The afternoon before our departure, I went over to pick up Mom’s walker, her medications, and her suitcase. I’d put a few things in it, and Rosa had packed the rest—her Depends, her toiletries, the container for her teeth and the tablets to clean them. A pretty black skirt and some shorts. A few tops. A bathing suit and a cover up. A few pairs of socks and several bras. A nightgown. Mom and I went over the contents of the suitcase. “What about my make-up?” she asked.
I’d been hoping to slide by on make-up. I didn’t wear any and never had, and I’d never learned how to put it on. If I tried to make up Mom, she’d look like a clown. She always looked so nice when I came to see her at Sunshine Villa. Under my care, I was afraid Mom was going to look schlumpy. “Do you really need make-up, Mom?”
“Of course, I need make-up,” she replied indignantly. And so I walked into her bathroom and located a cracked and dirty plastic compact full of blush and a rather tawdry tube of lipstick. That was all I could find; her eye shadow was missing in action. I handed Mom the old makeup and she happily tucked it in her purse. Now she was ready.
“I’ll see you later Mom,” I said as I wheeled her suitcase out the door. “I’ve got some things I have to take care of this afternoon. I’ll come pick you up after dinner and bring you to our house to sleep. We’ll leave from there in the morning.”
I’d thought through the whole thing carefully. Lizzy was going to drive us to the airport at 6:30 AM, and I knew it was going to be hard to get Mom up that early. She usually slept until 8:00 and Rosa had warned me that Mom woke up groggy and disoriented. So I figured it would be best if she slept over. I’d put her to bed in her clothes, just like I used to do with our toddlers when they were hard to get up for preschool in the morning. That way I could wake her up and all Mom would have to do was rehook her bra, put on her shoes, and pop in her teeth. I figured the three of us could have breakfast at the airport.
That night, when I was making up her bed, Mom looked up at me with the vulnerability of a child. A hint of fear passed across her usually relaxed face. She asked, “What’s going to happen to me once I get to Florida?”
I turned to face her. “Karyn and I will take you to Esther’s house.”
A look of shock crossed Mom’s face. “You’re coming with me?”
I came over and sat down next to her on the couch and took her hand. I spoke directly into her wide-open, innocent face. “Mom, Karyn and I are both flying with you to Florida. Then Karyn is renting a car and we’ll all go to your sister Esther’s house. The next morning, Karyn will drive away to go visit her sister. And then a few days later, she’ll come back and we’ll all fly home together.”
“You’re staying with me? Really?”
“Yes, Mom,” I said, stroking her blue veined wrists. Her fingers were more gnarled than the last time. Arthritis. “I’ll be with you the whole time. I’m staying with Esther, too.”
“Where are we going after we go to Florida?”
“We’re not going anywhere, Mom. We’re just going to Florida and back.”
“And why are we going to Florida?”
I smiled at her and petted her hands. “We’re going to see your sister Esther. And her husband Ben.”
Mom still had that same quizzical look on her face. “And what are we doing after we see Esther?”
“Nothing Mom. We’re just going to see Esther and then we’re coming back home to Santa Cruz.”
“Wow,” Mom said, “I guess I’m a little nutsy. Is there anything else I need to know?”
“Well, the first couple of days we’re there, Judi and Stuart are going to be there visiting, too.” Judi and Stuart are my first cousins—Temme’s niece and nephew. We all grew up, a long time ago, in Long Branch, New Jersey.
“And what about Larry?” Mom asked. Larry was Judi’s husband, dead now for more than two years.
“Larry is dead, Mom,” I said, as gently as I could.
Mom looked stricken. Shock waves rippled her soft cheeks. “Larry’s dead?” As far as Mom was concerned, Larry had just died all over again.
“Yes, Mom,” I repeated, “Larry died of Alzheimer’s disease.”
“He did? People can die of Alzheimer’s disease? I didn’t know that. I thought they just died of old age.”
“Larry wasn’t old, Mom. He was only in his sixties.”
“Oh,” she said patting my hand. “He died of Alzheimers? I’m so glad you told me. I wouldn’t have wanted to make a big boo-boo like that.” She paused. “Is there anything else I need to know?”
“Well, Mom,” I said. “Your sister Esther’s son, Don, he died, too.”
“Yes, I seem to remember that,” Mom said. “What did he die of?”
After I got Mom settled in for the night, I put a cleaning tablet in the pink plastic container and dropped in her teeth. I pulled put a Depends so it would be ready for the morning. I packed up the things I’d bought for our lunch and stashed them in the fridge. And then I finished my own packing. Cleaning out my own wallet, I removed all the local cards and left in my license, credit cards, insurance card, Neptune Society membership card, and a bright purple card from the Alzheimer’s Foundation. In white letters it said, “Courtesy Card” in cursive and underneath the words, “My companion has Alzheimer’s. Your understanding is appreciated.” For easy access, I put it in the very front of my wallet.