Our first Assisted Vacation-

Nati

Nati

On the way to West Virginia, Nati started to ask “are we there yet?” thirty minutes into the drive and repeated herself every few minutes. This monotonous line of inquiry lasted for the remaining seven and a half hours. Between the are-we-there-yets, she read every single billboard and exit sign aloud. “It says here, Couples Massage, Exit 39”…and so on. To her, it didn’t register that our trip was for the somber task of burying her husband’s ashes. In some respects, dementia spares sorrow.

During the years of caregiving for my two Hungarian grandparents, who both had dementia, my wife and I rarely had a vacation. We were their primary caregivers. It was during these years that my entrepreneurial juices began to flow in the quest to improve the life of family caregivers and my experience with my grandparents fostered the concept of Assisted Vacation.

My grandfather Peter had planned to be buried at a Hungarian cemetery in West Virginia. We had never attempted to take Nati on such a long trip as the one for his funeral but we felt like she should be there to say goodbye to her husband. If we did plan a vacation, we never were able to leave Nati in the care of a non-family member due to trepidation and guilt. In fact, many family caregivers forego vacation because the options for leaving a loved-one behind are either impractical, exorbitantly expensive, or unappealing due to the fact that caregivers have a difficult time relinquishing their role due to their intense dedication to their loved-one.

To be honest, by mid-Virginia, at the stage where Nati was getting irritated with the length of the drive and had started to attempt to escape from the moving car, I kind of wished we had left her at home. However, we finally made it to the resort where we were staying and a long walk in the woods remedied the stress of traveling with my grandmother. And she was content because a nearby lake allowed her to watch a family of ducks muck about in the shallows. At the Hungarian cemetery, which is nestled in hilly grove, we remembered my grandfather Peter. We recalled his courage to escape from Hungary with young children, his capricious and often severe personality, and his lifelong love of art. In front of his gravestone, Nati leaned over to me and asked, “who died?’. When I softly explained that it was her husband Peter, she slowly shook her head, paused and stated, “Well that’s just so sad. What did he die of?”

We had plenty of family at the funeral to help keep Nati happy and safe and aside from a few wandering incidents, we managed the trip well although there was little opportunity for rest. The drive home was a repeat of the trip up and her incessant observations made the hours drag although there were many laughs such as her speculative soliloquy on why there so many Waffle House restaurants in Virginia (she concluded that the restaurant was struggling to keep in business and that was why there was one at every other exit).

By the time Peter died, Nati was at the point in her cognitive decline that the passing of her life-long partner did not cause her any distress that I could identify. In fact, thinking back on her sympathetic, yet unemotional reaction, “We’ll that’s just SO sad”, I wondered if in fact the trip was a benefit to her at all. There was never a question of leaving her at home for the funeral, however, many of our family members agreed that it would have been nice to have a skilled, caring helper to support her during the trip so that her caregivers could have true respite. The first Assisted Vacation was without the “Assistance”, but the benefits of www.assistedvacation.com were realized.

 

 


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