Now that I have sorted out multiple issues with my personal storage and blogging environment, I am ready to start blogging here again! To get started, I want to tell the story of Operation #BringDadHome.
My father (Stephen Barr) began to have memory issues a year or two ago. He would ask the same question several times in the course of a short conversation, and would unashamedly say that his memory was failing him. He moved from Seattle to Arizona a decade or so ago, and was in an independent living facility in the town of Glendale, outside of Phoenix. Each time that I would visit him, his unit was slightly messier and more disorganized that the time before.
Due to the pandemic, Dad and the other residents of his facility were confined to their units for extended periods of time, with meals delivered and very little opportunity for human interaction. This forced isolation may have accelerated the decline of his faculties, and we realized that it was time for a change.
After a lot of research, my sister L found a nice facility outside of Philadelphia, not too far from her home. By chance, one of my father’s brothers also lived fairly close, making this new location ideal for just about everyone involved.
Once we settled on a new location, we consulted our calendars and found a 4-day span that would work for everyone involved – my father, Carmen, my sister, and the two facilities – and set up an aggressive but workable plan: fly to Phoenix on Sunday, pack him up on Monday, and fly to Philadelphia on Tuesday:
There was plenty of uncertainty to go around, starting with my father’s willingness to move. Even though we had reviewed the entire plan with him multiple times and sought his approval and consent, we still worried that he might resist at the last moment. We did not know how much he had to pack, and we were worried about exposing him to Coronavirus. To make matters worse, smoke from the firess in Oregon, California, and Eastern Washington blanketed Seattle with a thick haze of ash:
My father served in the United States Air Force from 1955 to 1958 and often spoke of his time “in the service.” With our plans in place I decided that he deserved a special welcome and set out to do what I could in the short time that I had available. The day before I left I issued an emotional plea for help:
I need a *GIANT* favor, and have no other way to ask. Let me start with some background. My father is suffering from dementia and we are moving him from Arizona to Pennsylvania on September 15. He served in the US Air Force (@usairforce) from 1955 to 1958. pic.twitter.com/tnkJ92FQ8p— Jeff Barr ☁️ (@ 🏠 ) (@jeffbarr) September 12, 2020
As I noted in my Tweet thread, I wanted a Hollywood-style warm and friendly greeting for him. Within minutes, responses and recommendations came in. I was fielding Twitter DMs, emails, Facebook messages, Chime and Slack messages, including several from the commnuity of veterans at Amazon.
I had unleased a torrent of goodwill just 24 hours before the start of our trip. People that I had never met were more than willing to do something, anything to help out or to point me in the right direction. My heart was on fire, but when we set off on our trip I had no idea what to expect, and did not want to get my hopes up. I did not provide a lot of lead time (our plans did not gel until the last minute), and everyone needs to be mindful of their health due to Coronavirus. I was still messaging as we left Seattle and continued with multiple conversations throughout our time in Phoenix.
Through multiple routes, my request reached the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the Warriors Watch Riders and they told me that they would do their absolute best to help out. We arranged to meet about 5 miles from Dad’s new facility and set up a tentative time.
We arrived in Phoenix, purchased a bunch of boxes and packing supplies, and showed up at my Dad’s facility bright and early Monday morning. He was happy to see us, and we worked together so organize, sort, and pack his things. Due to his failing memory, we had to explain and re-explain our plan, but it was clear that he was getting excited for his big move!
I tried to anticipate every possible issue that might arise along the route, and had contingency plans for as many of them as possible. If the flight from Seattle was cancelled, we would drive to Arizona. If the one to Philadelphia could not happen, I had a line on a charter. I had asked Dad about his IDs and he was not sure what he had. I brought some family photos to establish our relationship just in case we had any trouble, and we were lucky to find two driver’s licenses and his passport (all expired but usable) as we sorted and packed.
Before leaving him on Monday evening, we set his alarm, arranged for a wake-up call at the front desk, and also asked my sister L to call him. There was one direct flight from Phoenix to Philadelphia, and we simply had to make it.
We showed up shortly after 4 AM on Tuesday and Dad was already waiting for us in his lobby. We had given him a travel bag to pack, and it was all set and ready to go! I bought a US AF Veteran hat for my father and gave it to him as we were leaving his old facility:
I checked his maibox one last time, turned in his keys, and we were off to the airport:
As requested, I texted the leader of the Warriors Watch Riders when we pushed back and again when we landed so that they could anticipate our arrival. They told me to expect between 2 and 50 cyclists!
The American Airlines flight was nearly empty, and Dad was a bit chilly, but the time passed quickly and we were in Philadelphia by mid-afternoon. I did not want to get my hopes up, but I knew that two groups were ready to give us some greetings. We left the plane, and my colleague Brian Maguire messaged me to let me know that he and Tyler Lynch were waiting for us at baggage claim, along with an AWS partner (I did not catch his name):
I got our rental car and we set out for Richboro! Traffic was heavy due to construction, and I was so eager to get there. My sister L messaged me to let me know that there were at least 10 cyclists waiting for us, and I started to get excited. We pulled in to the parking lot and there they were:
We explained to Dad that these people remembered him from his days in the Air Force, and that they were there to celebrate and honor his service. He was all smiles, and enjoyed speaking with them. We did our best to keep him masked and distant, but were not 100% successful. These big, tough-looking folks were the kindest, gentlest, and most big-hearted people that I have ever met.
After the initial meeting, we hopped into / onto our respective vehicles and our motorcade roared to life! Cycles in front, then us, then my sister and her busband, and two pickups with flashing lights bringing up the rear!
We pulled in to Dad’s new facility and the Warriors spent more time talking to Dad and presenting him with some awesome medals and beads, taking the time to explain the significance of each one:
He was all smiles and spent a lot of time talking about how he served in Japan at the conclusion of the Korean War.
We said goodbye to this group of amazing people, got Dad checked in, unpacked and organized his belongings, hung up his poster, and left him to rest:
The next day we met up with my father’s brother and his brother’s spouse, flew back to Seattle, and declared Operation #BringDadHome a success:
As I noted in my tweet, this move, while challenging, was a good reminder:
Suffice it to say that the events of this week served to reinforce my belief that the vast majority of people in the world are good and generous, and more than ready to do something great if asked. Thank you one and all for helping to #BringDadHome!— Jeff Barr ☁️ (@ 🏠 ) (@jeffbarr) September 16, 2020
I would like to thank the 100+ people who helped, offered to help, referred me to help, wished us well, and made my father’s journey home so easy, comfortable, and welcoming for him. He’s still getting adjusted to his new location, and I think that he will do well there.