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I hate funerals
January 2, 2013 10:50 AM   Subscribe

My grandfather's sister-in-law died and her funeral is this weekend. My family wants me to drive my grandfather down to the funeral. I would rather stick pins under my fingers. But I know I need to do this. Help me suck it up.

The great-aunt in question is my grandfather's sister-in-law (the wife of my late grandmother's brother). I have not seen that side of the family in almost a decade. My grandfather is in his early 80s, suffers from Alzheimer's and is unable to drive. I am the only person in my family who lives near him so I'm the only one who can drive him down to the funeral, which is an 8 hour drive.

I feel very uncomfortable around my grandfather. I always have. I just get this weird creepy vibe from him, maybe stemming from something in my childhood? I know that I should go to the funeral. I know he should be there to be with his late wife's family. I am dreading the drive. I am dreading spending 16 hours with him in a car and then going to a funeral to spend time with people I barely know. It's my duty, but it's shitty and I need to stop being a petulant spoiled brat and just do it. Do you have any suggestions about making this trip easier on the both of us?
posted by calcetina to Human Relations (57 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I don't think you're being a petulant spoiled brat at all. it sounds super uncomfortable.
something to concentrate on other than awkward conversation will be key -- how about audiobooks?
posted by changeling at 10:53 AM on January 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


Whoa, whoa, whoa.

An 8 hour drive with an 80+ Alzheimer's patient?

How advanced is his Alzheimer's? Does he understand what happened? Does he want to go? Has HE expressed a wish to go, or does the family just think he SHOULD go? Will he even remember it after?

If nothing else, clear this trip with his doctor before making ANY plans to go.
posted by zizzle at 10:53 AM on January 2, 2013 [100 favorites]


If you find that you have to do this, can you ask a good friend to come along? Being alone in the car with an Alzheimer's patient would be difficult for anyone, but if it's something that two (or three?) of you could handle together, it may make it significantly less difficult.
posted by xingcat at 10:56 AM on January 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


If I could trade in my own favorites to give to zizzle's answer, I would.

Assuming this is all cleared by doctors and caretakers and suchlike:

Ask someone close to him for some music or radio-play or audiobook suggestions, then load up your iPod for him and let that entertain him.

If you have no significant other, find a friend who's willing to go with you. Just having another person along to help mediate arguments can go a long way.
posted by Etrigan at 10:56 AM on January 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


That's an enormous amount of responsibility for one person. What if your grandfather wanders away while you're in the restroom? I would rethink this plan of one driver and one person with Alzheimer's doing a long road trip. That honestly seems dangerous.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:57 AM on January 2, 2013 [13 favorites]


If your collective family wants him there so badly despite the extreme hardship not only to you, but to an 80+ year old man with an emotionally upsetting/confusing (for him) degenerative disease, then they should pony up and get you both plane tickets. And yes, has he actually expressed a desire to attend? Is he in the stage of his disease where he is capable of understanding what has happened?
posted by elizardbits at 10:59 AM on January 2, 2013 [25 favorites]


You know what, your family is being unreasonable to expect that a) you and b) your grandfather c) do an 8 hour drive each way together. Make it easier by not going. You are not at all being petulant here.
posted by zippy at 10:59 AM on January 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


I drove my grandfather on a 6 hour trip last year -- we get along fine, but I've never spent that long with him and I was dreading it. And he has "memory issues" -- nothing diagnosed, but he'll forget a conversation you just had.

1. Music is your friend. Find out ahead of time what kind of music he likes, and figure out what you can stand.

2. If he's in an early enough stage of Alzheimer's and can carry on a conversation fine, prepare yourself with topics.

3. How is his long-term memory? My grandfather ended up telling me stories from when he was just married to my g-mother and such. If his long-term memory is ok, this is an easy thing to do.

4. Yes, absolutely what zizzle said about medical clearance. I'm assuming that it's not late-stage, as that would just be ridiculous.

Finally, 8 hours each way is a long way for a funeral when it isn't your immediately family. I've skipped out on great-aunt funerals that were only 2 hours away. I wouldn't fault you in the slightest for pushing the point that he might not want to go, or even asking the doctors to not give him medical clearance if this is feasible.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:59 AM on January 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


What are his specific medical needs? He may be too ill to take such a long car trip, honestly. And it is way too much for you to be expected to do so.

