As we watched mom, we often asked ourselves, nurses, Google, “Is this normal?” Even if the answers are dreadful, as a caregiver, you want to know want to expect and where new developments (or diminishments) fit on the spectrum.

In 2018 and 2019 I traveled to Puerto Rico a dozen times to hang out with my partner who took a job in San Juan. I didn’t feel bad about leaving mom and dad behind for ten to fourteen days at a time, because whenever I wasn’t in Puerto Rico, I was at the farm. I actually spent more time with them during those months.

The loops from New Orleans, to Miami, to San Juan (where all the local passengers applauded as soon as the wheels touched the tarmac) and then back from San Juan to Miami and New Orleans stretched lazily, like a hammock between trees. When Steven’s job there ended, I was in shock for a minute. In the middle, we don’t always sense the edges of the time container.

Steven was thrilled to return home after two months of earthquakes, which was particularly unsettling on the 24th floor of a glass building. Even the walls in his penthouse condo were glass.

I mention in this post that we’ll have to figure out the “New normal.” A mere forty-three days before lockdown. 

Is this normal?

We didn’t know that one short month and thirteen days after his return, we would enter the new normal of lockdown. Just like that, the glorious hammock of weeks stretched between the farm and the island had come to an end. And we wouldn’t have much time to sort out our “new normal” before, just like that, mom and dad would be drastically isolated.

We’re lucky that Steven left when he did. Being stuck on an island isn’t my worst nightmare, but stuck alone on an island in lockdown with disease swirling in the air isn’t dreamy.

I was caught up in Mardi Gras preparations and figuring out normal, without a clue about the pandemic months ahead and how hard the isolation would be on mom. Loss of stimulation for Alzheimer’s patients always is.

I have to hope that the extra stimulation she received for the sixteen months helped her float just a little.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2023

And just like that, he’s spending his last night in Puerto Rico.

Isn’t it always just like that?

  • Just like that, you’re graduating and everyone’s I can’t believe how grown up you are!
  • Just like that, you’re raising a family of your own.
  • Just like that, your children are graduating and everyone’s like I can’t believe how grown up he/she is!
  • Just like that, you’re shifting from child to caretaker with a parent.

You feel like you have all the time in the world, but just like that, time’s up!

Our San Juan adventure

I’m grateful that Steven said yes to this adventure in Puerto Rico. The experience was gratifying for him professionally, and I was giddy to take trips to Puerto Rico, where we snorkeled, found the best sushi chef ever, hiked, made new friends, explored Old San Juan, found magical mountain falls, rolled down the windows to hear the coquí, and splashed in a bay of dinoflagellates. Steven loved watching the ships come into the bay. Being the endearingly annoying geek he is, of course he found the website for tracking all ships of a certain size.

Now, just like that, he’s spending his last night with that fabulous view. Harmony is docked there today. And I’m packing up to go back to our home for a couple of weeks, where we’ll work out our new normal.

When I’m here I’m not there and not here when I’m there

Mom seems to be struggling with the idea that I’m leaving tonight. She came down to my house as I was packing. I turned on Netflix Anne with an E for her while I finished packing all but the computer in the car. When I walked her out, she asked if I was taking the gator (the farm vehicle mom and dad use for getting around the property).

No, I’m taking the van. You’re taking the gator.
Where are you going?
I’m going to Baton Rouge.
Yes, Steven’s coming home tomorrow.
How long will you be gone?
A couple of weeks.
What about your . . .

The words didn’t come to her, but I understood when she flapped her arms.

I have another flying lesson on Monday.
How long will you be gone?
Ten to fourteen days. But I’ll call every day.

This was about the tenth time we had this conversation, and we haven’t been around each other that much today. I added the “I’ll call every day” because her face washed out, a panic in her eyes. I truly don’t do much for her, but she feels better when I’m here.

When she drove up the field in the gator back to her house, I had a moment. I don’t cry much, ever, but I had a moment. How I wish I could make her feel safe and whole. Or break into the labs where they’re doing all those amazing things that seem to be fixing Alzheimer’s and take the equipment for her.

I’ll only be away ten to fourteen days, but I know, just like that, there’ll be less of her when I come back.

New normal

But let’s refocus. I’m on my way back from the farm to the suburbs to feather that nest before Steven gets home tomorrow. I’m a little sad about the things we didn’t get around to exploring in Puerto Rico (just like that, it’s over), but I’m profoundly grateful for the experiences we had and I’m looking forward to sorting out the new normal here between the suburb and the farm.

As I settle into that new normal, I’ll be a more mindful of the ticks of time, in hopes to experience less I wish I had . . . and more I’m so glad I did that! Because, just like that . . . you know.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020