It has been said that life is what happens when you are busy making plans.
My parents did a lot of planning. In their 20s, they planned how to scrape together the money to buy a modest home of their own. In their 30s, they planned how to pay off the mortgage in 17 years instead of 30. In their 40s, with an empty nest, they planned their retirement. In their 50s, when their parents died they began to think about their own mortality, and they planned some more. Dementia was never in their plans.
The early signs were either ignored or explained away as the senior moments people joke about. Then one day in May, 2015, my 84-year-old father went to get his hair cut and came back home 10 minutes later without having gotten his hair cut. When he drove into the parking lot, suddenly he could not think of how to turn off the car so he drove back home. He put down his keys that day and never wanted to drive again.
Mom finally took Dad to the doctor and got a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. After that, Mom was filled with anxiety as she tried to take care of Dad and plan for an uncertain future. By fall, my brother was busy emptying their house of antiques and knickknacks and fine art, selling what he could.
I visited biweekly and then weekly, as it became more and more apparent that my mother was in a fragile state, physically and mentally. Soon, I was taking my parents on weekly outings. Dad seemed to enjoy those times and Mom said they were the only thing that got her through each week.
In December, Dad became violent one night and Mom finally agreed to let brother and me look for a memory care facility. When we moved him into his new home, Dad was pretty far gone and Mom was on a tightrope of nerves. She had lost weight and the least little unexpected thing would throw her into a panic attack.
All Mom’s planning last fall for a move this spring was for nothing. She remains in the house she moved into in 1963 and will continue to do so. Only Dad moved, and that was not what she planned for either. Life happened, and it took us all in an unexpected direction.
In April, I asked Mom if she would care to go on a road trip with me the 1st of May, to see the Grand Coulee Dam in eastern Washington and Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho. Just the two of us. She jumped at the idea and got to spend a month planning a much-needed break.
We had a great 5 day, 4 night adventure. It was a good mother-daughter time. We remembered and reminisced. We talked about the grieving process that she has been going through (even though Dad is still technically alive, the man he was, is no more). She talked about how this was the first time in her life that she has lived alone and how she is adjusting. It was a time for healing and re-energizing.
Sometimes, when life has kicked you in the teeth, the best thing to do is make some time to find a little joy.
This was one journey filled with nothing but good times and wonderful sights. Here are just a few of the sights that gave us joy and a new set of happy memories…
Abandoned farmhouse surrounded by skeletal trees. Mt. Adams in the background. The sky is so big and the landscape so vast I can just imagine a pioneer wife feeling lonely and alone.
Looking upriver from Lincoln Rock State Park on the Columbia River near Wenatchee, Washington.
DRY FALLS. This group of cliffs is the sight of what was once the the largest waterfall in the world. During ice age Missoula floods, this waterfall was over 400 feet high and 3½ miles wide. It is estimated that the water reached as high as 300 feet deep above the falls.
GRAND COULEE DAM is the largest hydropower producer in the US, generating more than 21 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year – enough to supply 2.3 million households. Power is supplied to 11 states and Canada. 550 feet high. Total length 5,223 feet; main dam 3,867 feet. 11,975,521 cubic yards of concrete. The reservoir behind the dam is the 3rd largest (by volume) in the world, after Hoover Dam and Itaipu Dam.
THE LONG ROAD AHEAD. After leaving Grand Coulee Dam, it was a long drive to Spokane. This was a quick shot through the windshield while driving because we were so taken with the view and there was no good place to pull over. And yes, that is a crack you see in the windshield – the new car is now initiated.
We visited Riverfront Park in downtown Spokane on two consecutive evenings. The second evening, we enjoyed the Lower Falls from the Skyride aerial tram.
LAKE PEND OREILLE is the largest lake in Idaho and the 38th largest lake by area in the US, with a surface area of 148 square miles. It is 43 miles long, and 1,150 feet deep in some regions, making it the fifth deepest in the US.
LAKE COEUR D’ALENE is a natural lake in the Idaho Panhandle. It is 25 miles long, varies from 1 to 3 miles wide, and has over 109 miles of shoreline.
PALOUSE FALLS is 198 ft in height. The canyon at the falls is 377 feet deep. These falls and the canyon downstream are an important feature of the channeled scablands created by the great Missoula Floods that swept periodically across eastern Washington and across the Columbia River Plateau during the Ice Ages.
MCNARY WILDLIFE NATURAL AREA. The US Army Corps of Engineers maintains this lovely 318 acre wetland just downstream from McNary Dam. It is a little-known gem well worth a detour off the main highway.
The Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge is located on and around the Columbia River about 15 miles northwest of Hermiston, Oregon and includes 8,907 acres in Oregon, and 14,876 acres in Washington. It was established in 1969 to help mitigate habitat lose due to the flooding that occurred following the construction of the John Day Dam.
Along the way, we got our first-ever sightings of Golden Eagle, Western Bluebird, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and Yellow-bellied Marmots. We also enjoyed seeing many Osprey, White Pelicans, and Ring-necked Pheasant. If you would like to see those pictures and more, feel free to visit my Flickr album at https://flic.kr/s/aHskyrThp3
Oh, and the banner photo? That is our shadows on a foot bridge over the upper Spokane Falls.