I mean, 8 hours away from a great aunt I wasn't terribly close to and never saw in 10 years. I wouldn't go to that unless I absolutely had to. And on top of that, transporting alone a man with Alzheimer's who I feel odd around?

This is not your responsibility. It's not your duty. Send your condolences. His absence will be understood if alternate arrangements cannot be made. People understand that those with Alzheimer's in their 80s are not on the road a lot.
posted by inturnaround at 11:00 AM on January 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


Absolutely and completely unreasonable request. And, you know what? It's really, really easy to make an absolutely and completely unreasonable request when you're not the person who has to fulfill it. Easiest thing in the world.
posted by griphus at 11:00 AM on January 2, 2013 [40 favorites]


Wait, this isn't even his wife's sister? It's his late wife's late brother's wife? This person is in no way related to him, why the hell is a sick, elderly man being forced to make a 16h journey.
posted by elizardbits at 11:01 AM on January 2, 2013 [59 favorites]


If nothing else, clear this trip with his doctor before making ANY plans to go.

Absolutely this. The slightest bit of doubt may allow you to honourably back out of this totally unreasonable request. (Which is completely onerous and risky and you shouldn't be doing anyway.)
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:01 AM on January 2, 2013


Your family has passed the buck to you. Tell them that this arrangement is not comfortable, possibly not safe, for you or grandfather. Can't some family member join you, then together you pick up grandfather?
posted by Cranberry at 11:01 AM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


An 8 hour drive with an 80+ Alzheimer's patient?

Yeah, this sounds like a very bad idea. Not safe, high likelihood of something going wrong.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:03 AM on January 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


Also, is this request being made by the same person from your previous question who decided you'll be the one raising your brother because she didn't want to?
posted by griphus at 11:04 AM on January 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's my duty...

It isn't, though.

...I need to stop being a petulant spoiled brat and just do it...

But you don't have to do that.
posted by chrillsicka at 11:14 AM on January 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


This is not your duty. Nothing good is going to come out of it and you don't need to do it. Give yourself permission to say no.
posted by hazyjane at 11:16 AM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just say no.

Seriously, this is an insane request. What if grandpa becomes disoriented? He could refuse to get back in the car at a gas station, he could become abusive, he could make a public scene, you could have police involved. "I know he says he doesn't know me, officer, but this elderly person I am taking across multiple state lines against his will is my grandfather, honest!"

The question isn't how to suck it up but how to get out of it. Calling his doctor is a great idea, hopefully the doctor will say no to the idea and you can blame your refusal on him. Set it up to solicit that response--"Doctor, I would be taking him all by myself for an 8 hour drive each way, in an older car, with no help along the way--am I right in thinking this is a bad idea?"
posted by LarryC at 11:19 AM on January 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


I would not do this.

Heck, I would be uncomfortable doing this for my own grandma, who is in reasonably decent health and with whom I get on reasonably (eh...) well. 16 hours in a car is a lot, especially with someone who is older and not as physically able to sit comfortably or move about easily.

Just a for instance, something simple like stopping to use the restroom might become extremely complicated. I presume you are female. What happens if he goes into the men's room and gets confused? Or falls? Or walks out the back exit without you knowing and gets lost?

Any number of things could potentially go very, very wrong with this situation. Don't do it.
posted by phunniemee at 11:20 AM on January 2, 2013


One last thing:

During Hurricane Irene, my grandmother, who was 85 at the time and suffering from pretty profound dementia, and the aftermath of several strokes, had to come live with me because she lived in an evacuation zone. People with dementia are, unfortunately, very tall toddlers who have just enough presence of mind to do some serious damage to themselves. I repeatedly had to keep her from just plain walking out the front door. I had to keep her from eating objects which weren't food. This request is a lot more substantial than "drive your grandfather there and back."
posted by griphus at 11:23 AM on January 2, 2013 [13 favorites]


You are going to drive 8 hrs with your grandfather, sit for a few hours at a funeral with folks you hardly know nor really want to know, and then drive 8 hrs back all in the same day? Saint calcetina

If you are reluctant to just say no, then you need to let your family know about the severe cold with fever that you woke up with today. Avoid doing this.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:24 AM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


You must say NO as it is unsafe and unwise.
posted by jbenben at 11:35 AM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


But I know I need to do this. Help me suck it up.

