how to waste a week of life
I started writing this story in 2005 and a little more in 2007. I wrote notes about my impressions of things as Cheryl and I took my mom and dad on a vacation trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Looking back through the distance of fifteen years is not as difficult as I thought it might be. As I read my old notes – I am a terrible journal writer – I can see the inside of the condo we rented in N. Myrtle Beach, my new Dodge Intrepid, the IHOP near Mom’s house, Dad’s brown pajamas, both of them in the back seat of my car, lots of images.
My notes are not so much a chronology of the trip as they are notes and impressions of conversations with my father, conversations with the person I chose to be with for the rest of my life and thoughts about the situation as it unfolded.
I now spend most of my waking day and much of the night as caregiver to my wife of fifty years who is dealing with Parkinson’s disease. In some ways this trip was training for my role as caregiver. I didn’t know it at the time. Also at about this time 2004 to 2005 Cheryl first presented early symptoms of PD. We merely did not know the diagnosis then.
Mom snookers her son…
It started out as an innocuous question during a conversation in my living room. On a cold winter’s night in January my mother wanted to know if I intended to takes a vacation this year.
“Paul, are you and Cheryl going on vacation this year?” – Mom
“Oh, I suppose so, Mom. We haven’t made any plans. (Looking at Cheryl with the naïve face that men wear around in front of their mother) What do you think, dear? Do you have any thoughts about that?” – Me.
“Well, I …” –Cheryl
“I’m asking because I thought we could go to Myrtle Beach.” – Mom.
There it was laying out there for all to see, except for me. Mom had to get to the beach. I was the designated driver, the free hack, a cheap ticket, a devoted son.
“Oh. What do you think, dear?” – Me
The trapped look on Cheryl’s face should have communicated more than it did. Wedded bliss is rarely confused with motherly affection but in the dense vacuum that descended in that room any interpretation of facial expressions or body language zipped over my head at warp speed. I missed it, totally missed it.
Although this is the way I remember the original conversation Cheryl has pointed out that the first conversation, in fact, occurred in a TGI-Friday’s restaurant on the way to the Playhouse in the Park. I remember the trapped look accurately; however, it was not from across the room. Cheryl was sitting right next to me. In retrospect this is perhaps the real reason why her face is so vivid in my memory. It also reveals how impressions and memories change with time.
She later told me that she did feel trapped.
There is a hegemony that mothers have (some of them anyway) over their sons. It is a feeling that all young wives feel, detect, and react to with their husbands. Women who have been married for many years should not feel this. Cheryl felt it then.
Trapped! The Legendary Rock and The Hard Place. Between The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea. There are lots of colloquialisms for the feeling.
Neither of us had traveled much, if at all, with our respective parents since we were children. I could not remember my last experience at all. Cheryl had taken her mother to Rockford, Illinois recently upon the birth of our first grandson. But ignorance is bliss (yet another cliché) and luck was on the side of my mother.
Let the discussion begin!
Cheryl gives in
Cheryl caved in early. Although at the time I did not know that there was any caving to do. I moved clearly in a different orbit than my lovely wife. She knew that she was stuck with much of the organizing because as is true of most of our trips to anywhere, she did the planning. We maintained a membership with AAA Travel specifically for this purpose.
This is 2005. The internet was a wonderful thing so far, but it had yet to achieve its current insidious and and pervasive wonderfulness. Maps were still useful. Off to the AAA store for a triptik (remember?) and some of those nice books about what to see and where to see it. And what to eat and where to eat it.
The route was mapped out. East and south from Cincinnati, Ohio to Charlotte, North Carolina where my cousin John and his wife Una lived. They graciously put us up in their house in Gastonia and fed us dinner the first night we were there.
Then on to North Myrtle Beach which was a part of the Myrtle Beach area that Cheryl and I had not traveled to with our children. Perhaps some touring around to see what could be seen in four days and then home.
Thanks for the memories
We picked up Mom and Dad on June 5, 2005 and started toward Myrtle Beach. We did not go far on the first leg. We went to IHOP about a mile from Mom and Dad’s house. We had a nice breakfast that couldn’t be beat (line from and old song — Alice’s restaurant massacre). There were virtually no cars in their parking lot — I am unsure of the time of day but it was probably mid-morning. After brunch as I was getting onto the ramp pointing my car south, I thought that I should have picked up Mom’s wheelchair placard. It would have been handy. But first real stop was Charlotte, North Carolina. We would make it there in a mere seven and a half hours not counting stops.
