Sorry Mom, but no.
November 5, 2011 9:00 AM   Subscribe

I will no longer travel with my elderly mother. Do I tell her so or just keep changing the subject? Details inside.

My mother loves to travel. I love to travel. Since my divorce several years ago, I have taken my mom on a number of trips to visit relatives, to see places she loves, etc. This has become increasingly difficult as her health has deteriorated. She is wheelchair-bound, has some dementia (remembers events that never happened, short-term memory loss, isn't sure of the date/time/day of the week), requires more physical assistance from me, and has become more cranky and negative. Two months ago I took her to visit relatives. We traveled by car and stayed in motels. She had a great time. I, on the other hand, came home tired and flustered from having to help her in and out of cars, getting up with her in the middle of the night, and listening to all her negative comments about my ex, etc. Last month I took her to Yosemite (both of us knowing this would probably be the last time she will ever go there.) She had a great time. I had a terrible time. I became ill so I had my own stuff to deal with plus I had to deal with my mom's issues. Getting both of us home ended up being a very difficult stressful process and I ended up in the hospital once we got back home.

For these reasons, I have decided that I will no longer travel with my mother. It's just too much for me. Please help me decide whether to tell my mother this outright or to just avoid the conversation. She likes to talk about and plan our next trip and can spend months reading articles and talking to relatives about it so I am sure she will very soon start making inquiries about where we will go next. At that point I could tell her that I will no longer travel with her. This will make her very sad. And it will make me sad for her. My other option is to just change the subject. I could easily see myself saying, "Oh mom, I will be so busy with the holidays that I can't even think about traveling until the spring sometime." Then when spring comes I could say, "Gosh mom, things are so busy with work ..." You can see where I am going with this.

Asking other family members to help her travel is not an option. My siblings have already drawn that line and said they will not travel with her and think I have been very patient and kind for taking her on trips like I have been doing. Her health continues to deteriorate and her dementia to progress such that by spring she will likely be physically unable to travel, something that she may realize herself at that point. She also may be too neurologically impaired to even think about traveling or to get pleasure from the planning process.

Any advice, mefites?
posted by eleslie to Human Relations (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so sorry - this sounds stressful. Good for you for taking your own health and well-being into account.

Does you mom have a family doc or some medical person who could be your ally in this? Could you talk to them about your concerns?

If an outside person can tell her that her health isn't up to this kind of travel anymore (which sounds like it's just about to be the case) that might take the burden off you being the one to be the "bad guy."
posted by pantarei70 at 9:09 AM on November 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

My vote is for being forthright..."Mom, it is just too difficult for me to handle everything that needs handling when we travel and cannot do it anymore". Anything else (excuses, ignoring her comments, etc) seems minimizing to me. I would appreciate being treated with the respect and dignity of the truth.

(My advice might be different if you had an unreasonable mother, which you did not describe).
posted by murrey at 9:10 AM on November 5, 2011 [7 favorites]

Does your mom have the money to hire an aide to go with you if she wants to continue to travel? Sort of like someone who could help around the house, only not around the house? maybe that way you could both have time?

Otherwise, I agree with murrey, although I don't necessarily think you need to bring it up out of the blue - maybe wait until the next time traveling comes up?
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:15 AM on November 5, 2011 [10 favorites]

Would this be helpful to still having the joy that it brings to your mom without it weighing on you?

Plan way in advance. Make it a place that is easy to get to. Most importantly, get some help on the trip. Take one or two people who can do all of the things that wear you out.

That way you can still have a good time and not be overwhelmed and your mom still has travelling with you, which is important to her, to look forward to?
posted by SantosLHalper at 9:16 AM on November 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

Is there a way you could take smaller trips with her? It sounds like it's been difficult for you, but joyful for her. I'm torn because I want your mom to keep experiencing the thing she loves doing, but obviously not at your expense. Are there any organizations that do senior trips? What about day/weekend trips? Would you be able to manage those?
posted by katypickle at 9:20 AM on November 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

Are there day trips and interesting locations that you can go to nearby?

I think you could explain to her that now that you're both moving a little more slowly, it might be nice to explore things you've missed out on which are right under your noses.

It's not about the destinations, it's about spending time with you and having something to look forward to.
posted by hermitosis at 9:20 AM on November 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

My mom loves to travel, I'm the one wheelchair bound. Our last trip was a cruise in Alaska. Living in Florida we had to fly up. Major pain in the ass for me. I will never fly anywhere again with my mother (she just turnned 80). She too is very negative towards me, my music, my hair, etc...etc... She wanted us to fly out to San Jose to see her sister for Christmas and I was forced to finally tell her no, they can come here.

All that just to say you my at some point be forced into a corner and have to tell her no. Better to nip it in the bud now and not wait for a forced confrontation, sure wish I had.

