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Caring and Traveling with an Elderly Parent

By Alexander Fiuza, PhD

For many of us summer vacation means traveling with spouses and children, but for some of us it means traveling with our elderly parents. That's what this year's vacation was all about for me.

My father, Serafin Fiuza, now eighty-one years of age, dreamed about the day that he could return to his native Orense, in Galicia Spain. On many occasions he mentioned to me his desire to see his homeland one more time. Thoughts of his childhood, family life and friends left behind during the European Civil Wars brought back feelings of nostalgia. And, he faced his own immortality with the loss of his own family members over the years, leaving him to be the only family member living in the United States. This only fueled his desire to return at least one more time to visit his only living relative, Ramona Fiuza, his younger sister.

The siblings were separated at a young age and put onto ships that were destined to arrive to Cuba in hopes for a better life. My grandfather and his eleven brothers and sisters set sail in December of 1931 destined for this new life. Together with his wife and two of their four children, one of which was my father, they arrived in Havana, Cuba. His two other siblings went aboard another ship which arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina. These two siblings, Generoso Fiuza and Dolores Fiuza, would not see my father and his other siblings until the early 1970's, when they all came to gather in Miami, Florida for a family reunion. I still remember the emotions displayed and shared by all of our family members. Although I was young at the time, I still get emotional over the memories.

Days before the trip, my father took the initiative to prepare a list of items he would consider taking to Spain. He considered the medications he would need and set out to prepare the list with one of my brothers. He also prepared a set of comfortable clothing, preferably light weight cotton clothing for the hot summer days in Europe. Since the trip would be three weeks long and considering that travel by foot is common in Europe, good quality, comfortable shoes were a must.

Another consideration was nutrition and hydration. Healthy snacks and water for the long flight and trip ahead were important to include. Elderly people have their own customs and routines, therefore these additional items would simplify the journey and help to take care of any physiological needs. Taking a camera or camera phone to help tell the story behind the journey was essential. Additionally, special items such as a wheelchair or walker helped the elderly traveler. Sunscreen UV lotion was also on our packing list, along with a list of his current medications in case of any emergency. I also considered taking his current medical history with his doctors contact information in case of any emergencies. My father's medical insurance cards with coverage and even an additional travel health insurance policy offered by A.A.R.P. (of which he is a member) was an extra layer of protection. My father's list grew each day before the trip departure date. Finally, he considered taking a small gift for his sister, Ramona Fiuza, to be left as a remembrance of his visit home during the summer of 2010.

July 15, 2010, the day of the trip, finally arrived and my father, sister-in-law and I were ready for the long journey ahead. The travel time on the airplane would be approximately eight hours to Madrid and then three by high speed train to Galicia. We boarded the plane and took my Father's wheelchair on board. Being that my father has had a hip replacement, the wheelchair would make the journey easier and safer for him once we arrived. We took off and arrived safely at Barajas International Airport. Immediately upon arriving, we set off to find our bags and to catch the train to the Atocha Grand Central Train Station to continue our journey to my father's hometown.

Along the way, some of the obstacles we faced were the lack of handicap access services, such as adequate ramps and walkways. Due to the mountainous terrain in this part of Spain, smoothly paved pathways were rarely found. And, because of my father's age, his rate of motion was slow so our actual travel time took longer. In hindsight, an electric scooter would have come in handy for this trip to help keep the pace on long days of touring.

We finally arrived to my father's hometown Orense, and were happy to meet my Aunt Ramona and Cousin Candido. The spark in my father's eye and his happiness were so grand that it reminded me of the time when I had seen them all reunite 36 years ago in my hometown, Miami. I was reliving that happy family moment all over again, and it reminded me of the wonderful pleasures of caregiving for my own family members. We visited medieval towns and historic monuments during our two week stay. All the while, my father and I were reminded of our rich heritage and this beautiful land. All of the planning beforehand was worth it. It was truly a worthwhile experience that both he and I will never forget.

About the Author

Alex Fiuza is director of client services for Matrix Home Care which operates throughout Florida. A native of Miami with Cuban roots, Alex holds a doctorate in psychology and has a broad range of healthcare experience that ranges from assisting chronically ill children to providing the elderly with hospice services. Fiuza serves on the Miami-Dade County Coalition on Aging, and is a member of Rallying Points-National Resource Center on Diversity. He recently wrote the preface to a therapeutic book, "Transforma tu Perdida," which is being translated to English this fall as "Transforming Your Loss."

About Matrix

Based in West Palm Beach, Matrix provides a complete array of services, home health care, disability management so injured employees can quickly return to work, independent senior care based on the needs of the elderly and specialty nurses' services, including wound care, infusion therapy and rehabilitation nursing. Certified as a woman minority owned business, Matrix serves Southwest and Southeast Florida from locations in Tampa, Jupiter, Bradenton, Venice, Boca Raton, Pompano Beach and Coral Gables.

For more information, www.matrixhomecare.com.

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