My dad grew up in Algona, Iowa. He has a lot of happy memories of his life there. Even after his father died when he was thirteen, most of his memories are good ones. He will tell me stories about how this family or that person helped out his mom. Or how this fellow tried to teach him how to drive a big delivery truck. How the church did this and the school did that. You know, the days when neighbors helped neighbors. My dad's family was probably very lucky to live in small town Iowa when his father passed away. It was in the throws of the depression, in a city they may have had a much harder time of it. He and his four brothers and one sister could have ended up in much different situations. As it was, the neighbors looked out for them, helped them grow into fine adults, and watched out for Grandma.
Dad has wonderful memories of his childhood. It wasn't until he was older that they moved to Des Moines, when Grandma got a job there. Grandma was a fighter. If anyone could raise six kids on her own, five of them being boys, it was Grandma. She was the type of little old lady out shoveling her front walk when she was in her eighties.
Dad wants to go visit Grandma and Grandpa's graves. He wants to make sure the headstones are still set, and not broken. I want to take him, and offered to. However, when I made the offer, I didn't realize it was a four hour drive, one way, from here. I know it will make him happy, but I don't want to take him alone.
Four hours is a fairly long trip for anyone. For a man with dementia, and less than reliable bladder habits, driving eight hours in one day, would be forever. Frankly, the idea of taking him by myself, terrifies me.
I have gotten used to the idea that I have to take dad into men's bathrooms. I don't like it, and am embarrassed when some poor man wants to come in and go to the bathroom. Most will go back out and wait, which makes me feel guilty. Others will go in the closed stall and go anyway. Most are very understanding. As a matter of fact, I haven't had anyone get mad at me, yet. Most of these bathrooms are small with one or two stalls. Taking Dad into a rest stop bathroom on the interstate is different. It is easier, with the newer rest stops. They are bigger and set up better for people with wheelchairs. That part is good. But they also have a lot more stalls. Making it much more likely that someone else will come in. Dad always wants to use the urinals instead of going into the stalls. So there I am, out in the open. Men walk in, see me, and automatically think they are in the wrong restroom. I explain, "no, you are in the right place, I'm not," trying to joke to ease the embarrassment on both sides.
If Dad makes it on time and his pants are still dry, I can get him in and out quickly. If he doesn't make it on time, or his aim is off and he needs changed, it's just a nightmare. It takes a long time to get Dad changed. He can help with his left leg, but his right leg is more difficult. If the stalls are too small, we have to change him out in the middle of the bathroom exposing him to anyone who comes in. If the stall is large enough for his chair, it usually isn't easy for me to maneuver around in. I end up bumping my head on the toilet paper dispensers, or getting jabbed with a coat hook. And I don't want to sit on the floors, because they are usually gross, so I end up with a sore back as well. It isn't fun. It stresses me out, which in turn stresses him out. Stressing Dad out can lead to more accidents, because he tries to hold it, when he can't. It makes him more obstinate, and when I ask if he needs a bathroom he will say no. We could be somewhere, anywhere, before we leave, I always ask if he needs to go to the bathroom. "No, I'm fine." He always says.
Knowing better, I'll always ask, "can you try anyway, just to be sure?"
"I don't need to go!" He'll growl.
I take him out to the car. I get him in. I put get the wheelchair all broken down and lifted into the car. I get in the car and pull out of the parking lot. I look over at Dad and he is doing his ever so familiar bathroom jiggle. "We need to get to a bathroom," he says with panic on his face.
I know that it is the dementia that causes this. I do, and I try very hard to remember that. He probably doesn't even remember me asking him if he needed to go by the time he is in the car. That wheelchair is heavy though. He has an electric one, with a lift on the back of my van, that he won't take on long trips, "because it might rain," he always says. It could be 80 degrees with no cloud in the sky, but.... "It might rain."
So, eight hours in the car, just does not sound like a whole lot of fun to me. Especially, since we will probably drive the four hours up, get to the graveyard, he probably won't get out of the car, and then drive back home. A drive in which he will be squirming around the whole time because he is uncomfortable from sitting all day. Honestly, he will probably have been squirming most of the way there, too.
If I am going to drive 8 hours in one day, I'd rather it be all in one direction, and take him to Washington DC to see the World War II memorial. I know it is more than an 8 hour drive, but we could stop, and stay at hotels along the way.
But he wants to go to Algona. Wish me luck.