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Background: My mother is 96, still living alone in senior apartment but hopefully will be moving into a skilled nursing facility soon. She lives 50 minutes away and after many agonizing months has finally decided that she would prefer to go into the nursing home near her. I think it is a wonderful place (as nursing homes go). (There is also one particularly great nursing home near me, but the wait list is about a year long whereas the one near her can pretty much take her in soon.) My mother has been exhibiting signs of dementia for a few months now, and it’s been picking up steam. She can’t bathe without help, doesn’t take her meds the way she’s supposed to, leaves food containers on the stove top, only dresses sometimes, hardly eats, loses her keys constantly, couldn’t find the coffee for two days (it was right where it always is in the fridge). She refuses to allow me to hire help to come in except for one woman who cleans once a month. She is frail and afraid; she has asked me a few times now, “What is happening to me?” It’s heartbreaking.


Let me add here that I am all she’s got. I had a sister who disappeared 5 years ago and we don’t know where she is. There are no cousins in this state. I have two daughters who want to help, but previous times when I’ve gone on vacation and tasked my daughters with covering for me, she has turned them away. They also live near me, 50 minutes away from my mom.


My husband and I have recently retired. He also has an elderly mother who lives alone, but he has 4 brothers, 3 sisters-in-law and countless nieces and nephews who live within 5-20 minutes of his mother. (We’ve only been married a year, too, so this is all new to him - the only child caregiver to my mother thing.) My husband and I desperately want to travel and see the world while we are still young and healthy enough to get the most out of it. But, I am unwilling to commit to vacations of more than 1 week at a time while my mother is still living alone. And I am not willing to guarantee that we will be going on any 2 or 3 week trips even after she is in a nursing home, at least not until she is completely comfortable there and I can rest assured that she will be in good hands while I’m gone.


My husband has told me that this is ridiculous, and that certainly after she’s in the nursing home I should be free to travel more often and for longer trips. And he’s talking about SEVERAL trips a year, driving a motorhome across the country, etc. He even went so far as to say that my relationship with my mother is inappropriate and unhealthy. I am stunned that he is so completely unable to put himself in my shoes ... what would he do if HE was an only child, HIS mother was 96, unable to care for herself, just on her way into a nursing home, etc.? Would he be able to just pack up and go off for a few weeks comfortably?


I’m really struggling with this. I always knew him as a very compassionate, caring man, but that’s not how he is presenting himself now. And he’s struggling with the whole “we’re retired now, it’s time for us to travel” thing and thinks I’m overdoing the caregiving.


I guess I’m just curious how others see this situation. Thanks.

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Quint41, in July I buried my son, age 39. My point, you do not know what the future will be. Do not put your life fully on hold, but try to find a balance where your mom will be cared for while you vacation with your husband. You owe it to yourself to live life to the fullest today, in case tomorrow never comes.
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Your husband is probably afraid that if he doesn't get your signature in triplicate now this minute it will never happen. And the thing is, he's not entirely wrong to be thinking "oh-oh", it's just that there must be a happy mean to be found between "let's book the tickets!" on the one hand and "one day some day sometime never" on the other.

I used to zip it when my cousin felt unable to go away even for weekends because she was afraid of her mother's having a crisis at her nursing home and not being immediately on hand to supervise. You couldn't tell her to go and not worry because there had in fact been plenty of crises, and she had had to make several good catches over time. But in her case I did sometimes feel that she was slightly keeping a dog and barking herself, not that I'd have said so.

And interestingly, I have just typed an email, privately thinking "ph@*!x¡*#z*!", to a fellow volunteer at our local hospital who asked me to cover two of her shifts over Christmas because, she explains, her mother is now settled in a care home abroad and they "have" to go so that she is not alone at Christmas. Well, now. Let's define "alone" in that sentence, hm? And, besides, who held a gun to the mother's head and forced her to live in Cannes? But again, not for me to comment; as it happens I've agreed to one but not the other because I too have family and anyway I'm already covering for someone else on the second day...