I also refuse to trave with her by car since we can not have a polite conversation for more than 5 minutes before she starts to be critical of me
posted by Folkways at 9:25 AM on November 5, 2011

When my grandmother (who lived with my parents) got to that stage with her dementia, my mother employed precisely this strategy: "just change the subject" rather than repeating conversations that were stressful, sad or unpleasant especially when the conversations were about things my grandmother did not have the health or faculties to do anymore but liked to pretend she was still going to do. Changing the subject, or even smiling and nodding and saying "yes, it would be nice if you handmade four dozen ravioli for Christmas this year", (without planning for it, or continuing the conversation beyond that) was significantly more pleasant and easier for everyone involved--both my increasingly frail grandmother and my increasingly burdened mother.

Were I in your position, I would not say outright that you refuse to travel with your mother ever again because it would not be worth the pain or sadness. Furthermore, with the short-term memory loss, you can't be sure you wouldn't have to have the conversation repeatedly. We had to tell my grandmother that her brother had died at least once a week for several months; eventually it had some grim humor to it, but not at first.

I'm sorry for what you're going through and you do sound as though you've been kind, loving and generous to this point. I would simply avoid the conversation as much as possible, change the subject when necessary, or be vague about committing to an actual trip.

I think you have to ask yourself what are you hoping to gain from telling your mom you won't take her on more trips or what you hope to avoid by it. Will you really gain that from the conversation? Will you really avoid it? Contradicting my grandmother (Telling her it wasn't necessary for her to cook or asking her not to) only made her angry or upset; redirecting her (here! please add the croutons to the salad! go ask dad what he wants to drink with dinner) did not upset her, or make her feel condescended to. Only you know which decision will best suit your mother's personality and faculties. In my experience, the best solution is not to tell her you'll never travel with her again, but avoid making any real plans to do so.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:26 AM on November 5, 2011 [27 favorites]

By the way, I am furious with the rest of your family. Any chance these slackers would kick in to pay for an professional helper who can go with you on a small, carefully planned trip.

I hate the idea of a cruise, but understand they are super ADD compliant.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:26 AM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds like she gets a lot of joy out of the planning process. Why take that away from her? In addition, you say the problem may solve itself by spring. And who knows, you may change your mind or some other circumstance may change. I say put her off for. Ow and see what happens.
posted by bq at 9:27 AM on November 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm not so sure about being forthright - your mother could end up being extremely hurt and angry with you and I'm pretty sure that's not the result you're after.

I like the idea someone else put forward about seeking an ally from the family physician.

I wonder, could you consider short breaks that are closer to home. If you could plan a longer vacation for yourself you might have more time (psychologically speaking) to manage a mini break with your mum. She could still be involved in all the planning and have that enjoyable anticipation. Perhaps there is a festival over a weekend or a state that you could visit within an easy drive or fly.
posted by YukonQuirm at 9:29 AM on November 5, 2011

Don't tell her "no more trips." It will make both of you sad. This has been so hard for you and you want to announce your decision because it will feel like the weight of anticipating the next grueling trip has been lifted, but don't do it. You've announced it to us. It's ok. You don't have to take her anymore.

Next time she brings it up, go along with it (although if it feels dishonest, you can say "I don't know, mom, I'm not sure I have the energy for that. It sounds like a wonderful trip though - where would we go?" etc - keeping it more like a discussion rather than a commitment.

And in the meantime, if you can plan stuff that's easier and close to home - "I thought you might enjoy this movie so I ordered it from Netflix so we can watch"; "I got this Groupon for a new kind of restaurant that's close by"; etc. - do that. Maybe you can get your siblings to be involved in this lower stakes activity. Maybe have them come over for family game night, if they live nearby. Low key things.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:35 AM on November 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

Tell her you don't want to do any more trips because you don't think her health is up to it. It sounds as if this is in fact true, but you're so kind and focussed on her having a good time you've mentally reframed the situation as selfishness on your own part.
posted by Segundus at 9:39 AM on November 5, 2011

It sounds like part of the problem is that it's always just you and her. If several people traveled together, the burden would be split. Maybe this is the winter to get the whole family together and take a Caribbean cruise or something -- warm, convenient, beautiful, familial.
posted by amtho at 9:46 AM on November 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Here is a way to approach the problem from the other side: Ask people to come visit her. Much less stress on her and you, plus then they get to see her before the dementia completely takes over. Win-win.
posted by annsunny at 9:55 AM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm the caregiver for my grandmother who has Alzheimers and is 6 weeks away from her 106th birthday and this is how I'd handle it (don't know if its right for you): Keep planning the trips with her but come up with reasons why it'll be 1-2 months before you're able to act on those plans. The planning will be a great activity to both boost Mom's mood and keep her intellectually engaged.

I've been caring for Grandma for 7-8 years now and we took lots of day trips until about a year ago when it just became too much for either of us. I'm convinced she would have gone into a major depression, gave up and died if I'd told her we weren't ever going cruising again. I'm a firm believer in the Healing Power of Bullshit when dealing with dementia and both our lives are better because of it. :)

I hope you don't mind, but here's a bit of unsolicited advice:
There may be times when you're resentful or angry toward other family members who you feel aren't doing their share in helping you. This will eat you alive if you allow it. I was lucky enough to see my ex-wife and her sister care for their mom without help from a large family and learn from their experience. Most people just aren't equipped emotionally to deal up close on a daily basis with what you, I and anyone else in our shoes sees and feels. Use that same strength to understand the shortcomings of others and you'll become stronger and better equipped to deal with what lays ahead.