From my notes: June 6, 2005 — We left John and Una’s house at about 10:30 AM and we arrived at our accommodations in North Myrtle Beach at about 3:30 PM. I made no notations about dinner at John and Una’s house. Cheryl and I had visited them once or twice before so I can tell you that they have a very nice large house with a big screened in porch and shaded rear yard. They often eat breakfast on the porch in the morning and although I have no notes to that effect I imagine that is where we ate breakfast. John and Una are great hosts.
I did make notes about the rental in N. Myrtle Beach; nice place, tile floors throughout, on the fourth floor, beach side balcony, walk in shower for the master bath, king size bed in master bedroom. — my notes end here.
(I closed my eyes to see it) — Cheryl and I took the “kids” accommodation. There was a second bedroom with a queen bed and the mattress still wrapped in the plastic it was shipped in. The secondary bath was down the hall. In the hall was two other sets of bunk beds so the condo officially slept eight. It had a small kitchen and a combination dinning-living area. Glass sliders lead to the balcony. The ceramic tile floors aided with cleaning. I imagined someone blowing the dust and sand out to the balcony and off then maybe a damp mop everywhere. An hour tops would be all that was needed if there where two people. All clean and ready to go for the next bunch.
This is not a picture of the balcony but it was very much like this. Make a trip to any east coast beach rental property. You will see. Notes again — we went to Applebee’s for dinner (probably because it was familiar). We bought lots of food at Food Lion – a lot (sic).
June 8, 2005 — Went to Sara J’s last night for dinner – Catfish was good. Mom had catfish. Cheryl had crab cakes. Dad had shrimp and grits. Those are my notes from June 7, 2005. No other chronology about where we went or what we looked at.
On the eighth of June, however, we must have visited John and Bea Maxwell. They have been friends for a long time. Many years age they sold all in Cincinnati and bought a small family run motel in Myrtle Beach about three blocks inland from the beach. Every couple of years when the kids were small we used to go stay at their motel and visit and do beach stuff. It is where I slept through hurricane Bob.
I made these notes… Abbey got married last weekend. She wore Bea’s dress. John now works at a golf course three days a week. Bea is a real estate folk for Remax. Shannon is divorced. Libby has two sons.
From notes of this page — Mom and Dad seem to be very relaxed here. Mom is content to sit on the balcony and so it Dad. (more about this elsewhere) Dad wants ice cream. If Mom is not interested I will take him. — Even though I have few notes about this trip I have lots of memory snippets. Mom was using her walker at the time. She seemed unsteady in her gait. Dad was merely walking with his cane that I had made for him from a tree limb in my back yard. The whole point of the trip was to get Mom on the beach and she seemed uninterested in walking on the sand. We had tried to entice her several times by now. I started to look for public accesses were I could actually drive onto the beach and let Mom out to walk. I drove to one or two in the evening after dinner at various restaurants. Mom would look but not get out of the car.
Cheryl conferred with Bea and found a place that rents wheelchairs with big fluffy tires for rolling on sand. We though we could rent one and drive to a public beach access and figure it out. Mom was NOT buying it. No! Nada! Nicht! Not on your life.
I think it was the last night we would be there, after dinner, I asked Mom if she wanted to go walk on the beach. She said yes! I walked with Dad in front of Mom and Cheryl. I commented to him that Mom seemed to be walking better today. He replied with inside knowledge. Yes, he said. She took her pills today. (whiskey tango foxtrot) We only walked for about fifty yards or so and then found our way back to the boardwalk over the dune. Mom had walked onto the beach.
Pondering and Thoughts
Dad and I talked about various things while sitting and staring at the beach from the balcony. These are from my notebook.
Dad spent time at Cacawani (sp?) beach in Hawaii on the other side of Waikiki on the way home after the war and his part in it. They were tasked with cleaning up an ammo dump. His only comment – Nice beach!
He made an ash tray out of a coconut and some kamikaze shrapnel. — I remember seeing this as a kid but I did not know Dad had made it. I had never heard this story before.
Dad had an “out of body” dream when he had his heart attack a couple years before this time. He described it as running across a light green field with Robby and Jeffy – hand in hand. (I drew a little picture of stick figures.) Robby and Jeffy are his grandsons and would have been about 8 and 6 at the time. His dream ends with his grandsons hitting him in each side of his chest. Dad woke up and realized that they had just defibrillated him. He woke up. (sic) – his words.
