AFTER WORLD WAR II, CONQUERING ARIZONA WASN’T SO BAD
Andrea S. Gould
This is the second chapter of Andrea Gould’s personal saga of moving her 94-year-old father from New York City to Arizona. Her first chapter, “Moving Dad to Tucson,” appeared earlier this year on RoelResources.com.
THERE’S A LOVELY BRAND OF REASONABLENESS in my father’s being. He’s almost serene at times. Me? I’m feeling unsettled–like I’m trying to guide a child during the first few weeks of school.
For two months my father had been residing in a spacious apartment with new furniture, a new view, new neighbors and a new routine at Amber Lights. Now, we’re moving Dad to a smaller unit on a different floor, with a quieter ambience, but further from the center of communal activity. Finances are the first governing force, so my sister and I decide the change is necessary to make his money last longer. Still, I’m nervous about disrupting his recently hard-won adaptation to Suite 305; he was just getting his patterns etched. So I’m concerned about his potential isolation and disorientation, and how that will affect his contentment and well-being. I hover.
Which brings me back to this fabulous quality Dad has: his veritable pragmatism, being only in the present moment, not worrying about the past or anticipating much about the future. In this, he seems to be a master.
My father’s World War II experience comes up most every day–invaluable and ingrained, almost as hard-wired as the experiences of his early youth. As a Coast Guard medic in North Atlantic convoys and South Pacific runs, he faced a variety of trials and demands. So dad has grit. He laughs at me when I constantly inquire as to his comfort. He defaults to: “I did this and that in the war–I can do whatever is necessary, whatever is required. Don’t worry, sweet girl.”
I, on the other hand, am on emotional overload. In order to cope, I mark the routes for his new life here; I see the bumps and anticipate their negotiation. I stay open to what is and what comes, as I shadow my Dad’s philosophy of life in his new home.
The week preceding the move, I spend time orienting my father to the landmarks and walkways of his new path. He will be on the ground floor with a patio, instead of a balcony. He will be close to the pool, and can sit in the sun, rather than being swept into the stream of residents on the way to the dining hall.
I take three or four trips, on different days at different times. I can’t resist “testing” him (as he did with me, as his child) on his learning. I am impressed by the robustness of his spatial and mechanical memory, while words fall through the sieve of his mind. He chants his own instructions to himself. His overall good humor makes allowances for his own confusion, as well as my overweening protectiveness.
As it turns out, moving day is not scheduled at my convenience. I am disgruntled, juggling a team of colleagues from New York who arrive to work and so need my attention too. Picture me with wastebaskets full of leaky toiletries; socks hanging out of my pockets and a toothbrush behind my ear, sweating as I push the elevator buttons to transport me up and down, down and up, while kind elders with walkers and caregivers with residents kindly look on. Not my best moment.
To his credit, Dad understands that there is a mission and is game, but it’s just too overwhelming. He doesn’t even have to tell me. “Where would you like me to be?” he asks, his big brown eyes serious. I guide him down to the lobby where, out of the fray, he can wait for me to finish the work.
Yet I am moved by how many people offer bits of queries and conversations about the move. He is part of this community now, after less than two months. People know he’s here. I’m relieved. My concerns are eased by the fact that many caregivers in all parts of the building address him by name and share their affection for him with me. “I had a nice chat with Frank the other day,” says a young woman with a silky blonde tousle, smiling at me.
Ultimately, I am more dazzled by something else, quite unexpected: the gift of simple serenity that characterizes my father’s lived philosophy, helping ease him throughout the chaos of change. His ability to “be in the moment”–and only in the moment–are qualities inherent in his personality, as well as part of his dementia.
Dad’s philosophy became apparent when we talked about his DNR instructions–whether he wants to have a Do Not Resuscitate order that instructs doctors not to try to revive him if his heart stops or he stops breathing. We tried numerous times to elicit his attitudes about resuscitation, without success. Finally, one day, he turned to me with wry irony and said, “I’ll let you know when I get there. I’ll need to have a look around before I decide whether I want to stay or come back.”
He knew what he was saying. “Yes, that makes perfect sense,” I replied. I meant it.
These are the lessons and the blessings of extreme elderhood. I feel newly informed, and blessed. It is sacred service to be my father’s daughter in this way and at this time in our lives. And I have been given a sage and wondrous richness for my own future self.
Andrea S. Gould, Ph.D. is a New York State licensed psychologist and community organizer. She is CEO of Lucid Learning Systems, LLC., an Arizona-based human resources company, while also maintaining a practice in “Uncommon Coaching,” helping clients dealing with major change or life transitions. She is the author of The Virgin Widow, available on amazon.com. Contact: DraGould@lucidlearning.com or visit her website, www.lucidlearning.com.