A Challenging Flight 波乱万丈なフライトでした

(Mountains covered with snow; seen from the airplane)

The flight to Wisconsin had three stops. With a time change, I imagine that it was not be easy for 84-year-old body with Parkinson's to endure all that. Loren reserved a first-class seat for Grandma and also reserved one more first-class seat and one economy-class seat. Loren and I exchanged our seats during flights to accompany Grandma. We used Northwest Airlines; unfortunately, we did not have a pleasant experience with them this time. Although we reserved first-class seats, the seats did not recline much, so Grandma could not lie down. The flight attendants seemed to be stressed out. Additionally, the flight attendants gave Grandma’s wheel chair to someone else. We had to wait in the aircraft until we got the wheel chair back. When a temporal wheel chair came, there was a strange rule that she could not get inside of the building with that particular chair, so she had to wait between the building and the aircraft for at least 5 minutes where it was snowing! Loren asked them to move her to somewhere at least warm, but they refused this request and blankly stated, “We cannot change the rule.” Loren and I were pretty upset about this, and they even did not apologize for this matter… Then, the flight from Minneapolis to Milwaukee was delayed three hours due to some sort of malfunction of the aircraft. In the end, they canceled the flight, and we had to get another flight. By the time we got it, we found out that the gate was so far away from where we were and was going to leave in 15 minutes! We had to run to the gate with Grandma on the wheelchair. Of course, we lost our first-class seats although we had paid for them, so Grandma had to sit in one of the economy seat. It was challenging for her to walk through the narrow isle and sit down.

Despite of all these difficulties, Grandma did well. I was impressed. I was exhausted by the time we had to run for 7 minutes form one gate to another, but she was in a good spirit and talked a lot. In the end, we landed in Wisconsin safe and sound.

The next day, Grandma was hospitalized. It was not because she got in an accident or was sick. She had to see a doctor in the region of a nursing home prior to the admission. While she was staying at a hospital, she saw two doctors who were specialized in Parkinson’s disease. These doctors wanted to try a new Parkinson’s medication on Grandma, so they took away her current medications. The result was not good. Grandma’s function level declined to 20%. She could not get out of a bed, could not feed herself, and could not use a bathroom on her own anymore. She kept sleeping a whole day. Loren solicited with the doctors to go back to the original medications and the original dosage. It took a couple of days to get ‘our’ Grandma back. Meanwhile, Loren was busy trying to find a nursing home that would accept her. He eagerly found right people to talk to, and a social worker and he spent hours on this matter. Many different kinds of formal documents were needed, and dense process was ahead of us. The day to return to Maui was approaching, but dealing with the doctors, finding a right nursing home for her, and dealing with paper work endlessly continued from the morning to the night. I respected Loren for his effort and love for Grandma. As Grandma was coming back to her normal function level, Loren finally found a nursing home that accepted her. There were countless people, including Loren’s family members, involved in this process and helped along the way. They were truly appreciated. In order to finalize the whole process to the point where Loren and I could feel safe enough to leave, we decided to extend our stay.

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(Snowy weather in Wisconsin)






From Maui to Wisconsin マウイからウイスコンシンへ

(Sunset view from 'Ulupalakua. This is one of my favorite photos I have taken.)

Loren decided to have Grandma staying at a nursing home in Wisconsin. He thought that it would be better than having her live in a nursing home on Maui where only Loren and I would visit. In Wisconsin, there are more family members to visit her. We used the spring break (in the middle of March) to help her move there. Grandma said, "I never thought I would get on a plane again."

Since the day we told her about this to the day we left Maui, we spent our time with more intention. Right after Loren told her about her moving to a nursing home, it seemed to take awhile for the news itself to sink in her memory. She sometimes forgot the fact that she was moving, so it was painful for us to remind her each time and go through the experience again. Sometimes, she started to cry and cried in the middle of night. One day, she was happy and excited about seeing her great grand children when she moves there. The next day, she was unhappy saying, "Loren must dislike me. That's why he is dumping me." I think that she was doing her very best to deal with this dramatic change that was about to happen to her. Loren and I took her out often to make good memories on Maui before she left. We took her to a live performance of an Irish band at Maui Art Cultural Center. She got excited, stood up from her wheel chair towards the end of the show and started to clap her hands. Other audience seeing her also did the same. Her sense of humor always entertained us.

