My family has two lake homes in Hubbard Lake, Michigan. For health reasons, my mom hasn’t been able to visit Michigan in a few years. My siblings and I were determined to get her there this year. We have dangled this trip in front of her as an incentive for her to take better care of her health and we wanted her to be around the extended family as many have not seen her since my dad’s memorial last fall. Thankfully, she was able to go. It took much preparation, and patience but I know in the end we are all glad we went.
The trip up to Michigan
With my limited vacation time, I could only a week off for this trip. My little sister, Annie, kindly volunteered to fly down from D.C. and drive my mom and my developmentally disabled brother Tom from Georgia to Michigan in mom’s car. Unfortunately, Annie doesn’t have a blog so you can’t read about her adventures up to Michigan.
A few days before their departure, I scrambled to get mom some portable oxygen for the trip. Her breathing was becoming more labored. She was only ‘approved’ for an oxygen machine on wheels that connects into her bi-pap machine at night, but we were finding that she was needing the oxygen via a cannula when she exerted herself in any way – just getting out of her chair was a massive exertion. Mom struggles with many chronic diseases including COPD and asthma and we assumed the breathing changes were a bi-product.
Hubbard Lake happy
The Michigan vacation was a great opportunity for us all to see our extended family. We had the final memorial for my dad – a ‘snacks and s’mores’ campfire complete with outdoor video montages, eulogies, and shared stories. Dad requested his ashes to be spread in multiple geographical locations – initially five (Florida retirement home, previous Georgia home, two previous Pennsylvania homes, and his summer home in Michigan). The end result is that he is present in 8 locations because we added his parent’s grave site in Pennsylvania and added two more locations in Michigan – his brand new memorial flag pole at the public park on the North Shore and his additional summer home. My mom also has a keepsake urn. The family lovingly jokes that we are happy dad was a big guy to accommodate his wishes.
The trip primarily consisted of my two sisters and I caring for mom in the morning and late evening. We were able to secure mom’s normal summer caregiver, Judy, to help out in the afternoons so we could have fun in the sun with our families. During the fun time, we played Five Crowns & Risk, took the Pontoon out tubing, canoed, and socialized with family while soaking up the sun. Mom was housebound at the lake but was able to enjoy the beautiful view and absorb all the family activity that took place around the house
The trip home
I chauffeured mom and my brother on the two-day, approximately 16 hour return trip back to Georgia. My husband, kids, nephew, and dog Shadow left the same day but drove back separately as we all didn’t need to endure the multiple lengthy stops. It ended up that my family made the drive back in one day. This gave my awesome husband Sunday to do laundry and restock our fridge with healthy food items to jump start our renewed post-vacation commitment.
The trip home had its highs and lows. I’m going to try and paint a picture so you get the sense of the trip.
Our first stop was about a mile away. We drove down to the North Shore so mom could see dad’s new memorial flagpole. The new park area is under construction but the flagpole is secured in its permanent home, just not yet adorned with our nation’s pride and joy. She was very pleased with its spot overlooking our favorite lake.
Hubbard Lake is about 3.5 hours north of Detroit. It’s a hidden treasure. So, the first few hours of the return trip is primarily back roads. I prefer to drive during the daytime in and out of there as the deer in Northeast Michigan seem to have a death wish and tend to jump out in front of cars.
The trip started out great, in particular I love to hear mom’s stories about:
· ‘Annie’s curve’– apparently my little sister as a baby had a legendary BM where dad had to immediately pull over the station wagon to change her even though we were 30 minutes from our destination.
· her memories of summer overnight camp as a young girl – her stories match the ones I’ve seen in summer camp movies.
· the horrific murder story of a Michigan double-homicide where the victims were fed to pigs and the perpetrators were finally convicted 18 years later.
· the Vietnam book she just finished reading. My mom can fly through books on her Kindle app!
More good stuff
· The kind man who makes homemade waffle cones each morning at the Hale ice cream shop (which according to mom has the ‘best ice cream’) opened his doors early at 10am so mom could get her fix of coffee ice-cream and I could make a breakfast out of Moose Tracks.
· I was able to binge on my stockpile of podcasts while my mom and brother took car naps. We listened to my business question that was selected for an‘Ask Pat’ podcast episode. Mom wasn’t sure what advice I was receiving from Pat Flynn but was excited for me. While they were awake, I tried to influence my brother’s surly attitude by playing Gretchen Rubin’s ‘Happier’ podcast but Gretchen would be sad to know that her strategies to find happiness were lost on my brother.
· We relived our treasured family road trip tunes thanks to Spotify radio: Neil Diamond, Andrew Lloyd Weber, Kenny Rogers, and Peter, Paul & Mary.
· No traffic ticket issued! We took our chances driving with expired Florida tags. Mom’s car is the only car she can comfortably ride in and we are still discovering areas where our new caregiver responsibilities fall short. My sister and I figured we had a great true sob story if we got pulled over by the police.
· We all survived the trip in one piece and the driving weather was perfect. The Michigan mission was successfully accomplished.
As long as we were moving in the car, life was good. At each stop is when the stress waved in like a Tsunami.
· First, the day before we left we struggled to find a handicap accessible hotel room around our normal ½ way home point. My sister and I made a dozen calls before securing our Hampton Inn room. My sister had the same problem on the way up to Michigan. Public service announcement: Dear hotel management employees across America, I think you need to add way more handicap accessible rooms across the U.S. or at least off the exits of I-75 since…news flash…our senior population is growing at a rapid pace!
