A Trip to Florida

Mom as 40 year old actress
Mom as 40 year old actress

I debated whether to blog this trip and once I decided to, I wondered whether or not I could possibly call it a Virtual Vacation. This is clearly not going to be an exotic armchair adventure in Bali or a Scottish adventure or a travelogue through Mexico. It’s going to be a journey into old age in America.

My partner Karyn and I are taking my elderly mother to Florida for one last visit to see her last surviving sibling, her sister Esther. It’s certainly much more of a mission of mercy than a vacation, but I am tired of compartmentalizing my life—the entertaining, exciting parts, the seductive lure of worldwide traveler, me as the adventurer, and me as the daughter, me as the last remaining lifeline for my aging mother.

This trip is going to be an exploration of the lines where duty and love and loyalty intersect. It’s going to be one more chapter in the long story I’ve been writing for more than two decades my mother and me—the long story of our estrangement and reconciliation. And what came after.

This journey is part of what comes after.

This trip was born a few months ago when Karyn and I were sitting together on our living room couch discussing whether she was going to travel to Florida to visit her own ailing sister. “Why don’t we go together,” Karyn suggested, “and take your mom to see Esther?” she said. “Once we get there, I’ll get a car and go see Charlene. But we can fly out there and back together. With two us, we should be able to manage.”

The challenges of traveling with my mother had kept me from ever considering this seriously before. These days, it’s hard to take my mother out in a car and to a restaurant just a few blocks away. It’s hard to take her to the movies, to her granddaughter’s dance recital—to take her anywhere. She’s frail and forgetful and easily disoriented in new situations. Her life runs smoothly because of a repeating set of predictable routines. And now Karyn thought we could take her on a plane trip all the way to Florida?

But in my heart, I knew Karyn was right. For years I’d thought about taking Mom to see Esther, but I never wanted to take the time off or make the effort. I felt bad about it, but I pushed those feelings aside. Wasn’t I already doing enough for my mother?

But the facts gnawed at me: my mother and her baby sister have grown extremely close in old age—they talk on the phone almost every day. Even if my mother forgets the contents of their conversations, who cares? She loves her sister and Esther anchors her to this world. And Esther loves her big sister, too. The two of them share a history that none of us can touch—and the far past is the place Mom best remembers.

For years we’ve all been sad that these two sisters in their eighties would never see each other again—it’s been over six years since they last broke bread together. Esther has advanced diabetes and is going blind. Her husband of 61 years, my Uncle Ben, has been on dialysis for more seven and a half years now. They weren’t going anywhere—certainly not traveling 3000 miles to California–and my mother? We’d decided she was way beyond traveling for years now—but maybe with the two of us supporting her, she could do it.

After I slept on it, I decided yes, so I called Esther and ran the idea by her. She was thrilled. So I went over to see Mom and asked if she’d like to see her sister. Her face lit up as if she’d just won the lottery.

The first obstacle occurred when I went online to buy the tickets. I ordered a wheelchair, noted that my mother couldn’t climb stairs or manage the jet way, said that she had dementia and that we’d need to be with her at all times. But then it dawned on me that my mother no longer had a viable ID to use when we passed through security. Her passport had expired, as had her driver’s license. When I went to United Airlines’ website and looked at the requirements, I realized that Mom had nothing to identify her as an official person anymore.

When I called United, the woman on the phone was sympathetic, but said that without a current passport or driver’s license, Mom would have to have a birth certificate and a social security card. And of course the names on them had to match. I remembered seeing Mom’s social security card in her wallet, but a birth certificate? Where the hell was I going to find Mom’s birth certificate?

After hours searching through the boxes of Mom’s papers that I’d stashed in my office, I finally found her original birth certificate, but the name on it was Tessie Ross, her given name at birth. Mom had never gone by Tessie, but rather used her nickname Temme all her life. And her maiden name, Ross? She hadn’t used that in six decades. Yet I had neither the marriage certificate nor the divorce papers to prove it.