More notes – An Impression: Mom seems more and more like my grandmother (her mother) as time goes on. Dad does not always hear her. She has to shout at him. Dad has some hearing loss with certain noises and frequencies that he hears. It drowns out any conversation. (A lot of What did you say?)
I wonder whether this trip was a good thing for us. I think that sometime Cheryl feels invaded upon. — She likes her quiet time to read. I have tried to be as solicitous of her as much (more) than my parents. I love her. She is putting up with a lot… (comment from notes.)
… and a repeat comment — It seems as though Mom and Dad shout at each other more – they cannot hear what the other says. Who or what was Tantalus? Perdition = ? (I made this note fifteen years ago for some unknown reason. Today with the wonderfulness of Wikipedia – Tantalus was a Greek mythological figure, most famous for his eternal punishment in Tartarus. He was also called Atys. He was made to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches, with the fruit ever eluding his grasp, and the water always receding before he could take a drink.) I do not know that it has much to do with Mom and Dad shouting at each other. I may have become interested in Greek mythology. C. S. Lewis I associate with religious philosophy. We read some of his work in high school literature class. Perdition fits with that line of thought.
Notes and more comments. — Three days is plenty long for Cheryl to be with my parents. She has been trying for some time to read her book. This is a relaxation that she rarely takes at home.It is one that she looks forward to on vacation. But it is not happening here as much as she would like.
This is a good place to come for Mom and Dad. The balcony let’s them enjoy the beach without the physical struggle of getting on and off of it over the dune.
It is an interesting reflection as to what I was expecting on this trip. I had in mind growing closer to my parents – Dad especially – but you cannot get closer than you already are. It is false to think otherwise.
Cheryl has been (is) positively perfect. It takes 5 – 6 hours of putzing to get Mom going. And after that she is not moving anyway. I think this is getting to my life companion. She has been showing extreme patience.
You should temper your expectations when loving and helping older people. They often do better than you think.
June 9, 2005
Tonight after dinner we get Mom and Dad down to the beach. — YES!! —
In my notebook the previous sentence is written in big letters after a note that Sharon and her two boys, Matthew and Michael, came to visit.
Some pondering and thoughts about old age are next in my notes. I must have spent a great deal of time observing my parents as they are, not how I wish them to be.
As we get older we struggle with reconciling what we desire (to do) with what we are capable (able to do). This imponderable question is the one paradigm that we have the least ability to shift. The main conundrum of older life.
Young people who have had some ability or talent removed by an accident or mishap are shown empathy and are grieved with. But they have been given a gift. They have been forced to deal with and overcome some new shortfall while their other faculties are still sharp.
An older person must face this same problem at a time when they have fewer alternatives. A young person who looses sight can be taught (and learn) to operate with less than perfect vision. An older person may just sit and grieve until the [END].
A list; Legs-walking, Legs-steps, Back-laying, Joints-get up and sit, Muscle atrophy, Mental atrophy (end)
A new list: things that concern you if you are old…
- Food – all types and sorts of it
- not wasting anything – especially food. “Take it home to the dog.”
- Being very upset with portion size –> too much (goes back to wastefulness.)
- Being satisfied with the holistic(?) view and being satisfied that some detail can be complained about. (rolls and butter)
- unaware of your stance and surroundings (get out of the car but not far enough away to close the door.
A dinner story that I wrote in my journal which probably prompted me to write the lists in the previous passage:
We went to Bennett’s Calabash Seafood Buffet. It is one of the stops we make to round out our Myrtle Beach visit. It puts you into the mood of the southeast coast and deep fried ocean prey.
Cheryl and I ordered the buffet. It is way too much stuff but we always did it once while visiting Myrtle Beach with the kids. Mom and Dad ordered a couple of platters. Mom had shrimp and other things on her platter. Dad ordered scallops and other things on his platter. They were entitled to the salad bar and a drink. This is as I recall the standard fair a Bennett’s. I am reading my notebook to tell this story.
Cheryl and I went to the salad bar for Mom and Dad and selected a bunch of different things. (GOOD SALAD BAR – from my notes) We got salads for our selves and returned to the table. Eventually Mom and Dad’s platters showed up. I was finished with my salad and left the table to have a go at the seafood buffet with hundreds of selections. Cheryl did the same when I returned to the table.
Mom and Dad began to complain about the size of the platter portion. They were big plates. Even by my standards the platters were big. — I have noticed that I don’t eat as much as I once did and less so today. — Cheryl related to me that she thought Dad was going to have a literal heart attack (again). He stared at his platter and seemed to be breathing funny. Mom commented on the HUGE PORTION SIZE. (sic) This last is written in all caps in my notes.