Dementia seems like a horrible way to go but there are much worse deaths. I look at my Grandma (who is in end stage Alzheimers and home hospice) and I see a woman in no pain, feels very little fear, still able to smile when she's hugged or sees a baby and gets to die in her own bed at home in the company of loved one(s). Compared to the way everyone else in my family has died, that not a bad way to go.

As I see it, dementia really spares the patient of the fear and pain usually associated with death. It's us, the caregivers and family who bear that burden, and that's OK in my book. We're younger and stronger, better able to take it.
posted by buggzzee23 at 10:24 AM on November 5, 2011 [35 favorites]

Does your mom have the money to hire an aide to go with you if she wants to continue to travel?

Or maybe you can hire one at the destination.
posted by rhizome at 10:27 AM on November 5, 2011

I don't think you should tell her. As you said, by spring she may be physically incapable anyhow. Especially in light of her dementia, allowing her to still enjoy the planning process is not really different from telling a kid about Santa Claus.

I know you said none of your siblings would take her on trips, but does that include all of you getting together and going somewhere with your mother, so that the burden of caregiving is distributed among all of you (and you also get to hang out with each other)?
posted by Jon_Evil at 10:55 AM on November 5, 2011

It sounds like she gets a lot of joy from the planning part. It would be sad to take that away from her. I would:

1. keep pushing some trips off, but allow her to fantasize,
2. do a day trip here and there,
3. have your family pay for an aide (and even separate rooms) if you do feel up to a trip or two in her future.
posted by Vaike at 12:03 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe some "holidays from home" could be fun.
posted by Corvid at 12:10 PM on November 5, 2011

You know, my inclination is always to get things out in the open, be direct, set boundaries, all that, but after the experience I'm having dealing with my father's dementia, I think you're better off just putting it off. As somebody said above, if you tell her no, it's going to lead to a lot of drama that you're likely going to have to repeat over and over. It sounds like if you hang in there a bit, the situation will be easier. For example, it used to be that every time I saw my father he would ask me when he could drive again. My mother wanted to argue with him and give him all the reasons he couldn't (which are legion); all that accomplished was to get him upset and agitated and confirm that he no longer has any control of his life, which is a difficult enough thing for him. After reading "The 36-Hour Day" (which I recommend), I decided to take a different tack and tell him, "well, we'll figure that out when you come home" (he's in a nursing home). He would say, "okay," and that would be the end of that. The interesting thing is that as his physical and mental health declines, he is becoming more aware that he does have problems and he is less cantankerous. So the last time he asked me about driving, I took a chance and said, "well, how would we even get you into the car?" He's now aware that he's in that wheelchair to stay, so he accepted that and we moved on.

From your description, it sounds like if you can distract her and delay a bit, it will become obvious to her that she's not capable of traveling any more. I would say to let her get whatever fun she can out of planning trips, but stress that you don't know when you can do it. By the time the weather is better, her health will make travel an impossibility. Distraction is almost always a better idea for dealing with someone with dementia than is reasoning or arguing with them.

And I agree with your family on this: you've definitely gone above and beyond to do this for her, but you need to take care of yourself now. Loving a parent does not require you to sacrifice your health for him or her.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 12:28 PM on November 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I agree with all of what's been said above, about just pushing it off, or changing the subject, without an outright "no."

I'd also add that I'd start phasing in some interesting at-home activities you can do together that will take some emphasis off "travel planning" as your primary shared activity. Like start a jigsaw puzzle, take bridge lessons together, have her write down/teach you old family recipes, maybe set up a video camera and start recording interviews with her about her life, and/or the lives of family members long dead. That way she gets to participate in a fun activity with you, and you'll also have something you can cherish after she's gone.
posted by np312 at 1:49 PM on November 5, 2011

Many thanks for everyone's wisdom. Many issues were brought up that I had not previously considered. Several people who currently care for relatives who have dementia said they would redirect, delay, change the subject and that is what I think I will do for now. At least until January I will say that because I am still recovering from surgery and because of the holidays, I am unable to make any plans for the two of us. If in January she is still physically able to travel, I will see about finding a caregiver who can travel with us (and I will get a separate hotel room) or will get one of my siblings to help out. Thanks again for all the insights and encouragement.
posted by eleslie at 1:53 PM on November 5, 2011 [9 favorites]

I helped care for my friend's husband throughout his dementia. Sometimes, he would have episodes where he thought we were at the beach. At first, we would try to tell him that he was at home, we were just at a new house and bring him back to the present. Eventually, we would just "go to the beach" with Fred, talking about the water and maybe casting a line in. It made for pleasant afternoons for all of us. I don't think that we were lying to him, just making a new kind of memory.

Talk about the trips that you'll go on some time and the things that you would both like to do. It's nice to think about and to share with each other. If you can find some day trips that are more accommodating to her (or your) limitations, that's great, too.
posted by kamikazegopher at 7:41 PM on November 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

« Older Help me sort out a career in Org Consulting, Org...   |   Stylistic successor to William James Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.