Mom had never changed her name officially—she just started using Temme Davis. That’s what had been on her expired passport and her driver’s license. And on her social security card. Now I had the birth certificate—but nothing else matched.

I called back United and explained my dilemma. “Isn’t there anything you can do?” I pleaded with the woman on the phone. Now that we’d made the decision to go, I really wanted this trip to happen. “I just want to get my 86-year-old mother to see her sister one last time.”

The woman was sympathetic, but told me that rules were rules. She suggested I call TSA and talk to them, and when I finally got through to the right person, he told me a Medicare card and a credit card in her name would be enough. So I went over to Mom’s, and while she was napping, dug through her purse. And that’s when I found it—an official senior citizen California state ID card—written out to Temme Tessie Davis. I’d hit the jackpot with a card I never even knew existed. Magically it had both her old name and her new name on it. How had she gotten it? Was it automatically handed out when old people surrendered their licenses? I had no idea.

But now we were in business. We were going to Florida.

19 thoughts on “A Trip to Florida”

  1. Rodolfo Rodriguez Struck

    Dear Laura, I met you in San Miguel de Allende 3 years ago and have received your weekly prompts, your monthly, and your invitations to retreats in heavenly places, I haven’t been able to attend yet. I love it all, but this, your trip to old age, has captured my attention, captivated my heart, and inspired me the most since we met. It also enhanced the admiration I already had for you, both as a person and as a writer. Thank you! And congatulations for deciding to take your mom, and for deciding to share it with us.
    A huge hug your way!

    1. Welcome and so glad you tool the time to write in. So glad you’re following our journey.

  2. What motivation can get accomplished. Such a sweet story, I am impressed with your devotion. I look forward to going along for the ride back to FL, the land of the white hair. My mother is 86 years old and largely together, but the issues are mounting with the months. Thank you for telling your story, I will certainly benefit. Happy trails!! You look so much like her!

    1. Thanks Gwenn…Glad you’re following. Right now I’m sitting across from my mother, who’s talking to her nephew, insisting that this trip wasn’t planned and that we’re being a big imposition. Uy. Have to just move on…hopefully outside today!

  3. Laura,

    I am glad you decided to share this journey. I can relate as I deal with aging parents; a frail mother that will never make it to CA and a father recently diagnosed with dementia, but also feel the pull of obligations “here”. You have shared so much of your journey with your mother it just seems this visit brings the story full circle for you and for us your Readers. I loved the line “where duty, love and loyalty intersect.” That sums up perfectly why we do what we do with our aging parents.

    You’re mom was certainly a beautiful woman in her younger years. Loved seeing the photos.

  4. My mom was campus queen at CCNY–very much a beauty queen at 18. It’s amazing how many transformations we go through in life–even here at the end of her life where I had to dress her and put her deoderant on.

  5. Hi, Laura. I’m wishing now that I hadn’t listened to Mom’s doctors when they told me it would be too confusing to take her to visit her family. I think the rewards would have outweighed the hardships. I’m so proud of you for taking this journey with your mother.

  6. Kudos to Karyn, for being such a supportive partner, and suggesting this possibility in the first place. That she helped make this dream come true for you and your Mom is an amazing act of love.

    I really enjoyed the way you wrote about the obstacles you encountered when dealing with the post 911 airline regulations about identification. Your persistent problem solving mode was evident, even if agencies you were dealing with were not so rational. And the unexpected bonanza at the end made me smile, in the way that when things are meant to be, the means to make them happen just appears.

    I think about the metaphor of taking one last journey with a loved one we’ve been journeying with all our loves, and all the possibilities that may be enabled. I would hazard a guess that the physical nature of this trip (things that your Mom hasn’t experienced for a while)– flying on a plane, the physical togetherness for days at a time, reconnecting in person with her sister– will percolate memories from your mother in ways that daily living might not. And these memories will be a gift to you, and Karyn, something to treasure even after your Mom is gone.