I think what you meant there was "I know I should want to do this, but I don't." It seems like a crazy request, even more so if you're uncomfortable with the prospect. Even without reading prior questions, I think you might have an overblown sense of family obligation or a susceptability to manipulation by the people involved. Make clear that you're not the person to make this happen, if it even does.

People have to "suck it up" when their relatives are a pain around the holidays. They *don't* need to do the same when being asked to make a Herculean effort -- that's entirely voluntary.
posted by acm at 11:35 AM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I come from a family that places a high premium on doing things for other family members. I grew up spending a lot of time with my grandparents, and I have a reasonably close relationship with them. Or I had, when they could recognize me, because both of my grandmothers now have pretty pronounced dementia (no Alzheimer's diagnosis though).

I tell you this so that you'll know where I'm coming from when I tell you that nobody in my family would ever conceive of asking me to do what you're being asked to do, and I cannot imagine ever agreeing to it if I were asked.

Just to add to the pile of potential complications that people are bringing up: can he go to the bathroom by himself, without assistance, every time? I ask because neither of my grandmothers can, and I don't know what you were planning to do when he has to go to the bathroom along the way and needs someone to clean him up afterward. Go into the men's room of a highway reststop? There's no way this trip is necessary, or even advisable.
posted by Ragged Richard at 11:39 AM on January 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


Just to pile on: hell NO please don't do this, it'd be a miserable time for both of you. Even WITH an additional (male) person alone, this trip is a bad idea.

In an 8-hour trip, he'll need a couple bathroom breaks, and someone in there to assist him --- how do you feel about joining your Grandpa in the men's room and wiping his butt?!? And what happens if YOU need a break: who watches him while you're in the ladies' room? There's no way you can do there-and-back in one day, so this would be AT LEAST a two day trip.... are you going to share a hotel room with him, knowing that Alzheimer's patients lose a lot of self-control (i.e., do you want to risk waking up in the middle of the night to fight him off?) or put him in a room by himself, and risk his walking off to who-knows-where? You gonna help him with his shower/bath? And besides all the ways he could fall and hurt himself or wandering away, there's also the emotional loss of control caused by the dementia.

Even WITH a second (male) person along to help with Grandpa, even if you were to fly instead of drive, this whole trip is a disaster in the making. The lady who died isn't related to him, at this point does he even remember her?!?, and he's in no condition to go...... heck, even WITHOUT the Alzheimer's, making an 80-plus gent make this kind of trip would be cruel.
posted by easily confused at 11:45 AM on January 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Also, how are accommodations going to be handled? It's not just an 8 hour drive each way with an hour for the funeral in the middle - presumably it's an 8 hour drive, then staying the night somewhere before the funeral, followed by another 8 hour drive? Do they expect you to pay for his hotel room? Will he be staying with his late wife's family? Will you be welcome to stay with them as well or will you be expected to get your own hotel room? Are you expected to pay for his meals?

Most of this boils down to how able he is to take care of himself currently. If he is in assisted living, please realize that you may need to physically bathe him and feed him and help him each time he uses the restroom. He may have a medication schedule that he himself cannot explain, or food allergies he is no longer aware of.

Will any other member of your family be there at the funeral to help you if needed?
posted by elizardbits at 11:48 AM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I really cannot stress enough what a bad idea this is and how utterly unreasonable your family is being.
posted by elizardbits at 11:50 AM on January 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


I would nth everyone else who is saying this is a really unreasonable idea. So. For some practical suggestions - either talk to his doctor and get him denied clearance for such a long journey, or flat out lie and come up with a work/life emergency that cannot be superceded.

