Vitauts: The Long Journey Home

Vitauts: The Long Journey Home


Vitauts and Family 2018

After I left Omaha to live in Latvia, Vitauts stayed behind, living in my old house with my brother Alan and nephew Chris. We thought it would be best for him to continue living in the same place he had gotten used to over the past few years. He had his room. He knew where everything was, and he could still take care of himself. But we all knew that eventually he would need more help than we could provide.

When examining a chart of dementia and its symptoms, Vitauts seems to be somewhere in Stage 5 and Stage 6 (Mid-Stage) level of decline. While living with me, I saw him lose his ability to drive and remember how to get home. He got lost a few times, and we made a family decision that he probably shouldn’t drive anymore. I also noticed that he didn’t want to go out much or visit with people. He spent most of his time in front of the television. However, he was still eating normally and could take care of himself in terms of hygiene and day to day activities.

However, after about a year, Alan noticed that Vitauts’ dementia was getting worse. As a family, we informally discussed possible options. Maybe we could have a nurse come to the home to work with him? We thought about maybe one of the retired siblings taking him in. Maybe look for a home near Omaha. But nothing really emerged from these conversations.

During this time, I happened to meet a Latvian-American who, like me, had gotten her citizenship and returned to live and teach in Latvia. She told me the story of her own parents, and how she had brought them here to retire in a home in Riga. Like Vitauts, they had both been born in Latvia and resettled in America as refugees. She even invited me to meet her mother to see the home that she lived in, Dzintara Melodija in Riga. It was very nice, and about 1/5th the price of an American retirement home. It seemed like this might be a good place for Vitauts, too!

However, the timing didn’t work, and not all of us agreed that dad returning to Latvia would be the best option, and so we waited.

Now, Vitauts seemed to be declining faster, and my brother was not able to provide proper care.


One day, Rita and I drove to Rauna, a small town near Cēsis, to visit a retirement home called Pansija Rauna. I really liked the peaceful grounds out in the Latvian countryside. The facility was clean, and most of all, the people who worked there really seemed to care about the residents. Rita and I talked about how Vitauts was originally from Smiltene which is only 20 kilometers from Rauna. He grew up on a farm, and this place would be much more familiar to him than a facility in the middle of Riga. He had also been talking about going home, and this was pretty close.

She made a phone call to the director, and I contacted my siblings. Everything seemed to fall into place. Our wedding was scheduled for June 15th. My sister, Susan was already planning on coming, so Paul bought a ticket for himself and Vitauts to join her, and that was it. Vitauts was coming back to Latvia!

If any of you know our family, then you know that there are six of us, and it is hard for us to agree on anything. This decision was one of the hardest we have ever had to make. We deliberated, questioned, argued, but ultimately decided that this is what would be best for Vitauts.

Vitauts Returns

Reading at the airport

Sue, Alexsei, Paul, and Vitauts arrived in Riga on June 13th. I met them at the airport. I sat with dad while Paul got the rental car and Sue handled the luggage. It was only twenty minutes or so, but it felt like hours. He was nervous, and he kept wanting to get up and walk around. I spoke to him in Latvian asking him to sit and wait, but it was very difficult. He kept seeing people walking by, and he was looking for Paul and Sue. He was afraid that they had been lost, or that he would be left behind. This type of anxiousness was something Alan had been dealing with, and both Paul and Sue were talking about during the trip.

Paul said that when they were at the London airport, he asked dad where he thought he was, and he said, “Jerusalem.” Later, in Riga, I took dad to the window and pointed at all the churches and asked where he thought he was, and he said, “Bethlehem.” Maybe this was a bit of a holy journey of return that Vitauts was on?

On June 14, I rented a van, and all of us, Rita, Susan, her daughter Alexsei, Paul, Vitauts, and I drove across Latvia. We met my cousin Ginta in Smiltene and drove to her mother’s house so dad could see his sister-in-law, Astra again. As we met people, dad proclaimed that, “Everywhere I go in Latvia, I meet relatives!” He didn’t really remember much, but he smiled all the way as we drove him past his old farm and then to the home in Rauna.

Latvian Relatives


Rauna Home

Once we got there, we were all pretty nervous. Would he want to stay here? How do you say goodbye to your father and leave him in a completely strange place?

The assistant director of the home met us and apologized for the humble appearance. She was extremely professional and helped to put us at ease by explaining what dad was going through and how they would accommodate for his needs. We took him to his room where he met his friendly new roommate, Janis (we later referred to him as St. John). Then we went on a tour of the building, leaving dad to get acquainted.

The building is an old Lutheran manor, but it is very clean and tidy. As we were touring the cafeteria, I went to check on dad to see how he was doing, and he didn’t miss us at all. He was talking with his new roommates and the official case worker was meeting with him and talking to him. They met us upstairs and showed him the chapel where he talked about how he used to be a pastor.