The point of my ramble is, I suppose, that every choice we make has repercussions great and small on other people near and far. You and your husband have to find the balance you're both comfortable with - although Golda Meir did say about compromise that if everyone is equally unhappy you've probably got it about right..!
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Thank you all for responding. (All except 97yroldmom whose response I found snarky and presumptuous.)
Barb: Mom has COPD, CHF, constant dizziness, very weak, confused. She’s going to a nursing home close to her because it’s in the town she’s lived in for 60+ years, it’s where my Dad died, she’s comfortable there. There is one near me that is equally good, but the wait list near me is a year whereas the one near her has beds available, and they can start her out in a private room for the first 3-4 months. I have made it clear that I would rather drive an hour 3 times a week and see her smiling, comfortable and happy than walk 5 minutes from my house 7 days a week and see her unhappy and just waiting for death. There are a couple of people left there who I can call on to drop in and visit her while I am gone, yes. And that is part of my plan for any trip. She has outlived all of her lifelong friends.
Jeanne & Countrymouse: You and I are on the same page. I am not opposed to traveling, I LOVE to travel and want to! I just don’t know why he expects me to commit to multiple lengthy trips now, when things are in flux. Can’t we let her settle in and take it from there? And it’s not like I’m refusing to go anywhere. Heck, I’m the one who got the NCAA Final Four tickets for him and said, ‘let’s go to San Antonio!’ That will be a 3 week trip in March, and I’m preparing Mom for my being away for 3 weeks. She’s already a nervous wreck about that. We’re also going to visit friends who are moving to Spain next September and that will probably be a couple of weeks.
Tothill: Why do I not trust the nursing home? Have you read state reports on nursing homes? I don’t care how good they are, they are all understaffed and there are plenty of horrible reports. The people who get the best care are the ones who have family visiting often and advocating on their behalf, not the ones who are all alone. And if I were hit by a bus tomorrow, my husband would probably be the first person to step in. And my daughters to the extent they can as they are in their 20’s, shortly out of college and working their first real jobs full-time an hour away from Grandma. There is nobody else, no other family.
You have all given me food for thought. Thank you.
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Quint, I hope you and your husband will hold fast to the most important point, which is that you are on the same team and you both want everyone to be fine.

I'm not sure it's possible for any outsider to tell you what is the right thing to do. It's a spectrum, isn't it - there are people who can waltz off and not look back, and then there are people who sit by the phone "in case" on the rare occasions when they're not actually holding their parent's hand; and there are families with many hands making light work, such as your husband's, and others where basically it's just you.

Having said that, I think your husband is rather pressing you for a decision that just doesn't have to be made right now. Things are changing. Your mother is ready to move in to long term care. Your daughters have volunteered for duty. It really won't be very long before you can relax at least a little, and enjoy making these travel plans in a way that at the moment is impossible for you. I hope he'll take a step back and realise that if he can just hold his horses for a few months it'll be worth the wait.
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Every situation is different. In my family my Granny was dying, but my Mum had planned an extended trip to India over a year ahead of time. Granny told Mum to go and enjoy herself. As it was civil unrest in India led to Mum returning early and she arrived home the day that Granny died, so she got to see her Mum one more time. Mum's twin who lived across the country, decided not to come see her mum before she died, as she felt it was more important to be here for the funeral.

Why do you feel that once your mother is in a nursing home that you cannot trust them to look after her?

My family all loves to travel and encourages it. Yes people get sick and die, but that will happen if you are sitting at home or sitting on a beach.

I am 51 and went on a 8 week trip in the spring and am planning another 4 week trip next spring, both to Europe. Dad is 88, had a massive stroke 2 years ago and is frail. Mum is 83 and still going strong, they divorced almost 30 years ago. I am not going to suspend my life because Dad may have another stroke while I am away. I would feel trapped.

Put another way, if you are hit by a bus tomorrow, who will step in to help your Mum?

