, only about twenty five kilometers from where our beach house was.  Because we are so late, it is literally a stop on the side of the highway.  Five hours to Zagreb takes seven, and we are tired and unhappy when we reach our destination.

Day 11, Sunday:  The place we rent in Zagreb couldn’t be more different than our ultramodern, well equipped beach apartment.  It has lots of historic charm, but it is also not as luxurious or clean.  Still, we settle in, retrieve my eldest and my husband’s sister from the airport, and gear up for Week Two.  End the evening at a lovely outdoor restaurant, where our drinks, huge platter of assorted sausages and meats, wine and crepe desserts for all comes in at around $100 US.  Nice.

Day 12, Monday:  We head to the large open air market in Zagreb and the central square, leaving hubby’s mother and my youngest back at the ranch.  It is everything you expect and love about Europe.  Snag souvenirs and makings for dinner.  Make a quiet meal at home to rest for our big outing the next day.

Day 13, Tuesday:  Today we head to Plitvice National Park, an amazing place that has dozens of lakes interconnected by waterfalls.  The water is insane shades of blue and turquoise.  It is stunning and breathtaking.  And curiously, their snack bar serves the biggest hamburgers I’ve ever seen (and I think they were some mixture of beef, pork and veal because they tasted divine), roast chicken and “cevaptcici”, which is a sausage dish.  We are well fed and happy.

Day 14:  Wednesday:  This day is the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, a national holiday in Croatia.  Many use the day off to go to church, and there are festivals all over.  We choose to head to one of them, at the Shrine of Marija Bistrica, up in the mountains outside of Zagreb.  We miss Mass, which is really a blessing because the crowds are just dissipating as we roll into town, having gotten lost on the way.  Everything about the place is beautiful and reverent and huge and old.

Day 15:  Thursday:  We decide we haven’t seen enough churches and decide to go to the St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Zagreb.  It dominates the city landscape.  My eldest gets impatient waiting for all of the very young and not so young to get their acts together and decides he will walk there, getting to see much of the city along the way.  When he fails to show up at 2pm to our appointed meeting place, I panic and find him just walking up.  He got lost and ended up walking north instead of south, but a bus driver brought him back into town.  End the day meeting six of my husband’s family members and eating yet another pork/veal/sausage meal.  It is at this point I start to wonder if vegetarians could really exist in this part of the world.

Day 16, Friday:  Our last full day in Zagreb.  We want to see the Gornji Grad, or the Upper (Oldest Part of) Town.  There is much to see here, including St. Mark’s Church with its colorful roof, and the Stone Gate which protected the city from invaders.  We end up negotiating with my husband’s father to meet another friend for lunch rather than dinner, since we all want to start getting ready for our trip back the next day.  Lunch ends up being a 2 hour affair at a lovely restaurant called Vinodol.  I have fish for the first time since we left the coast (most of the menu being again the pork/veal/sausage options), which freaks my kids out.  Also, this friend of my father in law’s actually speaks English, which is a refreshing change.  I realize how much I miss hearing English at this point and think, I am ready to go back.

Day 17, Saturday:  While our flight doesn’t leave until 3:30, my eldest son’s leaves earlier so the morning is a whirlwind of packing, eating and worrying about travel.  It is at this point where my youngest loses his shit and has a meltdown.  I am actually grateful, because it has been brewing for days, and I am glad it happened at home and not at the airport.  I cry as I soothe him and calm him down.  At the airport, later, my husband encourages me to have a “Strong Croatian Drink”  (this has been a joke for days as it was the English translation of the spirits section on a restaurant menu), and I do, because there is booze at the gate area.  We arrive in Madrid for our overnight stay.  There is really, unfortunately, only enough time to eat dinner at the hotel and go to sleep since we have a long day ahead tomorrow.  I gulp down three glasses of Chardonnay in the Executive Lounge and try not to stress about the long day tomorrow.

Day 18:, Sunday:  Up at 6:30, Madrid time, to have another go at the 26 Euro breakfast buffet.  I try to fill up on anything I can’t get back in the states:  grilled tomatoes and zucchini, awesome cheeses and proscuitto, even smoked salmon (which I can get at home but doesn’t seem as good, somehow).  I don’t bother with the mimosas in the corner, though I debate with myself for a minute about it.  Just after 9am, we are fed, bags are checked and we have passed through five different passport checks before landing at our gate.  Husband checks at the counter just before boarding to find we have yet again been upgraded to business class.  Hurrah!  Champagne before 11am.   We spend the next eight hours eating and watching movies, even though we should be sleeping.  We land at JFK at 1 in the afternoon.  The worst part of the trip is the drive home on the parkways of New York, which are clogged with Sunday afternoon traffic.  Home is stuffy but welcoming when we get there.

Day 19, Monday:  Not really part of the trip but can’t help but mention it.  Up at 3:30am due to jet lag.   Process photos, have coffee, take poor dog who was locked up at a kennel for our whole trip for a monster 4 mile walk.  Husband goes to work and calls home before 9am:  he has to fly out on a business trip.  Today.  He’ll be home in a few minutes to pack.  Yep, there’s a reason he has all of those points.  Sigh.

Back to reality.

Trip Diary

Day 1:  Thursday.  Husband stays home to help finish last minute packing.  I have made a checklist on the computer of all we need to take on our trip to Croatia with his parents for two weeks.  This is abnormally organized of me, unheard of.  We pack up the car, head to JFK with hours to spare (in deference to my high level of anxiety about traveling so far with two kids in tow).  Miraculously, we get upgraded to business class.  We all relax in our comfy seats, eat way too much lovely food and (well, me at least) proceed to drink as much alcohol as humanly possible since they keep pouring it.  Fall asleep in the bedlike recliner in drunken stupor.

