Posted by: realengr | August 28, 2009

Moving Dad and Mom

As I drove across the east I had plenty of time to ponder the events of my life and the influence of my parents on me.  I was driving my mom in her van to a new home in New Jersey.  My dad was in the passenger seat of the truck in front of me, while my younger brother John drove the truck.  Dad had a stroke 3 years ago and my mother had been managing his care with disastrous results. She was on medication herself and confusion in managing Dad’s medication and diet had resulted in a weak, disoriented, emaciated old man.  Mom moved in a daily fog hovering between lucidity and dementia. They were alone on a farm in the middle of northern Missouri with the nearest child living in St. Louis, 150 miles away.  We could call but trips to their farm were 650 miles of driving.  It was finally time for them to live in a more managed situation with my brother and his wife.

He had a bad episode in the winter and after that he had daily care and management for two months.  When we visited in March, he was lively, lucid, and humorous.  His voice was often strong as before.  It was evidence that daily therapy and management of his medication did a lot of good.

It wasn’t always this way.  Going through their things before the move, I had found a pic of dad and uncle Vern taken just before his stroke.  They were both laughing, standing in a construction site, a gleam in Dad’s eyes and a full 210# on his frame.  Dad could have probably taken on a handful of younger men and beat them soundly when this picture was taken.  He was out welding a trailer when the stroke hit him.  Not being one to go to the doctor and living with no one who monitored him, it was 7 months before he was diagnosed.


We all age, and as long as my parents were running along that continuum of retirement without incident it really didn’t bother me.

We talked on one trip a few years ago:

“Dad, what do you mean?”

“Hell, I’ll be dead soon”

“Heck Dad, you’ve got a good 20 years on you! You’re healthier than I am!”

“ Think so?”

About a year later: the stroke.  And then a diagnosis of Parkinson’s.

Now, as a drove my parents across Pennsylvania, images  of two young people in photos ran through my mind:  a young man leaning back laughing with his three little boys at his side,  a picture of a young, shapely woman with long dark hair, a muscular lively twenty-something guy standing beside his van with a camera in his hand.

That young woman was sitting beside me in the car asleep, with her grey hair neatly combed.  The young man was in the truck ahead, staring out at the countryside with a faint Parkinson’s mask on his face, his lively blue eyes retaining little spark.

My mom didn’t see the tears streaming slowly from the corner of the sunglasses I wore.  At the rest stops I would sob against the car uncontrollably while they were walking their dogs a couple hundred feet away.

John, my brother, almost seems stoic about the whole affair, but he is dealing with it in his own necessary, detached way because he has to in order to execute the care they need.  My brother commands hundreds, if not thousands of men in his position as Crew Chief of McGuire AFB.  No doubt his military training serves him well in times like these, but you could see the pain  in his face and the occasional frustration as he executed the almost military plan to get the folks off the farm.

I did a lot of thinking about life and what’s important on the trip and it seems that parents and family are pretty much the sum of it.  Not your money, your toys, your house, your career, or your car.  Only the time you spend with them, the brief few seconds that you have before you or they blink back out of existence into eternity….  Lots of regrets about spending the last quarter century building a great engineering career, but it doesn’t seem like it’s worth much when you weigh it against the lost time one could spend with the two exceptional people who are my parents.

Dad and mom both had eighth grade educations but managed to raise 4 kids who have had varied levels of what the world would call success.  The thing that I am thankful most for are the simple memories of camping and fishing and traveling that we have, as well as a work ethic and moral code that have served us well.  We all move to our own compass and we have dad to thank for the individualism that keeps us going forward.

More on my Dad and Mom in my next post.



  1. Please, keep writing about Grandma and Grandpa. They are exceptional people, and I am so proud to be part of their lineage. That must have been really hard to move them. I hope Grandpa shows some improvement in a few months. I really want my kids to know them, so maybe I will defy my parents (always the ones to save money) and “waste” money on a trip out there.

    I have often reflected on the fact that although Grandma and Grandpa came from such humble lives (with some crazy parents), they have great kids that are successful in their own ways. I miss them, and this post brought them a little closer to me–thank you for that.

  2. Thanks Debra. We have some time with them I think. I was encouraged by the care that your mom was already implementing. I think that Dad will improve and I noted to him that this may be a way for him to get to travel like he wanted. I’m sure John will show him around Philly and DC as well as other sights. His health is actually pretty good other than the stroke damage. Once his weight is up it will be interesting to see how it changes his attitude.
    I learned a lot from Mom about her past. Apparently she lived in the Ozark mountains until her teens and I was surprised to learn that she spent several early teen years living not that far from the farm we moved them from. I’m hoping to get some video interviews in the next year.

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