A former co-worker went on an extended trip years ago. She asked me to check up on her mum who was in a nursing home. She did not have dementia, but did not have anyone else in the community. I visited her 2x a week and took her out for a drive on one of the visits. She liked to go to Walmart and use the scooter in the store.

There are lots of options if you are willing to look for them, even for an only child.
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Your first priority is your husband. Once you get your mom settled, your daughters can look in on her while you're gone. Mom will just have to deal with it. Seniors can get very stubborn and self-centered in their old age, but that doesn't mean we have to give them everything they want to our own personal detriment. Once mom is in the nursing home, hit the travel road!
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We are kind of in the same boat...we want to start traveling more, but both DH's mother and mine are in their late 80's and while his is in better health, overall--he still feels the pull to not go for long b/c something may happen.

We've compromised a little. I don't care for trips longer than 10 days---after that length of time I am usually pretty homesick and ready for relaxation (trips with DH are pedal to the metal, scenic sights at 80 MPH and he's nit happy unless we hit 3 states in a day....and we live in the west....

We have kids who step in, if necessary, his sister is great to his mom, and actually, his mom prefers her, but she has a lot of health problems. My mom is quite frail and I just don't even know why she's still with us.

At this point our "compromise" is that we don't go more than 10 days, we try to check in on the road and we don't let the worry about "what if" get in the way. My mother and dad never got their "golden years" daddy was dxed with Parkinson's at 57 and took early retirement and never went further than 20 miles from home after that.

We took a cruise earlier this year. I bought the trip insurance, as we did not know how their health would be in 6 months time. It was a lot, but the comfort of knowing if we had to cancel, we weren't out $7K.

Your hubby and you are essentially newlyweds--I've been married 41 years and all it takes to communicate with him at this point is to look at him. Give it some time, your DH just doesn't "get" your family dynamics.

Don't put off the travel and such--we cannot plan for very far into the future--for any of us!
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You are wise to think thru vacation plans, but I think you're conclusions are a bit off. GO!! Enjoy your husband and enjoy your time away!! You'll probably always be within a day's drive of an airport, should Mom have an (real!) emergency. If you travel overseas, buy the trip insurance so you can get home quickly without major expense. If Mom is in a NH, trust that they are capable of handling medical emergencies. Trust that your daughters can hold everything together until you get back. Open an account with a caregiving agency so you can hire sitters if needed while you are away. Get creative with pre-planning Mom's care, then GO!! Take lots of pictures and enjoy making memories with your husband!!
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I think it's a poor argument on your part that you can't leave your mom because she doesn't have anyone else. You explained she has two granddaughters who are willing to help and that she won't allow anyone but you. It's not because she doesn't have anyone else. The sister has nothing to do with it.
Nor the size of your husbands family.
You are saying that your mom is suffering from dementia. Yet you are allowing her to make the decisions on your travel plans. Or does mom even know you have those plans?
You say the NH nearer to you is a better and more convenient NH but mom likes the other one so you are going along with it. I'm all for her making her own decisions but why do the decisions have to be one sided? If she expects you to be coming by often she should consider your life as well. I would put her on the other homes list, let her move to the one near her for now with plans to move her.
If you already have the travel home and have been planning to travel all along, then compromise on the number of two week trips.
If the problem is that you never want to travel until your mom is gone then say so. You may have bigger decisions to make than how long to be on vacation.
I feel bad for your husband since you have only been married a year and you don't want to honor your plans to travel. It's not like you are going to Europe for three months.
You knew your mothers age when you married him. The sisters been gone 5 years....
Now regardless of whether you go or stay you have this conflict between you.
A person can be caring and compassionate and still feel hurt when his bride backs out on retirement plans.
How long were you single and care taking for your mom? I think that's the real problem. Mom may be afraid but more to this point you are afraid.
There are at least three people to consider now. Not just mom.
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My husband had dementia. We traveled all we could. In the beginning that included air travel, Amtrak travel, road trips, a bus tour, pretty much what we did before the diagnosis. (A lot more work for me, of course.) And then gradually we had to cut back. Shorter distances, more rest stops, local attractions. Our final cruise was a week on Lake Michigan, not two weeks in Tahiti.

