It has been difficult and painful to watch my parents diminish, to see them unable to do and enjoy the things they have always done, even those activities that were most characteristic of them. My mother had been a lifelong gardener, until emphysema took away her breath so she could no longer work in the garden, and eventually took her life. My father taught college English for decades, and now he has dementia and sometimes can’t read a simple list.

Wanting to get in one more visit at his place while our father could still travel, my brother in Colorado asked me to bring Dad out for a few days. Dave teaches at a prep school, his wife teaches fourth grade at a nearby public school, and they have two daughters, 10 and 15.

Over the months between Dave’s first mention of it and the actual trip a couple of weeks ago, I worried about it. How would Dad do in the over-stimulation of the airport, on the plane, being somewhere he hadn’t been for several years, since before his memory got so bad? Would he change his mind about going at the last minute?

By the night before we were to fly to Denver, I was quite wound up, worrying about finding the airport (even though I’d Googled the directions and asked my Hartford-area brother, Pete, how to get there), losing Dad somewhere in transit, or some nameless catastrophe I just hadn’t thought of yet.

I was apprehensive for other reasons, too. Since the stroke that my father’s doctors speculate is what damaged his memory — we knew nothing about it at the time, and still don’t know when it happened — my dad is more apt to lash out when he gets frustrated or irritated, and it can be unpleasant and embarrassing when that happens. Also, I was unsure whether I would have the necessary patience to repeat simple information every time Dad asked to be reminded of it, redirect him when he got turned around and so on.

A couple of days before we left, Pete gave me some wise advice. Pete is a man of definite opinions who likes to make a plan and carry it out. He’s not interested in pondering the sound of one hand clapping. But his advice, after spending many hours helping Dad over the last year, had a definite Zen ring to it: “You have to decide that this is what you’re doing today,” he said. Meaning that in order to be of the most use to Dad, one had to pay attention only to the present moment. Don’t get in a hurry, don’t get frustrated, don’t worry about the next place you have to be: just do whatever you are doing, then do the next thing.

Unsurprisingly, several things along the way did not go quite according to plan: I took a wrong turn going the airport, and we spent a few extra minutes getting there. I forgot to tell the security inspectors about Dad’s artificial hip, and he went through more of an ordeal getting through the metal detector than was necessary, ending up rather bewildered when it was all over. On the first leg of our trip, I sat in the wrong seat on the plane, and was temporarily unable to be directly across the aisle from my dad, where I could most easily help him.

But we got to the Hartford airport in plenty of time, despite the detour, Dad did get through security, and the woman whose seat I had inadvertently taken kindly offered to switch with me when she realized that Dad needed my help with things like controlling the iPod I’d filled with music for him and buckling his seat belt. And, wonder of wonders, Dad and I used airport restrooms three times on the trip and every time we came out at exactly the same moment.

When we changed planes in Atlanta, Dad got his first wheelchair ride of the trip, and I was grateful for the help of the airline “mobility assistant.” We were in Denver by late afternoon.

It was wonderful to see Dave and his family, especially my two nieces, who change significantly from one visit to the next. Dad stayed in the guest room at Dave’s house and I stayed in the house of a vacationing faculty member.

While we were there, we visited a park called Garden of the Gods, with huge, ancient red sandstone formations, swam with the girls in the school pool, went to an art museum, and had a dinner with other relatives who came down from Denver. There were walks around the campus — Dad found that using a pair of hiking poles helped his balance a lot — my sister-in-law’s pad Thai and plenty of conversation.

Somehow, conversation is always better and deeper in person than on the phone, as good as phone conversations can be. Dave shared the chapbook of his poems he has recently published, and we talked about the past and the future.

Dad seemed to have a good time, mostly, though the trip tired him more than he or I had anticipated. He has always placed a high value on family, and I think it meant a lot to him to see Dave’s family and the other relatives we visited with.

He was generally in good spirits and surprised me with some of the things he could do. He read a couple of long articles Dave showed him, and I didn’t think he was able to focus his attention or make sense of print in order to read more than a few words.

He was also more talkative than he often is at home, and did some good walking with the poles; to the point that I suggested he might look for a cane or poles to use at home to increase his mobility.

Our trip back was fine — I remembered to mention Dad’s hip to the security people — and we were fortunate to find a man who was both skycap and wheelchair wrangler in the Hartford airport, who came with us all the way to where our car was parked in the garage.

The trip was more of an ordeal than if I’d gone alone or with someone who was completely independent, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. And it was a blessing to be able to give such a gift to my dear father. I was reminded of something I too often forget: that even when things don’t go according to plan, they’re usually still fine.

This is what people like me, who think they have to be in control all the time, don’t remember. It’s OK that we’re not in control — things will be all right anyway. And experiencing life one moment at a time allowed me to see the smallness of the “problems” that seemed so daunting to anticipate.

Whether you attribute that all-rightness to God, the universe, the kindness of strangers or just plain luck is up to you. I’d probably give some credit to each. At any rate, I am deeply grateful to have been able to give my dad the trip, and that it went so well.