When parents are old–healthy or not–can we plan vacations very far in advance?…Very far away? Do we dare to go on vacation?
March: Vacation advertising increases. It looks enticing, yet caution often fills our thoughts and precedes our making a commitment.
- Can we risk going?
- If our elders are going to miss us, do we feel guilty?
- Do we have confidence in the person who will care for them and contact us if problems arise?
We can decide whether to afford trip cancellation insurance. That covers one aspect. Yet our uncertainty remains:
–Do we forgo a needed, well-earned or simply badly-wanted vacation?
–Will guilt and concern weigh on us emotionally and taint the trip?
A previously planned trip to Italy with friends presented this dilemma. We went. The night after our first day there, the call I dreaded came from a caregiver: “Mother was having very serious problems.” While it was awful to be awakened at 2 am with that call, I’d prepared a plan of action–just in case. I’d accomplished 1-4. Now it was time to implement #5.
The Plan: 5 Necessities Before Going Away
1. Make peace with the fact that parents’ emergencies are unpredictable; if we knew when to expect them, wouldn’t our life be easier?
2. Make peace with the fact that we’re entitled to a vacation.
3. Prepare detailed contact lists, along with itinerary, for everyone who might be involved should there be an emergency.
–If they need us, they can find us. It’s not rocket science, unless we’re in a cave somewhere.
–If they need another family member his/her contact info–phone, fax, email–is listed.
–If doctors are needed, their contact info–phone, fax, email–is listed.
–ditto for clergy information.
4. Have a plan for getting to your parent’s home or bedside on a moment’s notice.
–Arrange beforehand to be met at the airport if flying is involved, plus having a back-up for that someone, should he or she be unavailable.
5. Check out options for an emergency return before leaving. I now know–on a few hours notice–how to fly from Milan to the West Coast the same day. Wish I’d thought to check that option before leaving.
* * *
Mother was having medical issues as we prepared to leave. If friends weren’t involved, I might not have gone. Living 3,000 miles away, I lived with a constant–but not burdensome–awareness: I might need to get to the West Coast on a moment’s notice. While I’d done it previously for Dad’s quintuple bypass surgery, thoughts of vacationing on another continent were unsettling.
Years earlier I’d attended an aging parents program that included a short film featuring an adult child whose married life was consumed by concerns about her parents’ needs and health issues. Her ongoing apprehension was such that every time the phone rang, she stressed. It seemed plausible that she would make herself sick and that her husband would book a one-way flight to a far-away place–alone!
While admittedly the film seemed exaggerated, I remembered it as the trip neared. Second thoughts about going toyed with my rational self. The latter prevailed.
Night 1–Milan: the phone call. Mother was home with a caregiver who phoned while family attended a birthday celebration and weren’t answering phones. After giving her instructions, I made immediate plane reservations, using the 4 most important words I know in such cases (mentioned often on this blog) “I need your help.”
In the wee hours of the Italian morning, the airline personnel seemed to go out of their way to get me to my destination in the shortest time possible.
#4 (above) went like clockwork. Many years ago I spoke with my brother and a good friend about their flexibility should I need to fly back on the spur of the moment. My brother was there, at the ready.
At the house our frail, semi-asleep mother could barely keep her eyes open–in no condition to appreciate the new Italian sweater I brought–or anything for that matter. But I knew she was glad I was there and I was glad to be there.
With a list of Mother’s doctors contact info and an updated list of her medications always in my wallet, (another necessity as we know), I could immediately communicate intelligently with her doctors. Turned out medication– too much, some unnecessary–caused the problem. So simple, yet emotionally and physically draining for everyone involved.
What I learned?
- When stress is high, it’s comforting to know we have a plan–don’t have to worry about certain things and we do have some control over others.
- When coming a distance, having someone who cares and shares our concerns there to meet us is welcoming and supportive.
- Having essential information at hand makes communication with professionals effective and efficient.
- Last but not least, when the unexpected happens and we can’t do it alone, “I NEED YOUR HELP” are four important words.
I also learned we have good friends who we had to suddenly abandon in Italy. They survived; so has our friendship. And mother lived 2 more years..
Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.