Day 2:  Friday.  Wake up after three very short hours for breakfast (still full from sumptuous dinner) before arriving in Madrid.  We plan on staying here for a full night’s sleep before heading onto Croatia.  Husband rents a car, gets lost when the GPS speaks German and not the Spanish or English he understands, and it takes us 45 minutes to get to the Hilton that is really five minutes away.  Spend the day battling tired kids while trying to soak up Madrid.

Day 3:  Saturday.  Get kids up, eat free breakfast that costs non workaholic husbands with many Hilton points 26 Euros.  Yikes!  Fill up and make sandwiches for the plane.  Good thing, as Iberia Air not only didn’t feed us but charges even for water or soft drinks.  We get neither and land in Zagreb, Croatia around 3 in the afternoon.  Meet up with the in laws and get our rental:  a tank like vehicle that can seat nine.  We drive the behemouth for five plus hours before arriving at a lovely apartment up on a scary hill in Makarska, Croatia.

Day 4:  Sunday.  No food in our rental, as we arrived too late the night before.  It is noon before everyone is up and ready to go out for breakfast/lunch.  We end up at the Croatian version of a greasy spoon, as it is the only place where we can find parking for our ridiculously big car.  Then we spend over two hours at the Super Konzum, the Croatian version of a SuperSize grocery store.  Then we go to church at a 500 year old church.  Everyone else in town does too, so we spend the hour long Mass standing and sweating and (me and the kids at least) not understanding a word.

Day 5:  Monday.  Everyone is still pretty wrecked from traveling.  We hang out most of the very hot day by the pool or in the air conditioned house.  Drinking ensues early while I cook a light pasta for dinner.

Day 6:  Tuesday.  We travel to my father in law’s birthplace.  This means crossing the border into Bosnia-Hercegovina and driving on some super scary mountain roads in our tank.  It is oven like hot when we arrive, greeted with shot glasses full of something super strong on the alcohol scale.  We eat and sweat outside and I try valiantly to understand the conversations swirling around me.  My son nearly loses it after several hours in the heat when my father in law decides to show us around the massive grounds of the family estate.  We leave very late, full of amazing food, and very tired.

Day 7:  Wednesday.  My husband, father in law, daughter and I go seek out the beach.  We find it, and it is lovely.  My little guy stays home with my mother in law, who is physically unable to deal with the beach and likely doesn’t want to anyway.  Afterwards, hubby and I are charged with going to the grocery to get dinner makings, and get gas for the car after yesterday’s trip.  Unfortunately, he fills our diesel vehicle with regular gas, and the rest of the day is spent getting that fixed.  Sandwiches for dinner.

Day 8:  Thursday.  My father in law and I walk into town to go to the open air market.  We use the time to also explore the tiny town, which is lovely and quaint.  It is the first time I really feel like I am experiencing what I expected out of the trip.  We take our fixings home; he and my mother in law cook a traditional Croatian shrimp meal with potatoes and swiss chard on the side.  My daughter, who is mildly allergic to shrimp and ate veal, somehow gets exposed to it and throws up later that night.

Day 9:  Friday.  We take both kids to the beach, which ends badly when I get dizzy and my blood sugar crashes.  I recover later in the day, when my parents in law take us to an amazing seaside outdoor restaurant with views of the town.  It is gorgeous.  It is lovely.  The food is to die for.  It is the perfect way to close the week.

Day 10:  Saturday.  We spend a ridiculous amount of time packing up all of our things at the close of our week at the coast.  An hour later than we planned, we hit the road to return to Zagreb for the second week of our vacation.

To Be Continued…..


Destination: Content

Well, it’s finally here.  We are packing up our suitcases and traveling today overseas.

I have never been to Europe before, so this is a really big deal for me.  I’m continually amazed at the experiences my children are lucky enough to have at a young age.  No one I knew growing up went to Europe.  My kids know people who travel out of the country all of the time; friends of ours just got back from Italy.

I’m excited and apprehensive.  I don’t speak either language of the two countries we’ll be visiting, and neither do my children.  My husband, however, does, so I know we’ll be fine.  It’s more of the independent streak I have, not wanting to feel like a child and having to ask him what everyone is saying.  Or have him correct me when I do try to speak.  But I’ll need to get over it, because I’m so fortunate to be able to do this.

There are so many times when I question the path I chose in my life, the choices I’ve made, the place I’ve landed.  But then there are other times, days like today, when I marvel at the wonders those choices have brought to me.  My three beautiful kids.  Being able to go to Europe.  Living in an area I never even imagined growing up.  Having the chance to send my kids to college and watch them thrive and flourish without (too much) worry.

I remember thinking when I was growing up in a house where money was too scarce that all I wanted to have as an adult was the ability to be “comfortable”.  To not have to worry about each penny, to be able to know that you’ll be able to pay the mortgage every month.  And here I am.  I’m there.

That’s not to say that things are perfect around here.  My husband and I are, continually, a work in progress.  But as a friend of mine said the other day, “It seems like you used to always have one foot out the door.  But now it seems like you’ve figured out a way to make it work.”  There are many days when it doesn’t exactly feel like that, but I guess it must be true.

So today?  Today I am content.  I am looking forward to a once in a lifetime trip that I could have never imagined for myself even just ten years ago.  I am amazed that my special needs son, who five years ago could barely handle sitting through a Mass can now travel on an airplane and look forward to going a place where everything will be different.  I’m sure it won’t be easy, but I know we’ll get through it, and even enjoy it.  How wonderful.  How amazing.

If I am lucky I will post from our destination.  Or maybe the lack of posts you see here will mean I am just too busy having a fabulous time.  Instead of writing about life, I might just choose to live it.  🙂

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