I know in the long term boundaries have to be enforced and thought about, but just in case this is not the hill to die on, you can always find an 'easy' way out of the situation and deal with boundaries later. Funerals can bring out the worst in people, is the only reason I mention that.
posted by tatiana131 at 11:54 AM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seconding jbenben and echoing others. The ethical thing to do here is to say "no." The proposed trip isn't Herculean in any way - that term ennobles it. It's just a foolish idea based on outmoded, rigid concepts of "family duty." I would bet as well that someone wants to see your grandfather again but doesn't want to make the trip themselves. Don't make it easy on that person by putting your grandfather and you at risk.

Even if you had a geriatric RN with you full-time on the trip, it would still be a bad idea. You don't truck elderly, sick people 16 hours in a car for anything other than a very good reason. The death of an in-law is not that good reason. Frankly I'm having a hard time coming up with a good reason.

A firm "no" here will help you avoid similar requests in the future, but coming down with the 24-hour flu now and in the future is perfectly acceptable.

Good on you for submitting this Ask and dodging this bullet for your grandfather and yourself.
posted by Currer Belfry at 11:55 AM on January 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Frankly I'm having a hard time coming up with a good reason.

The Day After Tomorrow hospital evacuation scene is pretty much the only thing I can think of. Unless you guys are fleeing the actual apocalypse, don't go.
posted by elizardbits at 11:58 AM on January 2, 2013


Even if you had a geriatric RN with you full-time on the trip, it would still be a bad idea.

Here's an idea: call a nurse. Any nurse. Maybe call a local urgent care center, or your doctor, the a local hospital, or the number on the back of your insurance card. Call them and tell them exactly what you told us, and ask if it is a remotely good idea or not. The nurse will say "not a chance in hell," and you can go back to your relatives and say that a medical professional told you that this is a bad, bad, bad idea.
posted by griphus at 12:00 PM on January 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


My grandfather is very high-functioning. Until about a year ago, he was working as a greeter at Wal-Mart. He still has a solid grasp on reality, he is just a bit forgetful and often repeats the same phrases or stories over and over again. He is not dangerous, just senile and a bit child-like. I have no fear that he will harm himself or others. But you all do bring up a good point about bathrooms and such. I didn't think about that.

He lives with my stepmother, who has never met this side of the family. I will ask her if she will come with us, because I would feel much more comfortable traveling with her. If she will not or cannot, I will tell my family that I cannot go either.

The reason I feel obligated to go is because my grandfather is a shell of himself. He sits in his room all day and reads his bible. He doesn't go outside, he doesn't really talk to other people. I think he would really benefit, emotionally and physically, from being around extended family. I feel very bad for him. I feel like he feels like a burden, like everyone is just waiting for him to die.
posted by calcetina at 12:01 PM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm coming back because I want to add something here.

Funerals are for the living. They are for commemorating, commiserating, and saying goodbye. They are for the benefit of the people going.

If your grandfather is not going to get any benefit out of going, then he really shouldn't go. If his presence is going to harm more than help the people attending, he shouldn't go (how many of these people will he remember when talking to them? Will he be able to hold a conversation at all, or will he be perpetually confused?)

The more I think about this, the more I really believe this is a truly terrible idea and that it's only for the benefit of your family to say he went without any regard for what benefit your grandfather will get from going.
posted by zizzle at 12:02 PM on January 2, 2013


I don't think this is a good idea.

Based on reading your previous questions, I suspect that if you look inside yourself and really reflect, you can feel the difference between "this is something I don't want to do but really should and really can" and "this is something that is not a moral imperative" and "this is something that, whether or not it is a good thing to do, I myself cannot do unaided, and I'm dreading it because I have a plausible feeling that it will be a disaster".

I think that if you come from a background of service and "it is always, always moral to put others ahead of yourself", it can be very easy to get in the habit of putting others ahead of yourself when it's actually going to make things worse. I place much more weight on "put others first, don't be afraid of inconvenience, you owe things to your friends and family just because we all live in the world together" than many middle class US-raised white people do, but I think you need to carefully consider the likely outcome of some of the requests you face. If the outcome is worse than not-doing-the-thing, then you shouldn't get sucked into doing it simply because you can do it if you devote all your skills to it.