March came. I was busy with the Praxis test, doing college assignments, going to the student teaching every day, preparing for Grandma to leave, dealing with caregivers, dealing with paper work, everyday chores, and so on that goes endless if I try to list them all. It was the same for Loren. We spent every day as if we could not waste even a minute. It was intense and insane. Because of that, I did not comprehend that she was moving away with a realistic view point although my brain knew that she was. The moment my heart understood what it meant to me was on the day we were leaving for Wisconsin. We packed up, loaded them up in our friend’s truck who took us to the airport, and I was checking every room in the house to make sure that we did not forget something important. Then, I saw her gently smiling and sitting on her wheel chair, crossing her leg over the other by her room door where she often stuck her head out to check on us. Her empty room was emphasized in the back of her. At that moment, I understood, “Ah, this is the last time I would ever see her in this house like this.” Then, all of sudden, tears welled up. I hurried up to hide from her and cried quietly.

It was not easy three and half years. Schedule of Loren and my days were decided based on her. We spent our free time for her care. There have been times when she mentioned something sour to us when her mind was not clear (which have become funny stories to us now). Loren woke up every single morning at 6 am to give her 6 am pills. There was no one day when he could sleep in. There was much stress, but one thing was clear. We loved her so much, and her love to us canceled all the stress out.

To be continued...

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Days with Grandma おばあちゃんとの日々

In the past four weeks, it seems as if a half year has passed, so I did not have time to write a blog. I have a bit more time to do so now, but as soon as I sit in front of a computer, I don't even know where to begin. My words are yet lost which also kept me from updating the blog. Eventually, however, the urge to write about my experiences won, so I pushed myself to start anywhere I could.

In the past three and half years, I had a rare opportunity to experience what it is like to look after an elderly person.

I have not been writing about this because I felt that it was a bit too personal information for my partner, Loren. This time, I asked him if it would be all right to write about it, and he said, "No problem." For the past five years for Loren and three and half years for me, we took care of his grandmother. She is 84 years old and has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease for the past 13 years. As of today, there is no cure for this disease, so she has been taking medications at certain times every day for the past 13 years in order to cope with muscle rigidity, tremor, and a slowing of physical movement.

Grandma was living in a house by herself after her husband passed away, but she started to fall in the house. It signaled family members that she should not be living by herself. Loren, living in Hawaii at that time, suggested that she move to Hawaii and live with him. It must have been a big move for her, moving to a totally new place (different cultural background) where she knew no one but Loren.

When she first moved to Maui, she was able to walk, cook meals, and do laundry. I remember when I started to see Loren, whenever I visited him, she made soup for me. However, as times passed, she started to lose that independence due to her physical condition. She used to stay home by herself while Loren was working and take medications at the right time, but she started to forget to take medications. Loren started to hire caregivers. In the beginning, a caregiver came and helped Grandma from 9 am to 1 pm for three days per week. Loren and I tried to finish up our work and tried to come home as soon as we could and cook dinner quickly and eat by 6:30 (if it's too late, Grandma could not sleep well because food sat in her stomach). After awhile, Grandma could not stay by herself from 1 pm to 6 pm. Her dementia also started to be apparent. Loren could not help but to have a caregiver from 8 am to 6 pm every day. It was about two years ago. We hired 3 caregivers, and they came at different times and days. Managing them became my job. Until then, I had not had much experience of managing people, especially telling someone older than me what to do. Communicating what I need them to do clearly and pointing out to some of the jobs that they are not doing correctly was something I struggled with. It was a very good opportunity to acquire new skills, though. It was a difficult task to find good caregivers. Loren and I interviewed many people. There have been people who did not last long, did not get along with Grandma, and did not perform professionally. Eventually, about a year ago, we settled down with 3 caregivers who had strengths in different skill settings. We assigned them jobs that make the most of their strengths.

We lived in the house that Loren's uncle (Grandma's son) used to own. He was the only uncle to Loren and was the only son to Grandma. But he did not wake up one morning for an unknown reason. Grandma might have felt protected by or close to him by living in this house.

Loren and I felt safe to go to work knowing that someone is there to watch Grandma. Of course, we did not leave the house before 8 am and came home by 6 pm. If we went out after 6 pm, we arranged a caregiver to stay with Grandma in advance. Things seemed to settle down at least for awhile, but it changed dramatically. Eventually, the financial resources to pay for caregivers run out. After long thoughts, Loren decided to place Grandma in a nursing home. During this time, it was heartbreaking for me to see Loren going through this. He wanted to watch Grandma at home until the end.

In the beginning of this year, Loren planned to break the news to her. We discussed and explored what the best way to tell her in the least shocking way was. One day, while I was away, Loren had moment to think, "Now is the time!" so he did. Loren expected her to cry, but instead, she solemnly told Loren, "Loren, I have been through a lot in my life, so I can handle this. If God wants me to move there, then I will." It was Loren who cried after he heard this. It was me who cried after I heard this from Loren. I think that my tears had different feelings in them: feelings of sadness that I would not see Grandma here anymore and feelings of empathy for Grandma of hearing this news. And I cried because I saw beauty in Grandma’s ability to deal with the news through the grace of God that only life time of experience could provide.

To be continued...

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