We went to Florida to check on the folks. We left on a cold Spring day from Albany and arrived two hours later to a warm breeze in Fort Lauderdale. We picked up the rental car and got on the highway heading to my mom.
“Enjoy this ride,” Gary, my husband, said with a laugh, “it’s going to be the best part of the trip.” I sighed and smiled.
My mother lived in an “active retirement community,” which featured 12 tennis courts, a huge community pool and abundant palm trees. Unfortunately, age, spinal stenosis, lung cancer, and bouts of congestive heart failure took their toll and my 82-year-old mom wasn’t so active anymore. After the latest health crisis, my brothers and I prodded her into accepting the need to move into an independent living facility in New Jersey, closer to family. This was our last visit in Florida before her move – we were, in part, going to help prepare her.
We arrived at the gate to the community, pushed the buttons to ring her and she buzzed us in on the first try. We drove to her unit and found her waiting outside with a broad smile, happy to see us and proudly showing us the art gallery she set up in her garage. The walls were lined with her creations from the past 20 years. I have some of her paintings hanging in my own house. She doesn’t paint anymore; she got frustrated when she felt she wasn’t improving.
That day was a good one for Mom. Days were measured by pain level. Arthritis and deteriorating vertebrae are unpredictable; the pain can range from debilitating to manageable to nonexistent. My mother’s face lets us know exactly what the pain level is – it registers immediately in her coloring and in the sound effects that accompany any movement.
We visited with her for two days, ran errands and planned for her move north. We may have gotten in the swimming pool. I promised to come back down to help her pack just before the move.
Then we got back on the road and drove down to visit my in-laws in their retirement community.
Paula, Gary’s mom, has Alzheimer’s disease. The changes in her began about eight years ago. We have been fortunate in that it has been a very slow decline – long periods of time pass without further diminishment. But then there are dramatic changes. This visit we notice her eating habits changed. She craves sweets and she forgets that she has already indulged. This could be kind of funny, but it isn’t.
We ate breakfast and Paula took a Klondike bar for dessert. She enjoyed it thoroughly as she slowly savored the vanilla ice cream wrapped in a chocolate shell. She loves chocolate. We moved to the living room to sit and chat. After a couple of minutes, Paula asked, “Does anyone want an ice cream?”
“Paula, not now,” David said gently, reminding her that we were going out to lunch later.
She looked crestfallen, a small pout of her lower lip, but she acquiesced.
Gary suggested we take a walk. It took a while for Paula to prepare herself to leave the apartment. The four of us walked slowly, it is only about 100 yards to the pavilion with the pool. We found chairs in the shade and sat and chatted for a bit. Paula quickly turned restless, ready to return to the apartment.
“I think I’ll stay and read for a bit,” I said. Reading by a pool is one of my favorite things to do.
“Linda, you’ll come with us?” Paula half asked, half stated.
“Actually I think it will be all right if I stay and read for a little. I’ll be back in less than an hour, ok?” I looked to Gary to see if he was okay with this. He nodded.
“Ma, it’ll be okay,” Gary reassured Paula as he steered her back towards the apartment.
I watched them make their way through the gate. I took a deep breath and opened my book.
About 15 minutes later I heard the squeak of the gate and saw Gary and Paula heading toward me. Gary looked sheepish and said quietly, “I couldn’t distract her. She insisted on coming back to get you.”
I looked at Paula and smiled, “I’m sorry I worried you.”
“She thought the Cossacks would get you,” Gary said in my ear.
“Who would’ve thought that the Cossacks knew about the satellite pool in Pembroke Pines?”
It was a feeble attempt at humor. If you don’t laugh, you cry. Sometimes you do both.