I wonder if you and your husband could follow this plan in reverse. Start with the short trips and see the local attractions. Save the long trips for later. Once when I had to use up some vacation days or lose them I got out a regional map, took a compass and drew a circle based on the number of days I had, and found a fun place to visit within that circle. You both might be surprised at how much fun you can have right near home! (In your case, the center of the circle would be the nursing home.)

In other words, I'd probably handle this situation the way you want to. Definitely travel while I could enjoy it, but not for long periods of time, and not distances that would be hard to get back quickly from. See how your mother adjusts to the nursing home and adjust your travel plans accordingly.

My husband was raised in an orphanage. I have 3 sisters, 3 brothers, and a ton of cousins. Yep, we had very different attitudes and expectations, especially the first few years. Your husband is not wrong and not uncaring. He is just coming to this situation from a very different background. If you'd been married 20 years there'd be a melding of your views, but that hasn't happened yet.

I certainly hope you can keep your travel discussions respectful and that you'll both be open to some compromising. This isn't a good-guy/bad-guy situation!
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Quint, what are your mom's physical problems? Is she ill? Does she have medical problems that may require frequent hospitalizations?

My mom, post stroke, was in a nursing home for nearly 4 years. She had some underlying cardiac issues, but nothing that required constant hovering. She required a pacemaker during year two and had her pleural effusion drained, I think twice during that time.

4 years would have been a very long time without a vacation for me. My brothers and I all went on longer than one week vacations to Europe during that time.

Is mom going to a NH close to home because she still has friends who can pitch in nearby? I would enlist them to help if you are away. You can hire a geriatric care manager to oversee parts of her care, if you are at a distance.

Think long and hard about this. You could end up hovering for a decade if she's "healthy as a horse".
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Sendhelp: We already own an RV. We know how to do it all, but the longest we’ve gone away is a week. CDN: Thank you for your thoughtful response. We do have a long trip already planned for next March in the motorhome. I have agreed to that and hope that by that time Mom will be comfortable in the NH and I will feel comfortable traveling. But I just cannot promise to take more lengthy trips until we have returned from that one. Expecting me to agree to that when I have no idea what the future holds is, to me, ridiculous.
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Dear Quint41,

You are very loving and caring daughter. Your mother is very lucky to have such a compassionate advocate. I can certainly understand how hard it is to just go on vacation after all the caregiving you have provided. Honestly, I would probably be the same way if it was my father or mother. My father passed last year and for three years I did not travel in order to be close to home.

It is a difficult decision and we all must do what we feel is right for ourselves. I can also see your husband's point of view. He is lucky to have a big family that shares the responsibility so probably finds it struggle to understand.

Like Send suggested maybe try two weeks and see how it goes. Never hurts to at least try.
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Be sure he drives, especially when parking in the space.
And, never, never, learn how to dump those tanks, smart woman that you are.
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Not wrong.
However, your husband's pleas, argument in favor of traveling is in agreement with your stated goals to travel while you can still enjoy it. Sorry that he cannot present a rationale argument in a compassionate manner.  You both may still be able to travel for two weeks, well, maybe not "comfortably".

Test drive that two-week vacation now by placing Mother in a two-week respite care at the NH that will accept her now.... at least she will be comfortable!  Rent an RV, to test drive. You will find it expensive to be standing at the dump stations with boots on, along your trip, emptying the waste excrement, rinsing, and treating the black water tank for the smells. The grey water tank smells too. His back will hurt. Everytime you pull into an RV park to hook-up when you both are tired and irritable, an argument will ensue;  he will have to hook-up (to the sewer) before you can cook dinner.  And then, you will be hard pressed to find any compassion.  And that's not all.
Have a nice vacay!
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