Copyright 2010 by Lisa Hendrickson
I will never forget the day in 2006 when my parents called to ask if I would stop and talk with them after work. I arrived and my father, as always, had a cold drink waiting for me. My mother was ready and willing to make me something to eat. After this ritual, we sat at the table; my dad at the head of the table and my mother by my side. She held my hand and I thought to myself “oh boy…this is going to be serious”. She then told me that both of them had been to the doctor’s office during the week. My mom had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer (stage 3) and my father had early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. I stood to hug them and then my mother and I just broke down in tears. After our cry, I told them an idea I had. I knew that they had never been on a cruise ship before, so I said let’s take a family cruise.
We planned our first cruise during the spring of 2007 on Holland American for 7-days in the Eastern Caribbean. In the fall of 2006, my mother called to say she had something very important to tell me. I left work early because I could hear the urgency and trembling in her voice. My mother’s doctor gave her only till the end of the year to live. This time, my father joined us in tears. I immediately filed for 3 months of family medical leave, in order to spend time and give as much help as I could to my ailing parents. Come to find out, my mother was a fighter to the end. She made it not only on the first cruise, but on another one to follow.
The first cruise, my parent’s, me, along with my 3 siblings, were able to attend and had a wonderful time. We had not been on a “family” vacation with everyone in attendance in over 20 years. Dinner time was always my favorite part of the cruise. We all met at the same table dressed to a “T”, to tell funny stories about happenings during the day! One that stands out is when my father wandered off when we were in the Bahamas. The police discovered him back on the cruise ship. When my father saw us arrive he immediately walked over and said “what did you take off for and where the hell have you been”. Even the police chuckled about that one.
As the result of my father’s illness, he was unable to join us on the next cruise. When his doctor recommended that his driver’s license be revoked, he went a little berserk. It was as if he had a mission everyday thereafter to find the car keys and escape. One day he disappeared with the car and neither family nor the local police could locate him. Come to find out the next day that the Miami police had him in a holding tank for us. We had to drive from Naples, FL to retrieve him and the vehicle. I had called my older sister and brother to let them know that “pops was in the clinker in Miami”. Most of his incidents were comical, but it drove my poor mother crazy. One day she called me at work to tell me that my father had driven his bike to Walgreen’s to buy a huge bottle of wine. Since he couldn’t carry the wine on the bike, he left his bicycle in the store parking lot and walked home with the huge jug in hand. When he sensed that my mother wanted to drive somewhere, he would slip outside and let all the air out of tires.
After months of this behavior, my mother was at her wits end. If she had any hair at all, she would definitely have pulled it out. My father was placed in an Alzheimer’s Nursing home, but not without a fight. Before we could get him through the front doors, he took off running through the parking lot. It was hilarious to see the nursing staff running after him. I had to call my sister and brother again to let them know that “we had a runner”. He ended up being quite a challenge for the nursing home. He tried escaping out windows and even propped a heavy outside bench against a fence in order to hop over. Management was astounded and had to bolt the benches to the concrete. He would even try to get the door codes or follow staff and visiting guests in the attempt to escape out the front door. Dad was then placed on 24 hr. watch.
After all dads’ goofiness, the chemo treatments and surgeries, my mother was ready and well deserving of the next cruise in the spring of 2008. We chose the Southern Caribbean this time, but it wasn’t the same without dad being by mom’s side. My mother was also very tired and not feeling to par most the time, so we relaxed more on this cruise. In any event, the vacation was well worth it and the family pictures are beautiful and irreplaceable. While back home in Naples, I tried to spend as much time as I could with my mother. She missed my father so much, and used every waking moment trying to stay as active as her energy level would allow. She did keep up with her “lady” clubs and taught line dancing until the day she was almost bed ridden. I went to visit dad with her one last time before she checked herself in the Hospice center. She was happy to see dad was doing well and was the “ladies” man in the nursing home. His eyes lit up when he saw my mom and he said to her “it’s about time, I have been waiting for you”. It was so cute to see them holding hands and when it was time to go and my mom kissed him goodbye on the lips, my dad’s response to this was “now that’s what I am talking about”. We laughed tears of joy together, just to know that dad was in a safe and happy place.
My mother is one of the sweetest and strongest women I have ever known. She not only raised 4 kids right, was happily married for 56 years, was there when anyone needed help, never complained about her illness or treatments and fought like hell to the end. The nurses at hospice were shocked when my mom just walked in and when they asked where the patient was, she said “the patient is me, I have lived a good life and now I am done”. For the last week of her life, we sat and looked through old pictures, watched old home videos, and laughed about past stories. I was holding my mother’s hands when she took her last breathe. I was torn between the sorrow of losing my best friend and the thankfulness to God for taking her away from all the pain and suffering she was dealing with. My mother was my mentor and I learned to live life to the fullest with plenty of love and laughter.
Written in memory of my loving mother.
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