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Joy in the Journey

February 14, 2013

by Linda Beerman
I have spent the last few days in and around Omaha visiting my mom in the hospital there. She has some heart conditions which caused her to be low in oxygen and have fluid in the lungs. She is fragile and weak, needing hospital care to help her get strength back. My dad stays faithfully at her side offering whatever help he can, and telling us stories (most of which we have heard before) that usually leave us laughing and reminiscing! He has endured a stroke about ten years ago, and suffers with COPD and Macular Degeneration. He uses a cane now, but otherwise gets around pretty well. He says he would rather sit than stand, and ride than walk because of his shortage of breath.

My parents have been what most would call nomadic for the past 24 years! They gave up their home in 1989 and began traveling in an air stream trailer, then a motorhome, and finally a van. All fifty states have been places they have visited and enjoyed throughout this time. One of my four brothers, Bruce, is a colonel in the air force, and they spent a couple months in Europe with his family one summer. The people they have met, the places they have seen and experienced, and the fun they have shared is more than most of us can imagine. They have had wonderful retirement years, and we six siblings are so happy they have had this blessing.

My dad is a retired army veteran, and their adventures have taken them to visit many friends from his days in the service. Along the way they have met countless "new" friends that they have revisited or keep in touch with through letters or phone calls. Include all of the relatives scattered here and there, they don't have to search too far to see a familiar face.

For most of the years, my parents traveled during the months of October through April or May south, east, or west, depending on the weather and who or what they were desiring to see. Many of those winters were in Yuma, Arizona, where my brother, Jeff, and his family live. Our oldest daughter, Ranell, has also lived there for nine years and treasured their visits. During the warmer months, they've spent time with the four of us who live in the midwest. They usually "hang their hats" with my only sister, Julie, and her family in Logan, Iowa, (near Omaha) or Dan and I here near Fulda. We both have plenty of room for them, and enjoy sharing time and life with them. My single brother, Tom, from Bigelow, Minnesota, where we grew up is close enough to see them at either of our homes.

In the last few years my mom has done all of the driving because of my dad's declining eyesight. It would be fun to know how many miles they have logged over the past many years! Both my mom and dad have incredible memories and can tell you the numbers of highways or the best routes to take over most any area in our country. Whenever I get out a map or atlas, they both offer advice for the shortest way or what there is to see on the trip. I am dreaming of a trip to Alaska someday, and they spent an entire summer in 1995 up there in a Dodge Santana Camper. Driving the Alcan Highway up, and returning to Vancouver on the ferry was just part of that grand adventure. When I listen to their stories and interesting accounts of what they've seen, it certainly whets my appetite to get going!

All of their belongings are nestled into two small plastic dressers in the back of the van and various tubs and bags when they travel, but they seem to know where everything is placed. One day recently I needed a stapler and mine didn't work. Dad retrieved one from somewhere in the van in a few short minutes. Most of us wouldn't want to live out of a metal home on wheels, but it works for them!

In the early days of their travel sometimes it was difficult to catch up with them, but it is much easier now to "find" them with the cell phone. My sister handles all of their mail as they use her address, and they do have e-mail which helps keep us connected. One time I had to send some medicine to them and label the package "transient" so the post office wouldn't throw it away! It has been a learning experience for all of us. But the most important thing is that they have spent their retirement years "their way", and for them it has been a maze of adventure and amazing time of togetherness for them. Mom journaled through each trip and has notebooks filled with memories.

Last year was a turning point for my parents. My mom became quite ill after driving to Arizona for the winter, and spent months in hospitals and nursing homes to gain back her strength. My dad also had his share of problems and hospitalization for a short stint. Finally, my youngest brother, Kent, who is a P.A. in Omaha, flew south and drove them back in their van. Immediately he hospitalized mom and once again she spent time in the hospital and a nursing home to rally to a healthier state.

I was blessed to have them return to our home last May in time to share in my retirement celebration. Since that time they have decided to keep their radius of travel between southwestern Minnesota and the Omaha area, for now at least. They have good days and bad, as far as their health, and judge each day at a time, making decisions on how they are feeling. Mom is still driving on the good days, so they are able to get out on their own when that happens. It brings me joy to know that I am available to be of help to them, along with my family.

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