Updated 9/16/17

Keeping Your Cool When It All Goes Sideways

I flew out of Portland on Thursday to pick up my mom in California so we could travel together to my sister-in-law’s memorial service in Florida, scheduled for late Saturday afternoon.

[Yes, the same delightful, beautiful, whip-smart, talented poet and professor known in my blogs as Brilliant Sister-in-Law, who figured out how to retrieve deleted voicemails, giving us the gift of hearing my dad’s voice again after he died.]

Here’s the short version of my trip:

excited girl

Sad occasion, but I get to see my mom!


little girl having a mood swing

This isn’t going the way I thought it was going to go….


tired dog laying on the deck

And it’s making everything worse!


gratitude changes the way look at the world



The rest of the story:

A partial list of things that happened from Thursday on include…

  • Turbulence so severe that even I—the fearless flyer—thought I’d barf
  • A presidential candidate flying into an airport, causing all departing flights to be grounded…resulting in a delay that meant missing my connecting flight
  • United’s system went down, causing a domino effect across the U.S.
  • Three more delayed take-offs, resulting in three missed connections
  • Three different airlines
  • Three meltdowns
  • Lost luggage (which of course has my laptop in it—hence, the delay in getting this blog up and newsletter out*)

We never made it to Brilliant Sister-in-Law’s memorial service.


This Was Just The Icing on The Cake

The experience gave me the opportunity to learn (or relearn) a thing or two, though.

It’s been a rough year or so, especially for my mom. My dad died unexpectedly at the end of August last year. Mom’s dad died of Parkinson’s disease dementia in January. My sister-in-law died of metastatic breast cancer a few weeks ago.

Anyone who’s ever grieved knows it wreaks havoc with your heart and your soul. What surprises people, though, is finding out (by living it) that grief impairs cognitive function. Same goes for stress.

You don’t have to be traveling to appreciate these takeaways. When your plan goes sideways, here are ten ways to keep your cool with your cognitively impaired loved one.


10 Things I Learned At The Goat Rodeo

Respect, kindness, and love are the best approach in any given situation.

The other person doesn’t even need to have cognitive impairment for this to be a winning strategy. I knew this already, but got 96 hours worth of confirmation out of this experience.

Have some compassion for your inner child—and everyone else’s too.

No matter how resilient you are, there will come a point when your inner four year-old is done. She’ll be very upfront with you about the fact that everything you’re experiencing sucks.

Rather than dismissing her, show some compassion. Kids tell the truth, even if we don’t like hearing it.

Take a breath (or forty).

Repeat, repeat, repeat. Also, “You’ll feel better if you take a shower” is a true story. So if you wind up in a hotel between flights, take full advantage!

Text like you’re a teenager.

It allows you to blow off steam, and if you pick the right person, can even make you laugh.

Caveat: if you pick the wrong person—as I temporarily did—someone who tells you to “suck it up,” resist the temptation to throw your phone. Just move on to someone else who gets you.

Social interaction with others is a really good thing.

It can be reassuring, validating, or offer an alternate viewpoint, or just the novelty of a great distraction. This works equally well for you and your loved one.

There are some amazing professionals out there.

Shout-out to Jesbir at United in Fresno, Emmanuel at American Airlines in Fresno, and Tony at American Airlines in Los Angeles. All three were the very essence of basic human decency, as well as employing every pro move they could think of to make a bad situation better.

No matter the situation, if you happen across a professional who rocks, let them know. And if you need help, just know there are plenty out there who are awesome—so don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need.

Sleep makes everything better.

Nothing is so underrated yet so restorative and necessary. Sleep deprivation, like grief and stress, causes cognitive impairment. Don’t skimp on sleep, unless you’re trying to make a bad situation worse.

Crying is cleansing.

Scientists have figured out there are two types of tears (joy, sadness). They look different under a microscope, and the kind caused by sadness isn’t just emotionally cleansing; they get rid of gunk (my own scientific term), too.

So go ahead and cry it out. It takes less energy than trying to hold it all in.

Gratitude is a choice.

I promise you, I could easily spew 20k words on what a goat rodeo this whole trip was. Instead, I’m choosing gratitude:

For the sweet waitress from Florida who chatted with my mom on the flight to LA, while I was three rows away.

For the proud new dad of a 6 month-old daughter who chatted with my mom on the shuttle bus to the hotel at 2:30 in the morning, as it was sinking in we weren’t going to make it to Florida. He gave my mom a reason to smile.

For the young woman (trying to get to her ill mom in another country) who chatted with my mom on the shuttle bus back to the airport; she allowed my mom to give her some hope and feel helpful.

For the nice lady we all mistook for an air marshal who chatted with my mom on the flight back to Fresno, while I was 10 rows back. She gave my mom something to focus on beyond bitter disappointment.

For the excited woman waiting for her boyfriend to pick her up at the airport who chatted with my mom while I was trying to figure out where my luggage had gone. She radiated her joy onto my mom.

For my aunt, who dropped us off and picked us up three times in 36 hours. She continues to be the rock my mom can depend on, and I’m so grateful!

A sense of humor is vital.

If you’re going to look back later and laugh about it, just cut to the chase and start laughing about it now. You’ll feel a lot better.


*My bag—containing my laptop—finally arrived at 4:30 this morning (Wednesday).


brilliant sister-in-law

In loving memory of Brilliant Sister-in-Law


Christy Turner is the founder of DementiaSherpa.com and has enjoyed the privilege of working with 1,123 people living with dementia and their families. Follow on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube. Content varies across platforms.