When the Beach Is Not the Beach

I’m just back from a trip to visit Dear Old Dad. At 96, he needs 24-hour in-home care provider support. One of my sisters also lives with him, another lives two miles away. I pinch hit for the residential sister, as do my four brothers.

And we’re still nearly tapped out from the sheer stamina that’s required to care for one fairly healthy, fairly financially secure Aged P. Dad is in hospice, for a number of reasons, but he can still beat me at cribbage (on a good day), still feed himself (do not leave good ice cream unattended around that guy), and will take his meds as directed much of the time.

But he no longer walks. He’s down to “stand and pivot” with assistance. He has days when he mostly sleeps, days when he won’t take his meds. Days when he can barely hold the cards and wants to know where Mom is (RIP Mom 2/5/16). The care providers try hard, but they are underfoot by necessity, and they sometimes have their own dramas. Then there’s the visiting nurse, the hygiene nurse, the church lady who brings communion, the gardener…

I went bananas, three different ways. First, I’m no longer used to being around people–real  people–24-7. My solitude tank hit empty, and this made me irritable. Second, I’m not used to having my time commandeered without notice. If Dad yelled for me, I was supposed to present myself forthwith, offering solutions to whatever the problem of the moment was. If he ran out of some hygiene supply, if the care providers had a personal emergency… as “case manager,” my role was to spackle over all the gaps in the care plan.

Being infield utility meant very little writing productivity, and that too, made me grumpy.

Third, Dad lives in suburban San Diego, in a neighborhood where the houses are close together to maximize views of the ocean. You would not believe how many power tools, leaf blowers, car horns, barking dogs, and screeching children, can be packed into one residential block, and they all start up at 7 am. My silence tank went bone dry.

Since coming home, I’ve been knocking out my writing to-dos and getting back into the stories. I’ve also hibernated at my QUIET little house, which I have a strange compulsion to Big Clean. The kind of clean where I fill up contractor bags and throw out furniture the dog has ruined. Maybe a purge is a better word. Asserting control over my time, my space, and my imagination is gradually bringing me right, but lordy, am I in awe of my sisters. Greater love hath nobody, ever, than those two ladies show our father who art in San Diego.

Have you ever had to recover from a “vacation?” A family reunion or business trip? How do you negotiate your re-entry, and is there something about home you’ve learned to appreciate more fully for having missed it? To one commenter, I’ll send an audio version of Tremaine’s True Love.Save



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16 comments on “When the Beach Is Not the Beach

  1. Boy, do I understand this sentiment!! A few weeks ago, we had a beautiful vacation with our kids. Not relaxing at all (is relaxing even possible with 2 kids in tow?), but still beautiful. We, then, spent a week with extended family–our very loud, very large extended family. It was exhausting, especially when I was already craving peace, solitude, and silence. When we finally came home, I had about 20 hours of peace before both of my kids came down with a violent stomach bug that demanded my constant attention for several days. Now that everyone is recovered, the exhaustion has hit hard and the craving to be alone is at peak levels.

    I signed both of my kids up for a “Horse Care 101” summer camp this coming week. While they’re learning the basics of caring for a horse and elementary riding skills, I’ll be restoring my equilibrium. It’s a win-win!

    • God bless Horse Camp. Has probably been the salvation of many a summer, and while the bouncing around all morning with kids on your back can’t be much fun, that lounging in cross ties and being groomed for HOURS has to do a hardworking equine good!

  2. I was so looking forward to my vacation.
    And believe me, I’d love a do over!

    My vacation got started when the phone rang Monday morning at 8:15 am. Heard the words “Mommy, I have been in a car accident’
    I got dressed, put the dogs out and rescued my daughter (who was scared, not injured) and met her judge wearing a corgi tshirt ( slightly embarrassing) and found the jeep at the tow yard. The rest of the day was spent dealing with the insurance folks and getting my daughter a rental car.

    Wednesday and Thursday were spent at my clubs dog show and things went ok.
    Friday and Saturday were spent dealing with a very sick dog- who passed suddenly at age 9. I needed peace and quiet to grieve for Celeste so I called out on Monday and Tuesday

    I returned to work on Wednesday and 80 people were let go in my office and another 50 were given last day dates. I was spared.