One fear that some of us had was whether or not he would be able to fluently communicate in Latvian after all his time in America, but we could already see this wasn’t a problem.

Vitauts taking a tour

We then left dad with my cousin Ginta and his new friends as we went to the office to do paperwork. The director said that we needed his Latvian passport for the contract. “We have one, but I am afraid it is expired,” I said. She had a grim look on her face. This wasn’t going to work. We would need a new passport. But when Paul found dad’s passport, we saw that it says “beztermiņa,” which means that it has no expiration date! So fortune smiled on us again.

Vitauts holding Court

I signed the contract, and we all had questions that the director was happy to answer with Rita translating everything for us. And by the time we got back to say goodbye, Vitauts was sitting outside with three other residents holding court and telling his old stories. He hardly noticed us at all. We told him that we were going to lunch and he said goodbye without any interest in joining us or any question about when we would return. He was fine.

Rauna Gallery

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Sue and Vitauts

Sue, Alexsei, Paul and Max went back to see dad a few days after we dropped him off. They said he was doing fine (and cleanly shaven), but would need an additional social worker to help him acclimate. Vitauts being Vitauts, wasn’t sitting still for very long. He would walk around the grounds, picking up trash and get disoriented. He needed someone to make sure he could find his room and not get lost. I kept thinking that he would just go for a walk down the road and end up back in Smiltene or something. He is very mobile for a 91-year old. Luckily, he doesn’t like walking on the gravel path, so he stays close to home.

For some reason, his roommate Janis was wearing a Nebraska Husker shirt when Paul and Sue went to visit. No one could really figure that one out. But dad did say that he was, “Rich with children!”

Paul flew back to America without dad, and Sue and Alexsei stayed in Latvia for a few more days to enjoy sightseeing.


June 29, 2019

Me and Dad

When Rita and I returned from our honeymoon, we went to see Vitauts. He seemed so content, relaxed, and settled. He was sitting in a chair in the main hallway reading a magazine when we came to visit. He knew my face, but didn’t know my name. I showed him some photos of our trip. He remembered Paul and Susan. Later during our visit he would call me “Arnold.”

I met with the director again to find out how he was doing, and she seemed quite optimistic. He complained about his eyes, they weren’t closing and opening right. They looked a little puffy and we agreed that it could be some allergy or lack of sleep. A doctor would come the next week to do a full checkup.

I met Signe, his care worker, and she had already developed quite a rapport with Vitauts. He never takes orders from his children, but for some reason, a strong woman can always get him to listen. She said she would be with him for the first few months until he got his bearings. The biggest worry was that he would go for walks and then forget where his room was. I hope that he will get over this, but who knows?

The biggest surprise for me is that he was only speaking in Latvian. Rita says that he speaks in this formal way that sounds very exotic and lovely to the Latvian ear. The older Latvians in the home love to talk to him, especially the ladies, because he sounds like a real gentleman. His Latvian language has been basically frozen, as if in amber, for 70 years. It has not been affected by any of the Soviet influences or modernities of current Latvian. I think there is a linguistic study somewhere in this, but it is above my pay grade. He could clearly understand when I talked to him in English, but he only answered in Latvian.

All in all, he seems to be doing very well. He is active, eating, and taking care of himself. We brought him some Latvian strawberries which he loved and some Latvian cereal which he devoured happily. They say he doesn’t like porridge, but he eats most of the other foods they serve him there.

He had visits from his Grinvalds relatives in the Cēsis area, and our cousin Ansis also went to see him. The best part about him being in Rauna is that he will never be alone.


When dad came here on the 13th, he visited my flat. He stayed for awhile, and Rita sang a Latvian song with him. I think it was at this moment that both Paul and I knew everything was going to be okay.

8 Replies to “Vitauts: The Long Journey Home”

  1. Jeff, this is beautiful! So glad to hear that Vitauts is back home to his “mīļa dzimtene”. You did a fantastic job of bringing him home. Apsveicu Tevi un Tavu ģimeni! Visu labu Vitautam, Linkolnas draudzes iemīļotam mācītājam emeritus!

  2. How wonderful that Pastor Grinvalds is home. I had no idea he was staying behind on this trip.
    It was a very loving, and difficult choice for all of you to make but it looks as if God pointed you in the right direction. Nebraska, especially Yutan shall forever miss him but never, ever forget him.
    God Bless you all.
    Suzy Kuhr

  3. How wonderful. God has been good to him, to allow him to go home, and be so at peace and happy. Clarence and Lil Storm were my parents and I was in my teens when he Pastored in Yutan.

  4. God Bless your father. I’m sorry he isn’t here but happy that he seems to have found a comfortable and familiar place to live out his days. His kids I think chose well for him.

  5. Jeff, I so enjoyed reading this of your father. For years he & I would say good morning to each other as we picked up our newspapers from across the street from each other. So wonderful to hear he is doing well there. Kim

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