Seconding jbenben and echoing others. The ethical thing to do here is to say "no." The proposed trip isn't Herculean in any way - that term ennobles it. It's just a foolish idea based on outmoded, rigid concepts of "family duty."

I think this is an excellent point. I think it's easy for us to slip into the mindset of "even trivial family obligations are sacred no matter what the cost because it's family". And I think we have a lot of feelings around funerals that make it much harder to say "it's going to be too difficult to get there, and it's not really that important under the circumstances" - we feel as though if it's a funeral everyone must assemble, and that goodbyes are vital for all members of the family regardless of their health, financial situation, ability to travel, etc. Unless your grandfather himself has articulated a strong wish to go, there isn't much to be gained by taking him - and even if he has, sometimes things like that just can't be done safely. I think funerals tend to bring out "whatever it takes at any cost" mentality because it's about death.

I sincerely hope you don't do this. I think it will be very, very hard for you in all kinds of ways, give very little benefit to your family and potentially expose your fragile, ill grandfather to all kinds of germs, injury and exhaustion that will open him up to real sickness over and above the dementia. A 16-hour round trip in two days can make young, healthy people get sick.
posted by Frowner at 12:03 PM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ok, so from your update, I really suggest that you find an alternate method of travel for whoever attends this event. 8 hours in a car is seriously exhausting, even if you are just a passenger. It's hard on your joints even if you're not 80+ years old. I think you should ask your stepmom to accompany you and I think you should all either take a train if possible or fly.
posted by elizardbits at 12:06 PM on January 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


From your most recent comment I think the best thing you could do would be to decline attending this funeral with your grandfather and then spend the time arranging for family to come and visit him at a later date and on happier terms. Just explain that the trip would be very difficult for both of you but it would mean a great deal if your extended family could spare a weekend and maybe take him out for dinner or even just tea.
posted by Loto at 12:06 PM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


The reason I feel obligated to go is because my grandfather is a shell of himself. He sits in his room all day and reads his bible. He doesn't go outside, he doesn't really talk to other people. I think he would really benefit, emotionally and physically, from being around extended family. I feel very bad for him. I feel like he feels like a burden, like everyone is just waiting for him to die.

Aww, honey, going to a funeral is not going to help with this.

Getting him into activities sponsored through a senior center will help with this.

The best thing that happened to my great aunt with dementia was to get her into a place with people her own age and shared interests. Her memory, while not improving, hasn't gotten worse, and she's been far more social in the two years she's lived there than she ever was in the three years before. She's not at all the same person and is far more like her old self now that she's getting the help and socialization she needs.

If this is your main concern, then the funeral shouldn't be what this question was about. I'm so sorry ---- watching a loved one change in this manner is really difficult.
posted by zizzle at 12:07 PM on January 2, 2013 [26 favorites]


My grandfather is very high-functioning.

Have you been with him at night, recently? I don't know how much you know about his condition but sundowning can make a high-functioning person into a wreck in a matter of hours, and the next day they're back to baseline. The first time I saw my grandmother sundown it was honest-to-god scary and I am really, really glad my girlfriend knew what was going on.
posted by griphus at 12:13 PM on January 2, 2013 [16 favorites]


When my grandfather was a high functioning Alzheimer's patient, in the beginning, he'd still have these moments where he'd get lost - physically - in somewhere he was really familiar with, like the grocery store by their house.

My grandmother, his wife, when she started with Alzheimer's she was also highly functioning, but taking her out of her comfortable environment - like visiting someone's house she was unfamiliar with - threw her for a complete loop and disoriented her big time.

There's also a thing with Alzheimer's that is referred to as Sundowning. Towards the end of the day, their confusion and irritation is exacerbated. They often don't sleep well either. Loss of urinary control was also an issue too in the beginning - not all the time, but occasionally.