They both seemed to shutdown after that There was a curious sensory overload that took over. They picked at their plates and ate some but little of the platter was eaten. The appetite was gone. Maybe too much salad?
One night for entertainment we went to Wal-Mart. As I recall Mom had expressed dissatisfaction with the towels provided in the condo. I suppose they were not the highest quality but its a condo for rent. We would be leaving the condo with the less than satisfactory towels and the queen size mattress still in the plastic wrapper and the half dozen or so other deficiencies in a couple days. Why fret about towels and buy new ones? The shopping experience — I had forgotten the shopping in a foreign land experience. So we went to Wal-Mart.
I dropped everyone off near the store entrance and left to park the car.
I caught up with everyone as Mom and Dad were selecting baskets to push. They both took one. I can still see Dad flopping his cane into the basket and off he went towards electronic things. Mom took off in a different direction — towels. I was thinking about this and something at the end of an aisle distracted me for a bit . While I was looking at the display everyone disappeared. Poof!
I located Dad first staring at the computer display. He would be there for awhile so I wandered off to locate Mom. Cheryl was with her looking at towels. A couple days later we drove the towels back to Ohio.
Cantaloupe – the god damned cantaloupe. — When we first arrived in Myrtle Beach we made a trip to Food Lion to get some breakfast things. There was absolutely no way to get Mom going early enough to go somewhere for a nice breakfast, brunch or lunch. So, we bought some eggs, bacon, cantaloupe, cereal, etc. I do not recall what all we purchased but the cantaloupe I made note of. I had participated in taking Mom to the grocery many times at home and should have paid more attention to how she shops. She would let her stomach lead her around the store. Cantaloupe for breakfast? — that idea went into the waste bin when she discovered I would make her scrabbled eggs if she asked me.
At the end of our week as I was cleaning up a bit and loading the car for the return trip She spied the cantaloupe in the fridge along with one egg and maybe a third of a bottle of milk. Mom – that cantaloupe is good we should take it home. (It was in fact still whole.) Me – No. I’m going to pitch it in the garbage. We don’t have any way to keep it cold and it might make it but I’m not going to worry about it. The cereal can go in the trunk but the egg and cantaloupe and milk I’m going to pitch. Mom – Oh, just leave it in the fridge. The cleaning people will take it home with them and eat it. Me – Probably not. I imagine they will pitch it and wipe out the inside of the fridge.
She quit talking to me when I put it in a garbage bag and put it in the trash… with the egg and dumped the milk carton in the sink. I was a food waster. Mom was a child in the depression of the early twentieth century.
The following is an isolated conversation between Mom and Dad as we left a restaurant in Grayson, Kentucky on the last leg of our trip home. (Close your eyes and listen to it.) It is not about things that men and women do in bed.
Mom — Can I help you?
Dad — Yeh. I can feel it but it’s so limp I can’t do anything with it.
Mom — I’ll help. Give it here!
(struggle, struggle) … Mmmm.
Mom — Is it in yet?
Dad — No!
Mom — Shoot! (actually she may have said -shit)
Mom — There you have to put it in the right way.— getting the seat-belt on correctly
When I found my notes about this I had to laugh. Cheryl and I heard this from the back as we started toward the AA highway in Grayson. I think we ate lunch in a Schoeney’s restaurant there. Cheryl looked at me with a smile and then peeked over her shoulder to look at what was going on back there. I wrote it down while it was still fresh in my memory. It still makes me smile when I think about it.
A hundred miles later we were home. Looking back my main memory is driving to the restaurant door. Dropping all off and then going to park. At the end of dinner, lunch or whatever I did the reverse.
This trip occurred near the end of my journey toward an M. Ed. I spent a great deal of free time over the previous four or five years reading all sorts of things. My old journals – 100 page composition notebooks – are filled with copied quotations that impressed me at the time. On this trip I must have been reading C. S. Lewis. He was a favorite from high school and several times during my life I have rediscovered him. The quote below is included with my notes about this excursion to get Mom to the beach.
…We are not living in a world were all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the center: rather in a world where every road after a few miles forks in two, and each of those in two again, and at each fork you must make a decision. Even on the biological level life is not like a pool but like trees. It does not move toward unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good.C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce.
I do not recall why I might have been reading C. S. Lewis at the time. I have no idea why this particular passage struck me enough to write it in my notebook. Nor do I have a personal internalization that I made note of. It is very philosophical. — the universe is moving toward entropy.
But Mom walked on the beach.