    Such a beautiful piece of writing, and thank you for sharing it. I look forward to following the journey.

  7. Laura, You are to be admired for this journey. Although a different kind of journey, I made a trip about 10 years ago to see my 80 somethng aunt in Florida. My cousin who had a poor relationship with her mother asked me to go with her, as she had a feeling my aunt –who was in perfect health– would soon die. My aunt was an important person in my young life. After my parents were divorced when I was 4, she lived with my mother and me and was always loving and nurturing to me. Every day before she left for work, I would make her put some lipstick on me! She never refused. During our trip, we reconnected emotionally, which was even more important to me since my mother had recently died. It was so helpful to talk about the past –for both of us, I think. My cousin was right –my aunt’s heart stopped about 5 months after our visit. I was so happy to have made the trip, and I know you will be –whatever the difficulties.

    1. Susan, welcome to my blog and thanks for sharing your story. I am glad I’m here even though there are moments that are boring, absurd, funny, sad, and everything else in between.

  8. I know this will not be an easy journey but I am thinking it will be a worthwhile one in a number of ways. So glad you decided to let us in on it. Waiting for photos and the rest of this trip. My best to Karyn.

    1. Thanks, June. Karyn is now on her own adventure with her sisters on the other side of the state. I’ll keep you posted as my side of things unfold. Thank God we shared those travel days!

  9. Hi Laura,this true story has captured my hearts interest.I love how down to earth and real you are.I really felt it when you said your mom was saying what an imposition you all are being,yes oy vey for sure.It does seem like a true act of love on Karens part to help you push past the resistance and I am sure it will reap many rewards for all of you.Three weeks before my father died I flew out to see my parents with a video I had compiled from all the home movies .I even put an amazing soundtrack to it.I had a very challenging relationship with my folks,but after he watched it I apologized for the videos length(45 minutes) My dad looked me tears streaming and said”REALLY IT WAS very short,it was my life !!!”And three weeks later he was gone and I saw him as he transitioned and for these few moments I have always been grateful.
    Love you Laura!!!
    Bryana

  10. Michael Dorenzo

    Karen, Temme and Laura, You are in my heart on this journey. Thank you for your courage as we stumble along parallel paths.

    Laura, I love how you framed this, “I am tired of compartmentalizing my life—” and “This trip is going to be an exploration of the lines where duty and love and loyalty intersect. It’s going to be one more chapter in the long story I’ve been writing for more than two decades my mother and me—the long story of our estrangement and reconciliation. And what came after.”

    This journey is part of what comes after.”

    It is so important, I believe, to shine a light on these perhaps less glamorous parts of the journey, and to breathe life into them. So often we look at the crisis and forget the mundane. More often lately, I see that is where the beauty lies. God is, after all, in the details.

    Thanks for inviting us along on this adventure. (I have deep roots in Florida, too, and I look forward to hearing the quirky images of this trip into never, never land).

    BTW, a sobering report on Alzheimer’s on last night’s news cycle, inform us that 1 in 6 women over 60 in this country will be afflicted). Love to you and your family! M

  11. hi Laura,
    It’s me from San Miguel and the Petaluma Peace retreat with Natalie.
    I have great admiration for your courage to do the difficult, facing all the obstacles along the way to Florida. My parents are gone now, but never in a million years could I picture myself doing what you and Karyn are doing together. What a couple, what a team you are for one another. I thank you for sharing this important story.
    Irene

  12. Laura ~
    It was so moving to share this journey with you. What a mitzvah you did!
    Seems like everyone was deeply touched and blessed by the experience.
    I honor the wisdom you allowed to motivate and guide you.
    With gratitude,
    Marigold

    1. Thanks so much Marigold. This is what I was doing when I wasn’t in writing class with you. I think it was worth it! Look forward to seeing you in April.

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