Granted, hopefully, your grandfather isn't there with any of that, but I am guessing you don't spend full days with him caring for him or cohabitating with him. They really are a lot like toddlers. It's incredibly sad.
posted by jerseygirl at 12:13 PM on January 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


I definitely agree that this is not something you have to do, but if you want to make the trip and he wants to make the trip, then I would suggest investing in some old serialized radio dramas to listen to, like The Shadow, for example. I drove 8 hours with my 80 year old grandfather a couple years ago and this was the absolute HIGHLIGHT of the trip for him. You might also want to look into Prairie Home Companion, which has some similar elements and is generally acceptable to old folks.
posted by smirkyfodder at 12:18 PM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, hold the goddamn phone - he lives with your stepmom, but yet somehow YOU are supposedly the only person who "lives near him"? And her excuse for treating both you and her husband's father so shabbily is because she's "never met that side of the family"?

Once this is all over and done with and resolved however it's resolved, I really think you might want to consider talking to your dad and your granddad about getting him into a very moderately assisted assisted living situation now, while he's still lucid enough to make the decision himself. Living with Alzheimer's can only get worse, and if your stepmom is already refusing to make even a token effort at helping him out in any way, I can't even imagine how badly he'll be neglected once his symptoms start showing in a more significant way.

This will also help him get out more and participate in activities and socialize, instead of sitting alone in his room with his bible.
posted by elizardbits at 12:27 PM on January 2, 2013 [22 favorites]


You have no idea that your grandfather is actually "high functioning" or that an 8 hour trip wouldn't tax his health such to cause him (or you) actual harm.

Yes, get him to participate regularly at structured events held by local senior centers.

No, do not try and find a way to make this trip work. I mean, sure, if you need to play at it to smooth things over, as long as you absolutely do NOT end up taking the trip..

No, driving 8 hours to go to a funeral doesn't sound like it will cheer your grandfather up.


I knew about sundowning before this thread, and the prospect of dealing with this on your own and without a medical professional should terrify you.


I have not checked your question history, although I think I get the gist of what other commenters are hinting at when it comes to something being dysfunctional in your family. I'll go ahead and add "dangerous" to the "dysfunctional,"since transporting an eighty year old man with an Alzheimer's diagnosis 8 hours by car is both cruel AND dangerous

Once this is done, please seek out some help. You need to re-calibrate your perceptions and boundaries. You sound very sweet, but naive such that you were considering putting yourself and your grandfather at terrible risk. It's crucial that you develop the ability to spot "Bad Ideas" like this one on your own in the future. This is a skill you can develop!

I'm really glad you came here to ask for insight this time, hopefully we helped keep you and your grandfather safe.
posted by jbenben at 12:42 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's an idea: call a nurse. Any nurse. Maybe call a local urgent care center, or your doctor, the a local hospital, or the number on the back of your insurance card. Call them and tell them exactly what you told us, and ask if it is a remotely good idea or not. The nurse will say "not a chance in hell," and you can go back to your relatives and say that a medical professional told you that this is a bad, bad, bad idea.

Hell, I'm a nurse. For all the reasons others have given -- toileting issues, possible sundowning, lengthy car trip, medication management -- I hereby tell you that this is AT THE VERY BEST a bad idea, and probably an unsafe idea for both you and your grandfather.

There, you're all set.
posted by shiny blue object at 12:44 PM on January 2, 2013 [26 favorites]


Another potentially-helpful bit of anecdata: when my grandfather's Alzheimer's was still mild enough for him to live at home, he would wake up in the night and wander around the house. My grandmother had to install locks on the inside of the bedroom door, way down low so he wouldn't figure out how to open the door. If you and your grandfather will be staying overnight in an unfamiliar place will there be a guarantee of his safety? Will there be someone there who is a light enough sleeper that they would wake up if your grandfather got disoriented and started wandering?
posted by bendy at 12:51 PM on January 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, hold the goddamn phone - he lives with your stepmom, but yet somehow YOU are supposedly the only person who "lives near him"? And her excuse for treating both you and her husband's father so shabbily is because she's "never met that side of the family"?

Wow, the lightbulb went on for me here. Your step-mother seems to have a pattern of dumping unpleasant tasks on you, with the expectation that you'll simply do it because. Whether its active manipulation or simply a pattern that developed over time I can't say. But until you start saying no, it will keep happening.

Your desire to improve your grandfather's quality of life is admirable, but this is not the way to do it.

