Starting a Blog.

I was going to post this on Facebook, but by the time I was done writing, it was way too long. I’ve had this placeholder blog for the past five years and have never posted anything, so why not start today?

Here are some year-end musings. This is going to be very long, so right off the bat, I apologize for taking so much of your time. And, if you read the whole thing, thank you!

These past two years have been the two most difficult years of my life so far. For the past ten years I had been struggling with caring for both my parents with very little outside help. Every year they got worse, and it became more difficult to take them to doctors and make sure they ate healthy foods.

In 2011 I finally had to hire someone to care for them part time, and I found Angela, who I knew from when she worked at my place of employment. She took very good care of them throughout 2011 and 2012. And then she found a full-time job and couldn’t take care of them any more. But she recommended Reyna, who took care of them from 2013 up until they had to go into a nursing home in mid-2014, and even beyond. She still visited my mom regularly at the nursing home. Started as part-time, but by the time I had to put them in a nursing home, it had become almost full-time, and she was always “on call” for the many times my dad called her to go calm down my mom. I was pretty much “on call” as well for the last 2-3 years of their lives.

It was not unusual to get phone calls during my work day, sometimes from my mom, to tell me there was a man there who wanted to kill her, or who didn’t want to leave. Or to accuse me of stealing her money (FYI, there was no money to be stolen). Other times, it was to tell me she was dying and nobody wanted to believe her. She became paranoid and didn’t trust anyone or anything. This is one of the tragedies of Alzheimer’s.

Eventually, she no longer remembered how to use the phone, and then it was my dad calling me to go calm her down, or hunt her down because she got out of the house and he didn’t know where she was. More often than not, she ended up at the next door neighbor’s house, but not always. Once, nobody could find her. I left work and called 911 when I got to their house. Just a few minutes later I got a call back because someone at the Winn Dixie (about four blocks away) had called 911 to report a lost elderly woman. Another time, I got a phone call from a lady cop who found her wandering a couple blocks from the house. My dad didn’t even know she was missing. This lady cop was very nice and said I needed to do something about her, but she wouldn’t report me to DCF at this time.

My dad had very serious arthritis and could barely walk. At the beginning of 2014, I had to get him a wheelchair. So, doctor’s visits became more challenging with taking the wheelchair in and out of the car all by myself. I’m very small and not terribly strong, but still I was able to do this.

All the while, my mom became worse every day, and had many issues. We had to lock the doors so she wouldn’t get out. And the back door became the way in and out of the house because it could be locked from the outside. It wasn’t safe and I wasn’t comfortable with it, but my dad wanted to still stay at home. Then around the beginning of August, it was the beginning of the end. I always called them when I got home from work to make sure they were ok, or in case they needed something. Reyna was there pretty much every day by then. One day I got home and called, and called, and called. And there was no answer. This, by itself, was not unusual as my dad sometimes left both phones in the living room or the kitchen and then went to sleep in the bedroom. They were both sleeping a lot by then. Still, with no answer, I had to go check on them. My dad was sitting in the living room in his recliner, the phone no more than a few feet from him. But he couldn’t get up. It took me about an hour, but I was finally able to help him up and get him to bed with the help of his walker.

The week after this, Reyna found him in the same situation, and had to get help from the neighbor to get him up and into bed. This happened again, and then he fell a couple of times. I finally realized there was no way this could continue and I called 911 to get him into the hospital and see what was going on with him. They never did figure out what was wrong specifically, but he was admitted and, just a couple days later he was moved into the hospice wing of the hospital. Several months before I had looked into hospice care for my mom, and followed up on that then. She was also admitted to the hospice wing of the hospital in the same room as my dad. It was so sad the day I left them both there.

But they couldn’t stay there indefinitely. They had to go to a nursing home, which obviously they couldn’t afford and neither could I. So I applied for Medicaid for them and they were eventually admitted to a nearby nursing home. They went into the nursing home on September 12, 2014, the day of their 65th wedding anniversary. Another very sad day. My dad passed away eight days later. We’ll never know what exactly was going on with him those past few months, but he was 96 years old and did not want to outlive my mom. His love for my mom was unfailing.

A lot of people attended his memorial service. Lots of family, ham radio friends, and many other friends. He was the kind of person everyone liked. I sang at the service, accompanied by Nick Wurster and my nephew John Christopher.

My mom didn’t really know what had happened, as she didn’t really know him by then. She just knew the man in the other bed was gone. At some level, she must have realized what happened, because I recall she got teary a few times after this. Her time in the nursing home was not a happy time. She didn’t want to make friends, and didn’t want to participate in any of their activities. I visited her almost daily, and marveled at how many of the other residents never got visitors at all. There was only one other lady whose son was always there by her side.