    Am hoping the silver rain cloud doesn’t come back to visit me anytime soon.

    • You win. Hands down, you win for crappiest, most challenging, worst vacay EVER. You hit a trifecta of lousy, and–this is what puts the whole thing over the top–you came back to work in a very, very trying situation. It’s SO bad, it almost feels like that start of a women’s fiction book.


  3. I totally comprehend. This brings back nightmares of being an only child caring for both aging parents until their deaths. Dad was easy except for the idiots at the military hospital who missed major cardiac symptoms to the point Dad survived a triple bypass at age 84 only to have a massive stroke get him. My mother was missing part of her frontal lobe by the time I got her to Mayo Clinic and a neurologist. Impulse control? Nah, we don’t need no stinking impulse control.

    It would take a book to describe all the ways our current cult of privacy hamstrings a caregiver struggling to keep a parent alive who is physically abusing that caregiver. In her right mind, my mother would have died before harming me. But her mind physically wasn’t there. And officialdom treated me as the enemy. ER residents would ignore her care plan and destabilize her. Police would ignore my bruises and ask what I’d done to that “sweet little thing” unless they stuck around for more than the 15 minutes she could mask her illness. Then they’d hand me an information list with phone numbers for all the places who informed me my parents had scrimped and saved too well and there’d be no help until their savings ran out.

    I still laugh at the last flash of sane Mom’s humor I ever saw. I dragged her with me to Social Security to sort out her benefits. The clerk stared at her computer screen in dismay. “This must be an error. It shows your mother worked for 67 years! Who would do that?” A glimmer of the Mom who raised me showed in my mother’s eyes. “Someone who wanted to eat and pay bills, young woman!” Mom snapped. “Now give me my check. I earned it!”

    It would take two years of Mom endlessly asking where my dead father was before she followed him. I was so exhausted when she died that my doctor, treating me for lingering pneumonia, told me he was glad she’d gone as he was terrified she’d take me with her.

    I’m thrilled you have sisters and a support system. It’s hell dealing alone.

    • Move over, Sue. Beth has you beat… well, maybe we need double winners in the “I have been through hell and lived to tell about it” sweepstakes. Two years is a long time to watch a parent decline–and a longer time to watch them decline alone. The absolute heck of it is, you don’t know how long they’ll last. Every day could be the best day they have left (even the awful days), or the situation could go along without much change for several years.
      No wonder you had pneumonia. No wonder you were out of breath. No wonder.

  4. Every year, I recover from vacation. We go to an art colony in northern Wisconsin, the whole family. That included all three adult sons, hubby and me.

    In our big house living together, it’s not a big deal. One kiddo is a concert pianist and our piano is a-goin’ at least three hours a day…..and I pay almost no attention to his playing, except when he wants me to. Another (who is leaving in mid-August to go to a hoity-toity law school and will be outta my hair, he claims, never to return to the family homestead)*enters talking* no matter what I’m doing; doesn’t normally bother me. The eldest has autism and has his own issues. Hubby is hubby; oblivious.

    When we go to up north, all of our foibles become concentrated, intensified. We always rent a house and try to reserve the same one, year after year but some years, we are not able to get it. I worry about our autistic son’s behavior in a strange place, though we have been going up for over 15 years. Pianist son gets irritable when he doesn’t practice regularly. Law School Guy is obsessed with having the same internet access as home. Hubby wants to go to yet another concert we don’t have tickets for and will have to wait in line—autistic son; not having it! I just want to shop and read in peace!

    I must confess, I usually do what you did when you got back home; I do a Big Clean, except before we leave. For some reason, knowing the house is in good shape BEFORE we go makes me feel better. And I am able to put up with all the *pleasant irritations* vacations are made up of!

    This year will probably be the last one we take together. I plan to make myself enjoy it. When we get back, it’s getting Law School Guy moved out…he claims I won’t to have to help him “that much” but you and I know that’s crap!