There are definitely moments when you have to donate some time to being with an aging grandparent/relative, which isn't necessarily fun for you, but you do it because you love them and it makes them happy. I've been there. This is not one of those moments. This is just dangerous.
posted by dry white toast at 12:53 PM on January 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Joining the chorus to say this is a very bad idea.

Tangent thought. Your stepmother sounds like a, ah, difficult individual. However if she is the one pushing for this is it possible that what she really wants is a break from caring for him? Even if it's just a break from having him around all the time? I like the idea posted above about finding activities for him through a seniors centre. Solves his isolation, your guilt about his isolation and gets him out of your stepmother's space for stretches.
posted by arha at 1:01 PM on January 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


I feel very bad for him. I feel like he feels like a burden, like everyone is just waiting for him to die.

You're projecting.

Yes as people age, they slow down, and they are shells of themselves. Before you decide what to do, talk with your step-mother and to your grandfather to see what THEY feel like doing.

My MIL drives me nuts in that if you ask her directly what she wants to do, she's says, "oh it doesn't matter, whatever you decide is fine." So she agrees to whatever I've proposed, then complains about it, and after awhile you discover that she never wanted to do it in the first place. GAH!

I'd be straight up with whomever is asking you to do this. "I don't want to go, I'm concerned about the length of the trip and about Grand-dad's memory issues. This won't be a road trip, it's a slog with a sick, old man. I'm not equiped to deal with it. At. All."

Really, I always advocate saying no, when you don't want to do something. So say NO!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:06 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


No way, you don't have to do this if you don't feel comfortable. You can tell the people in your family that you don't feel comfortable doing this, or at least say you really need to have someone else with you to do this.
posted by Rocket26 at 1:20 PM on January 2, 2013


The way you talk about yourself in this question makes me think that you really would benefit from some support outside of your family/stepfamily. You seem to see yourself through the lens of emotional abuse (calling yourself a brat, for example, for having completely reasonable concerns and reservations). To be clear, that's not your fault at all, but you can take steps to help yourself get past that. Maybe not right away, but please have hope that you can be happier and more positive about yourself.

Best wishes--you seem like a kind and generous person who deserves a lot better than what you've gotten so far.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:22 PM on January 2, 2013 [12 favorites]


The reason I feel obligated to go is because my grandfather is a shell of himself. He sits in his room all day and reads his bible. He doesn't go outside, he doesn't really talk to other people. I think he would really benefit, emotionally and physically, from being around extended family.

Could you take him out for lunch (even if it's to MacDonalds) and to a park instead? Or rent a movie and watch it with him? I think he'd enjoy it more if you spent 2 hours with him doing something nice and low-key, instead of being stuck for more than 8 hours in a car.
posted by clearlydemon at 1:31 PM on January 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


...you can go back to your relatives and say that a medical professional told you that this is a bad, bad, bad idea.

Yup, I am a medical professional (though not, of course, your medical professional), and this is a terrible idea. There is some really great advice above!

Sundowning is a very real thing. You say your grandfather is high-functioning, but for folks with dementia their level of function is HIGHLY dependent on their surroundings. As in, when they are in an unfamiliar environment (like the hospital, or travel to a new city, or even just at night) they really decline. Fatigue, stress, unfamiliar people, disruption in routine...all of these would be rough on your grandfather.

Also, while you say he is high-functioning, you also say he sits in his room all day with little interaction, while last year he was a greeter at Wal-Mart. This suggests that he really isn't as capable as he was. And while he may well benefit from more social interactions, I think things like Senior Center/church groups/etc (regular, organized, time-limited, daytime activities) would be more in order than an endurance-fest of a road trip to visit what may well be virtual strangers.

Say no. This trip would not be a benefit to you or to your grandfather. If your stepmother needs respite, this is not the right way to get it.
posted by maryrussell at 1:34 PM on January 2, 2013 [10 favorites]


I was about to second what maryrussell said about familiar surroundings - people who cope fine somewhere they know can be completely lost, and have very much lower functioning somewhere unfamiliar. Please, do not underestimate this. Even if you bring your stepmother, you're still left with two women - would she go into the men's room after him? If not, then it's still all on you.