Reyna brought her a little present for her birthday in November. Thanksgiving came and went, and it was never a big deal, as it’s not a Cuban tradition. Still I had been having them over for Thanksgiving the past few years. Christmas season was the first time I saw some signs of life in her. I made her go to a concert in the nursing home. A choir from a local church put on a really nice show with beautiful music. She wanted to leave right away but little by little she got into the spirit and was marking time with the concert program. I put up a video of this concert on FB.

And, on Christmas day, I went to visit her and brought her some little present. I don’t even remember what it was. She didn’t know it was Christmas, but I did. I was so busy visiting her and doing her laundry weekly that I didn’t really have time to grieve for my dad. I still managed to go to Walt Disney World (my happy place) by making arrangements for Reyna to visit her while I was away and constantly keeping in touch to make sure everything was ok.

After Christmas she caught a cold and was not well. She had a high fever and was put on 24/7 hospice care until the fever broke. This happened a couple of times in January and February. All of the hospice nurses were very kind to her, but one stands out because she looked up a Rosary in Spanish on You Tube and she and my mom said the Rosary together.

Then on Sunday March 8 while I was rehearsing with the choir at St Martin Episcopal Church, I got a phone call from the hospice nurse to let me know she was being put back on 24/7 hospice care. I asked Father Bernie if he could come to the nursing home to give her the last rites. This isn’t something I would have requested for my dad, as I knew he wasn’t a believer, but my mom was, so this would be important to her. She was very restless, constantly moving, but no longer speaking, and I don’t know if she realized what he was doing, but I felt it was important.

The next couple of days I was in and out of the nursing home, knowing she was not going to make it. She was still very restless, but she wasn’t eating or drinking anymore, and she wasn’t speaking. I talked to her a lot about going to see Papi (my dad) and Abuelo and Mina (my grandparents) soon. And I sang to her softly as much as I could.

When the time came, I had gone home for the night and got the phone call from the hospice nurse a little after 10 PM. When I got there, she was completely still. She was finally at peace. It was the loneliest I’ve ever felt. For the first time in my life I was truly alone.

Her memorial service was not as well attended as my dad’s, but more of my own friends attended it, as well as family, and even the daughter (Fina) of one her lifelong friends (la Chiqui). Again, I sang. This time accompanied by Rob Strusinski and also my nephew John Christopher.

This whole year I’ve been adjusting to my new reality of being completely on my own. It hasn’t been easy. Going home after work and not having to visit or call anyone has been both liberating and incredibly sad. Traveling without having to check up on anyone other than my cats (thanks, Lara) is quite different.

Thanksgiving was just another day. As I said earlier, it’s not a Cuban tradition, so it was never big for me. And Christmas Eve for at least the past fifteen years has meant singing at church during the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. I’ve drifted from church to church, but wherever I am, Christmas Eve finds me singing in church. This has been a constant.

I didn’t experience true sadness until Christmas day. For the first time in my life I had no one to share Christmas with. I didn’t visit anyone, I didn’t call anyone, and no one called me. Not that I blame anyone for this. I’ve never been a social person and the sound of a telephone ringing sends me into panic mode. Social situations make me very uncomfortable and my Cuban family is the typical Cuban family. All gatherings are full of loud music and lots of people all around. As much as I’d like to be with family, I know I can only take it in small doses. So all I did all day long on Christmas day was watch TV and take naps. For next year, if I have no family plans, I’ll seek out some volunteering opportunities. At the very least, I’d like to make someone else happy.

Also, starting next year, I’m going to step out of my comfort zone at least once. While I’ll still make multiple trips to my happy place (Walt Disney World), I’m also traveling out of the country, to London, in late August. I’m actually going to get on a plane for an ungodly number of hours to experience something completely different. I plan to do something like this, though not necessarily always out of the country, every year as long as I can afford it. So I won’t be retiring any time soon.

I want to thank all my Facebook friends, Disney-related and otherwise, for making my life a little happier. And I’m lucky to have possibly the best managers in the entire working world, who allowed me all sorts of irregular hours, occasional days working at home, unscheduled days off, and much more while my life was falling apart. They were the glue that held me together. And three of them (Rob, Julio, and Joe) even helped me to move a few pieces of furniture from my parents’ house to mine when I was getting ready to sell their house.

All in all, I think the lean years are over, and I look forward to a whole new world (Disney reference here) in 2016. And I think I’m going to try to keep up this blog thing. More upbeat going forward.

Thank you, everyone, and I wish you all a very happy and prosperous 2016!

2 Responses to “Starting a Blog.”
  1. Barbara latimer says:

    Nora, thanks for sharing your life experiences in this blog. I know the last few years have been tough and you have weathered them beautifully. I know you will go foward with the full grace and love of God. Be blessed.


  2. cindybelle says:

    Nora, thank you so much for sharing every painful word of this. I will be a failthful reader of your blog. Hugs to you, dear friend.


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