    • Oh, gracious. Another book premise. I can’t wait to hear what kind of late night arguments Perry Mason and Franz Liszt have with each other on this last, best family vacation, or the pithy observations from Rain Man’s perspective.
      That strategy of cleaning the house before you go makes such sense. You know you’re not coming back to chaos, but to an environment that meets your needs, and is under your control. Perry Mason has a brother who’s only practicing three hours day. Maybe they can do the male bonding thing over moving the box springs. Seems like Mom has enough to do.

  5. Whenever I do something ‘fun’ it takes a physical toll. We closed on a house Friday, a joyous thing, but it meant sitting upright for 7 hours. This means every moment since has been in ‘recovery mode’ getting ready for the next fun yet taxing event (My husband asked me to attend a Jimmy Buffett concert for his birthday next week.)
    So, first I need to be gentle with myself, second, I need to be gentle with my husband (the pain and restrictions on what I can do make me very grumpy sometimes!) and third, I need to only slowly start doing more and not set back that recovery.
    Getting rid of things that no longer fit my life is a wonderful way to feel in control again, and as we are moving in 20 days, it is a useful activity as well :-} Even when I am alone after being too social for my comfort I put on headphones when playing games or listening to music. That sense of isolation can help reset me to my normal cheerful self.
    The good news is, after this month of moving (and probably two weeks of recovery) I will be living in a situation where I can get in my electric wheelchair and explore my new neighborhood; a level of freedom I haven’t had for almost 5 years. The key will be to NOT overdo things :-}

  6. Wow, I just got back from a visit to the Ps. My brother is the sainted fellow looking after my mother (88). Dad (92) is in the care of his current wife (my contemporary) who takes good care of him but would rather I didn’t exist.

    I came home teary and sad. Have been unproductive for 2 days, am triple thankful for my dog & cat. Time to light a fire under it and get going!!

    Happy 4th

  7. Wow. You can’t make this stuff up. A shout-out to all of you. And I was feeling put upon for being stuck in a small town hotel room sharing a bed with a sister. Mother (age 88) has the other bed.

  8. My Mom ended up in an extended care facility. She wanted my sister’s attention and probably would have lived with my sister if the offer had been made. My brother and I were not candidates according to Mama. Mama was incontinent and had lost her mobility but she was in relatively good health otherwisefor her age. We all agreed that being in the area where she had lived her whole life was best for her since she had friends locally that visited. The home was four hours east from me and four hours west from my sister. My brother actually lived five miles away but he had a long daily commute which limited his time and there were personal issues that made him limit his visits rather than upset her. When I visited I tried to stay as long as I could and accomplish as much as possible. A trip to visit Mama was a long day for many reasons. I needed another day to recover both physically and emotionally. My heart goes out to any family members who are caregivers for their parents. Sometimes just love is not enough.

  9. I have just come back from visiting my best friend, her husband, her daughter and their corgi. I stayed in their house on the sofa bed. I was on their schedule, I was without a car, so I was house bound. I love them, but it is nice to get back and be able to wear my pajamas in my house and washing my clothes. I missed my husband and my cats, but I do wish I could have brought the corgi home.

  10. Oh, my goodness, I so totally can relate to this! I have always been an introvert, but I found that having children sucked up all of my very limited reserves of social output (play groups, nice-nice with friend’s parents, teacher interactions, etc); I found my alone time more valuable than ever. Reading a good book was essential to my sanity, and cleaning/organizing has always been therapeutic for me.

    Having said that, Gretchen has just spent the last 3 months (and far more than that in the last 2 1/2 years) caring for and now taking care of estate business for our father. I cannot fathom how she did it (my favorite example: calling her into his bedroom in the middle of the night because he needed one leg out from under the blanket). She has given up her entire normal life to live 900 miles away since April (minus a week to come home for her son’s graduation) while she cleans up and liquidates his estate. I regret that I couldn’t be with her more to help and I love her more than words can say for doing all of this, of which I don’t think I would have been capable even had I had the chance.

    And yeah, every time we have to go through our elderly parent’s houses, the urge to PURGE when we get home is huge. Which is to say, I get it!