He may well be depressed and lonely. But if you were depressed and lonely would you really want to spend sixteen hours in a car with someone who is uncomfortable around you?
posted by Coobeastie at 2:05 PM on January 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


I've cared for or been close to two relatives with dementia. A road trip for a person who doesn't have it all together could be fun for them, or it could be very stressful and anxiety provoking. When you have Alzheimer's, being in an unfamiliar context can remove the cues you rely on to get through those moments where you cannot remember where you were coming from or what you were doing.

For one of my relatives, there was this one hallway at the local YMCA, on the way to the pool, where there was a short blank stretch, with turns at both ends. My relative would get very anxious here because it was impossible to tell from context what the previous and next destinations were.

Your trip may have many of this moments for your passenger. And then they'll be at a funeral. And then they'll have another ride back.

I'd like to second the recommendations that, rather than make a heroic effort to involve them in this event, they would likely be happier with the same amount of time, spread over weeks, doing something in their own neighborhood - a familiar place not far from home.
posted by zippy at 2:24 PM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I told my dad I didn't want to go.  He offered to pay for plane tickets.  I stood my ground.  He acquiesed and later confessed, almost as an afterthought, that my grandpa didn't even really want to go in the first place.... *facepalm*

Anyway, thank you mefites for helping me avoid what could have been a ridiculously uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situation for all parties involved.
posted by calcetina at 6:20 PM on January 2, 2013 [53 favorites]


Well done, calcetina. That was hard work, standing up for yourself like that, and you should feel proud. It was unquestionably the right decision, but that doesn't make it any easier.

Before I saw your update, I was going to share my own experience with how critical familiarity with ones' surroundings is. Several years ago, I had a lot of dental work done, and because I have a horrifying phobia of dentists, they gave me Halcion to make me sleep through it. This was awesome, but it left my memory and cognition pretty badly disrupted for the rest of the day, so I had a friend acting as a caregiver.

About 4 hours after the work was done, the friend and I were holding a perfectly lucid conversation, and it came out that I wanted something to eat. Due to bad planning, we didn't have any reasonable food in the house, so we decided to take a trip to the grocery store, which is two blocks away and which I visit more days than not. I could, right now, draw you a map of this grocery store with all the aisles labelled. It's pretty familiar to me, is what I'm saying.

Well, I got to that grocery store, and I fell apart. I was so scared. I couldn't figure out why I was there, I couldn't remember what I was doing, I felt hunted and frightened and trapped, and I eventually just burst into tears in the middle of the Doritos display and sobbed while my friend grabbed some pudding and ushered me home.

The minute I got back home, my brain ramped back up and I felt 90% of the way to normal again. But that 20 minutes at the grocery store was terrifying, really terrifying, and I was just under the influence of medication,, and I knew my cognition was disrupted and could explain that, even while it was going on.

Obviously this situation is only barely comparable to that of an elder with dementia going on a very long car trip -- but I think it's comparable enough to illustrate why the latter is a terrible, terrible idea.
posted by KathrynT at 6:41 PM on January 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


I told my dad I didn't want to go. He offered to pay for plane tickets. I stood my ground. He acquiesed and later confessed, almost as an afterthought, that my grandpa didn't even really want to go in the first place.... *facepalm*

Please, please, please get in the habit of pushing back on family requests right away. Everything you've said about family in previous questions suggests that not only does your family have an absurd and cruel set of expectations for you but they have no habit of processing 'is this even a good idea to do at all' before they ask. It's not just that they ask you to do too much - they ask you to do actively counterproductive things without even thinking it through. I truly don't understand your family as you describe them; it's as if they have a set of giant, shadowy ideas that they act by without even fleshing things out. If I were you, I would be very, very skeptical of every request that they made of me more complex than "would you get me a soda when you're at the store?"
posted by Frowner at 6:49 AM on January 3, 2013 [13 favorites]


So glad that you made the right decision.

I'll add that if you were thinking about collecting radio dramas or big band music to listen in the car, there isn't any reason that you can't still collect that type of stuff and see if you grandfather wants to visit for an hour or two while you listen together in the comfort of his own home.
posted by CathyG at 11:21 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


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