Last week, I stopped in at my in-law’s apartment. The temperature outside was in the 90s but when I went into the apartment, the air conditioning was turned off. Mom had a sweater on and was bundled up in a blanket. I don’t know how Dad can stand it. As we sat visiting, I was sweltering in my shorts and tank top but she couldn’t get warm. She told me she’s reached the point in life where she will never be warm again.
As we see each other day by day, I don’t really notice these changes. But when I come into a stifling apartment to find Mom freezing, the reality that she is not doing well is unavoidable. It gives me a momentary pause - we won’t have them for ever. It hits me suddenly and I am saddened.
But there are things to do and needs to be met, so I marshal on. Later, I sit in my studio in a fog, staring out the window. The fulness of our situation hits me once again and I weep.
Is it really any wonder why I can’t create?
Dad has gotten it into his head that I am longing and pushing my husband to move to Florida. He continually asks Mike and me when we are going to retire, have we planned for retirement, and when is it going to happen. This is a mystery to all of us. I have friends who have moved to Florida. I’ve house-sat for friends in Sarasota. I’ve had the great pleasure of staying in a friend’s condo on Marco’s Island. I’ve had uncles who lived, died, and are buried in Florida. Burmese pythons notwithstanding, Florida is a lovely state that holds wonderful memories for me.
However, we have no desire to move there. Many areas are too commercialized for my tastes, the heat and humidity are unbearable in summer, but the biggest issue for me is the traffic. What would be a short, ten minute drive in West Michigan turns into a minimum of a half hour drive in Florida. There is no such thing as a quick trip to the store. I’m not moving anywhere with insane traffic unless it has an excellent public transport system.
And did I mention the Burmese pythons?
Trying to convince Dad this is not the case has proved fruitless and the truth is, this new issue will eventually pass. But Mom and Mike are both sick of hearing it since it has been going on for months. Interestingly, he does not bring up ‘the move’ when I’m around. He does question me about retirement (for me that’s a ways off - for Mike it’s a couple years), but not about my desire to leave Michigan and move to Florida. So Mom tried a different tactic and one day last week when I was there helping her with her emails, she asked me in front of Dad, “Donna, do you want to move to Florida?”
I answered an emphatic no, listed the reasons above and added, “Dad, the whole reason we moved you to Grand Rapids is so we could be close to you and be available to help you whenever you need it. How could we do that if we are out of the state?” He started protesting we shouldn’t stay in Michigan because of them. He still doesn’t believe he needs our help very often and both Mom and Dad think once Mike retires we’ll be footloose and fancy free to go travel the world. The fact is, they take vicarious joy when we take trips, because they themselves were world travelers back in the day.
But once a fear has lodged into his brain, he can’t let it go. And even though Mom said, “See John? She doesn’t want to move to Florida. I don’t want to hear it again,” we all know it will continue to be an issue in his mind until something else replaces it. I’m willing to be the awful daughter-in-law that’s taking his son away if it keeps him from some other, more detrimental actions or thought patterns, because that’s what it really boils down to. I’m a selfish woman.
Love is patient, love is kind. But it isn’t always easy and it often breaks your heart.
There is no medicine like hope, no incentive so great, and no tonic so powerful as expectation of something tomorrow. -Orison Swett Marden. (1850-1924)
The month of June was filled with travel, family and fun. This year was our 30th wedding anniversary so we took a short trip to visit Falling Water - a famous house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright over a waterfall in Pennsylvania.
We are generally cautious about being out of town for any length of time since one of us needs to be here in case of an emergency with Mike’s parents. But we wanted to do something to celebrate, so we took a four day trip to go there, swing by Youngstown, Ohio to see the Butler Art Institute and then to Cleveland to see aunts, uncles and cousins before coming home again.
Once we were back and unpacked, we got ready for visits from relatives from Chicago and then from Texas. All our stories, and all our visits stirred up Mom’s spirit and we were able to get her out and about for a couple trips. We took an afternoon to visit the Japanese garden at Frederick Meijer Gardens. It turned out to be a lovely day and we saw about half of it - leaving more for another day.
My sister-in-law was still here when we celebrated Mom’s 95th birthday with a trip to the Grand Rapids Art Museum followed by take out from Olive Garden, a birthday treat and then presents. She thoroughly enjoyed her day and having her daughter here to celebrate it with her. I have hopes that now Mom has been getting out a little this summer I can coax her out again. She had become so discouraged I wasn’t even able to get her to let me take her out and just stroll around the grounds. The visits of family and the day trips have revitalized her I’m happy to say.
In fact I’m about to go out and visit and see if their computer is still up and running. I was able to get her email back in order and I want to be sure it stays that way. It’s a cloudy day and I know I won’t be able to get her outside. But summer isn’t over yet and we all have hope.
Hope is a precious commodity. I haven’t been to the studio much this month. Just a couple times to water the plants and to pay my rent. But I still have hope.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.