· I’d forget the insulin in the mini car fridge (thank you Ford Flex for this feature!) or leave mom’s adult incontinence bag in the car and have to leave mom unattended in the ladies bathroom.
· We had to circle several fast food restaurants to find the perfect entrance near a handicap accessible ramp and rear door near a bathroom to minimize the steps mom had to take for bladder relief.
· My mom struggled to breath after exerting herself that she couldn’t remove the top of her Proair puffer, she would tell me she ‘felt like she was dying’, and was frustrated that even trying to go #2 was too much effort. Throughout our journey, Mom was actually jealous of my personal bathroom efficiency.
· I could tell when mom was trying to ‘hold it’ and avoid stopping to use the restroom. She wanted to avoid any exertion but my tough love kicks in and I know the alternative to stopping frequently means I’m going to have a bigger mess on my hands.Mom’s frustrations mirrored my frustrations and fuses were short and words on both sides were said.
· Emotional eating was at its max! Self-medication came in different shapes and sizes: zero calorie ‘white can’ Monster Energy drinks, a ½ pound bag of Twizzlers that fit nicely in the door pocket, a post-potty break DQ Peanut Buster Parfait (we actually waited in the car before I went back in to get the desserts after mom’s breathing normalized) and shrimp scampi pasta for dinner. None of these items are on my healthy eating plan that I fully intended to recommit to after this sinful eating/reduced activity trip.
· At hotel registration, after analyzing with the clerks which entrance meant the least amount of walker steps for my mom, the magnetic key strip must have gotten too close to my phone and stopped working. I discovered this when I was assisting mom into the hotel. So, I sprinted around the outer perimeter of the hotel, left the defective keys at the front desk for reprogramming, and dashed to the back door to let mom and Tom in. We completed the approximately 50 step distance to our hotel room ready to plug in the oxygen machine for relief, when alas the key wouldn’t work in the door! Again, I deserted them, took the elevator down to lobby to again ask that the keys be reprogrammed but this time the request was more like ‘really?! Of all people to not have keys work!’ This time, they got brand new keys reprogrammed and I was escorted upstairs to ensure the door opened. I can’t make this shit up! Future note to self: Think of mom like our U.S. President – she needs to be advanced! Go check out the room before getting mom out of the car!
· Both my mother and brother use sleep apnea machines. My brother didn’t bring his on the trip because he had a second machine at the lake house. The result of this meant that I had a rough night sleep after day 1 of our road trip. My brother snored the entire night. I eventually resorted to wearing ear plugs (which this is the first time I’ve ever seen complimentary ear plugs in a hotel room – thank you Hampton Inn!). Between helping mom a few times in the night use the facilities and switching her oxygen tubes between the cannula and sleep apnea mask, and Tom’s snoring, it was an intermittent night of sleep. The plan was to get up at 6:30 am but the earplugs meant that I didn’t hear my alarm go off. My mom heard ‘some noise’ while playing Yahtzee on her iPad at the desk but didn’t know what it was (after her last bathroom trip she said the bed was too uncomfortable and wanted to hang out in the chair).
· Both days, even though we were as prepared as possible the night before, it took between 1.5 and 2 hours to get up and out to the car. It’s a process and a true test of patience. My sister had a similar experience on the way up. Despite great prep, it just took two hours, period.
· My 52 year old brother was really little help. In general he has a bad attitude toward his family – we want the best for him but he just feels our mission in life is to make him miserable. Much of this is related to how he processes life due to his mental disability. In his opinion, we just make a mess out of his life. Because he didn’t have his own car during vacation, we drove him to and from his favorite places and we tried to stay out of his way as much as you can when there is a houseful of everyone. He was basically a passenger on the trip. He did begrudgingly carry one load of mom’s stuff to the hotel room and did willingly fill up the gas tank at our stops. I think he may have thanked me when I stepped away after settling them in at the hotel to pick up Applebee’s for dinner. Side note: I have lots of stories and lessons learned about caregiving for a developmentally disabled sibling, as well! The call to action for the caregiver is still the same – we have to take care of our own health first!
· When we got home Sunday, Mom was disappointed that her carpets and recliner weren’t cleaned by the assisted living staff while she was away. I was relieved to be home and excited to see my husband and brother Tim there to help unpack.
Biggest surprise of the trip
Mom said if Donald Trump will do everything he says he is going to do, she will vote for him! She is most impressed that he can independently finance his presidential campaign and not owe any companies any favors. But, she did say he should get someone to clean up his look (specifically his hair) so he ‘looks more presidential’. I think Fox News should hire mom to do a political show. She’s got lots to say on the way our country is being run and has a long to do list for our next U.S. President.
I felt like I was driving solo with an on-demand infant and an unruly toddler while suffering from a hangover. But, if you asked me if I’d do this drive again next year with these two passengers, I’d say ‘yes’ because it’s the right thing to do. My mom and my brother love Michigan and I love them unconditionally. No one loves you like your family. End of story. It’s just what you do.
P.S. I took mom to the doctor and after observing significant fluid in her lungs, she was admitted to the hospital. Mom’s health is moving in the right direction. We are hoping for a speedy recovery!