It’s time for an update on my trip to North Dakota to visit the grandparents… if you haven’t read why I was nervous, start here.

To be perfectly honest my trip home wasn’t so dramatic, which is kind of a bummer because that could mean an uneventful blog post. But even though it lacked the sort of drama you would have expected or the type of silliness that might make you laugh, it was filled with something much more meaningful and worthy of sharing.

Before I get to the meat of it, let me just say, I’m SO TIRED and SO SICK of being in the car.  Most of my exhaustion stems from spending four out of five days either sitting in or driving a car for eight hours and from unloading and reloading my crap about four different times, but luckily my little furbaby and I did a wonderful job being away from The Scottish.  And McKenna only suffered a tiny bit of travel anxiety on the first day.

The good news is that everyone loved her, but hey, what’s not to love?


Our little flight risk did manage to escape once when we first arrived in Bismarck by taking advantage of a slightly open doorway and she really spooked The Mother, but luckily we caught her and all was well.  She has the nickname flight risk for a reason!

McKenna was finally able to meet her cousin dog Fibonacci (The Sister’s bichon shih tzu) and while he was a bit afraid of her at first, they totally ended the weekend as buddies even though this picture proves otherwise.


These two couldn’t be more opposite in appearance and temperament!  Here they are sleeping together in the car, so adorable.


Why so much travel in such a short amount of time?  Why the random middle of October trip to North Dakota?  Life is all about family and sometimes being there for family means four car trips in five days so that’s what you do.  For family.

All the driving was worth it because Grandpa F LOVED McKenna.  He called her a boy most of the trip and he couldn’t remember her name but whenever he saw her he stooped down to rub her neck.  And he smiled.  And he laughed at her silly antics.  (She loves to sit on laps and press her hind quarters into your legs.)

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My Grandpa grew up in a time where men didn’t show emotion or sensitivity but the main thing I remember about him is the warm hugs we received as grand kids and how he’d whisper “Grandpa loves you” in our ears before saying goodbye.

Grandpa F is a man who let the emus at the zoo eat eat bird food out of his bare hands (despite the risk of being bit) because they made him laugh.  He’s a man who would rather you donate money to a charity than use it to buy him a Christmas present.  He’s the type of Grandpa who organizes Styrofoam boat races down the gutter after a big rainfall for his grandchildren, always joining in the fun himself.  And he’s the type of guy who encourages squirrels to live in his backyard, making sure they have food to eat and trees to climb.

Grandpa F is a quiet man, a strong man, and a man who came home from his job as a bridge engineer to eat lunch at home with his wife every day for the duration of his career.  He’s a man who kept his body healthy by working in his yard and playing with his family.  He’s a person you could count on for anything and a loving husband, father, and grandfather.  He’s also a man who has Alzheimer’s disease.

He doesn’t remember to say, “Grandpa loves you” anymore because he doesn’t even remember our names or what city he lives in.  He has trouble finishing sentences because he simply can’t think of the right words to use.  Most of the time he can’t remember if Grandma J is his mother or his wife and he’s lost all interest in yard work and his other favorite activities.

Grandpa F still loves animals though, and that includes his backyard squirrels.  In fact he still hangs corn stalks from the trees for them to nibble on as he watches from the living room window.  It’s really sweet but when The Mother asked him if he had any children (he has three btw), he replied, “Two.  Two squirrels.”  Heartbreaking doesn’t begin to cover it, but she just laughed because it’s better than crying.

He is happy and content but it’s still painful.  It’s especially painful to see Grandma J hurting.  It’s hard to watch The Mother and her siblings worry and fret and care for him like he’s a child.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first grandparent I’ve lost to this awful disease, The Father’s Dad had dementia as well and it was just as terrible then, although I was a bit younger and slightly less aware.

So we go to Bismarck and we bring our dogs and we play puzzles, and watch wedding videos.  We listen to Grandma J’s stories and eat her comfort food.  We take her out to a special, fancy lunch, just us girls, (The Sister, Grandma J, Aunt K, and myself), because when you’re a constant care-taker, it’s nice to be a bit selfish every once in a while.


So, no, my trip wasn’t dramatic with flat tires or dog panic attacks or blow-out sister fights.  It was dramatic because there was talk of nursing homes and doctor’s visits.  There were tears because sometimes life is hard and sometimes change is extra scary when it involves a loved one.

But there’s always family.  Family lives on and loves on and in my family, there is always an abundance of love even during stressful times.  These are the relationships you never want to take advantage of and these are the relationships I am most grateful for in my life.


If you need something a little less heart-wrenching, read this funny post about Grandpa F and the candy bowl at Easter!

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6 Responses to “For the Love of Squirrels”

  1. Kathleen

    Thanks for writing this post. I have a few relatives who have Huntington’s disease, another form of dementia, and it’s not an easy thing seeing loved ones change so dramatically. I’m happy to see that you cherish the moments with your loved ones, they will always help you get through the rough patches, that’s for sure.

  2. Sara

    Aw, Stephanie! I’m so sorry about your Grandpa F! I can only imagine how tired your Grandma must be! My grandmother was a constant caretaker too and a little bit of family always went a long way. All that driving was definitely for a good cause! PS: Those two pups are adorbs sleeping next to each other!


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