Two Aging Parents and One Road Trip. Oh, My

Denise
Jack on the medal stand in the green shirt. Jack, in the green shirt, on the medal stand.


My nephew made the Illinois State High School State Finals, running in the 3200 meters event. Last year, my folks and I made the trip to watch when he qualified as a freshman in the state meet. Last week, we made the trip again to Charleston, Ill., about 200 miles from home.

The meet was Saturday, with Jack scheduled to race sometime between Noon and 1 p.m. We left Friday morning to make it in time for me to air a 3:30 p.m. podcast (Clinical Trials Help Fight Alzheimer's) from my hotel room.

We pulled into the hotel at about 3 p.m., having survived a rain deluge (I had to pull off the expressway) and one really bad turn (I still have visions of the almost crash I caused). At check in, my dad wanted to take over--getting out his credit card to pay for both rooms, asking for one handicapped room. The request for a handicapped room threw the clerk for a loop so she asked another clerk for help. As they huddled to figure out which rooms are handicapped, my dad asked impatiently, "Well, what about the handicapped room?" "They're working on it, Dad," I snapped.

When they finally figured out options for my parents, the second clerk leaned in to speak with my dad in the quietest voice possible, I guess trying to keep his request for a handicapped room private. "We have several options," she whispered. "For instance, we have a room for the hearing impaired." "I can't hear you, dear," my dad yelled back. I finally stepped in and asked for a room with extra grab bars in the bathroom.

After a second scramble, the clerk handed me a key and asked me to check out the room and let me know if it would work. I led the way, redirecting my mom after she decided not to follow me but set her own course. As I walked down the hall, I turned to look at my parents, barely keeping up in the rear. They looked like I had just pulled them out of a convertible I had been driving at 90 miles an hour with the top down. I'm not sure how a car ride could dishevel them so much, but disheveled they were.

As we entered the room, I started giggling about the clerk whispering about a room for the hearing impaired and my dad yelling back he couldn't hear her. My mom joined in, which made me laugh harder. I almost lost it when I asked my mom if she could manage a shower in the bath tub fitted with a shower chair and grab bars. "Oh, sure, I can get in," she said, bypassing the shower chair and hiking up her pants and leg to try to step over and into the tub. With tears running down my face, I howled, "No, sit on the shower bench. You don't have to climb in."

After we settled into our rooms (and after my dad and I argued over whether or not I would help him unload the car) and I finished my podcast, my mom and I paid a quick visit to a nearby outlet store and then picked up pizza to enjoy in the hotel. My parents brought a bottle of wine and a corkscrew, which my dad realized he didn't need for the bottle's twist top. At one point, my mom asked, "Will we be here next year?" My dad couldn't answer as he wasn't sure if she meant here, as in at the track meet, or here, as in alive. He didn't seem convinced that either was a shoo-in. We did share gratitude for arriving safe and sound and the tasty goodness of pizza and wine.

The next morning, we got the word that events would begin sooner than scheduled with the hopes of beating a storm due to arrive in the afternoon. We arrived at the stadium to a packed parking lot. I pulled over near the entrance and suggested my parents get out, find a seat and that I would meet them after I parked the car. After lots of discussions about what they should bring, with jackets coming out of the car and then going back in, they finally headed into the stadium. I left two slow-moving, aging parents--one using a cane with one hand and hanging on to her frail, thin husband with the other--to navigate a crowd and stairs and a stadium. It seemed like the lesser of two evils--I didn't know how far from the stadium I would have to park the car.

Once I made it into the stadium, I trotted up stairs, looked, and then went back down to trot up stairs to the next section to find them. My mom located me in the second section before I spotted her--screaming "Denise", "Denise," DENISE!" I had directed them to sit in the front row, with easy access out in case of a storm. They weren't front row, but they were close. A nice gentleman made room for them (and me). I later realized he had his father-in-law and mother-in-law with him. He understood. My sister, brother-in-law and niece found a spot higher up than ours; I signaled to them that we would stay put. We settled in to wait for Jack's race.

When my dad is outside the house, he frets about when to empty his ostomy bag, worrying that the bag will overflow. About 20 minutes after I sat down, my dad got up. "Will you go with me," he asked me. Off we went, down the stairs and into the stadium tunnel. "I thought we'd never see you again," he said, referring to his worry about me finding them in the stadium.

As I waited for my dad to come out of the bathroom, I asked a staff member about the First Aid area, just in case my dad needed some help. She was very nice, assured me that I could ask her if we needed help and she would escort us into the athlete's training area. When my dad came out of the bathroom, I shared that information with him. He thought that was great to know.

About 30 minutes later, my dad announced he wanted to go the bathroom again. My mom and I convinced him to wait, that he had time, that leaving now could mean missing Jack's race. He relented but you could see the worries written all over his forehead.

My nephew ran a great race--I jumped and hooted and hollered. I chatted up those sitting around us so they added their cheers for Jack to ours. It was a thrill to watch him do so well.

As my dad worried about his ostomy bag, I worried about getting my parents out of the stadium and through a larger grassy field to the car. After the race, my sister found us so I asked her to help me get our parents back to the car. "Of course," she said.

My mom and I wanted to stay for the medal presentation to see Jack receive his. My dad wanted to go. We debated and discussed with my dad finally deciding, "I'll meet you guys downstairs." Up and down he went. I saw lightning so my mom and I started to head down just as we saw Jack lining up at the medal stand. We decided to wait only to be directed by the announcer to evacuate the stadium because of lightning. The medal ceremony did happen, but about two hours after we had left. With that evacuation announcement, we decided it was time to go. I hoped the rain would wait for us to get to the car.

My brother-in-law found my dad in the bathroom and off we set on the journey across the large, grassy field. My parents held on to each, my sister and brother-in-law acting as book ends to keep them straight. I think we'd still be in the grassy field had they not helped. The rain did wait--we never got wet.

After arriving home safe and sound at about 4 p.m., my dad immediately took to bed.

We made this year. I wonder if this will be the last year they can make it.

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