Traveling Seniors: A Family Story

When my father retired from the State of Oregon’s Public Utilities Commission, he was already very involved with AARP at the state level, as well as many other activities outside of work.  Plus, he and my mother had 4,759 friends and 11,438 relatives, spread around the country, all of whom wanted my folks to come and visit.  You may deduce from that statistic that they were both extroverts.  🙂

When dad retired, traveling was easy.  They drove long distances with ease.  They took flights wherever they did not want to drive (they decided Hawaii was better by plane, for example).  Now, traveling can be tiring for any of us, but it was not a hardship for them.  They actually enjoyed it.  Mom took an average of 1,912 photographs each trip, at least half of them from a car while driving down the highway — “Oh, yes, Mom, that is a wonderful picture.  I did not realize you were into abstract art!”

Within a couple of years, dad was on the national Board of Directors of AARP, as well as the Oregon state director.  That just increased the frequency of their journeys, as they both began to spend more time in other states helping with AARP efforts.  They got tired, but they loved it.

And then, unfortunately, my mother’s health began to decline a bit.  She was diabetic (guess who else is!), but she controlled it pretty well for many years.  Nevertheless, that factor plus arthritis and other issues began to seriously affect her mobility.  For a time, early boarding and courtesy services made it okay, but it continued to get harder.

And, it was not just the point-to-point travel that began to be harder for mom — and dad, as he increasingly became her primary caregiver.  Eventually, just the trek from the airport gate to the car was difficult.  Taking mom around to places on her visits to us — Tahoe or Napa or San Francisco, for example — became less fun for her as her mobility declined.  Eventually, we actually put a stairlift in our home here, so that when she did visit she could stay comfortably in our guest room. 

The last two trips she made, a plane trip was far too stressful, and, of course, driving that distance was a thing of the past.  So, we bought train tickets, with a sleeping car, so they could rest for much of the trip.  It was quite an expensive way to travel, but it really helped make it possible, at all.  It was definitely worth it, to enable them to do what they loved to do — travel.

The bottom line is that it really took some time for me / us to realize that, while losing your driver’s license is an obvious trauma for many seniors, we do not always recognize the slower decline of a related freedom.  That is the freedom that commercial travel provides for our parents and other seniors.  It took really several years for me to understand what it meant, emotionally and psychologically to my folks, not to be able to do something they loved and had done without a serious care for their entire adult lives.

I never got them to Paris before they died.  I wish I had been able, when they were able.

Best wishes, Bert


One response to “Traveling Seniors: A Family Story

  1. Tom S, a colleague from my days at Intel Corporation, sent me a message, after reading this article. I absolutely love it! Thanks so much, Tom. It absolutely captures what this article is all about. 🙂

    “We became airstream owners a couple of years back and joined the Wally Byam Caravan Club. We were recommended to the Piedmont group because they were more “youthful”. That meant the average age was 70 instead of 75! Very interesting culture. The monthly meeting consisted of a report out on who had died and who was I’ll, followed by a prayer for them. Real conservative group of folks but they welcomed this long hair heathen in with open arms. Sad thing is you don’t make friends for very long.
    But it amazes me how well these folks stay mobile driving their rigs around the country and I only hope I do as well. “


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