Florida. Nebraska. Brooklyn.

February 5, 2014 at 3:58 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments
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First, a confession: you haven’t heard much from me in the past month because I’ve been in Florida. My husband and I drove down to Clearwater to keep an eye on his ninety-two year-old Mom, Betty, while one of his sisters had double cataract surgery and the other went to Hawaii. Although we have friends who post pictures on Facebook all throughout their vacations, Keith thinks it’s not smart to announce over the internet our absence from an apartment on the western edge of Flatbush, Brooklyn. We wouldn’t want anyone stopping by to pick up some free electronics. And I couldn’t quite get my head around writing as if we were in Brooklyn. So–silence.

I also found it hard to write much because Keith’s Mom was a lot worse than we had anticipated. We kind of thought we were going on vacation and would visit Betty two or three times a week. But since Keith was last there, his mother had at least one small stroke (we suspect more) and some nasty skin cancer surgery, and she was not at all the Betty we once knew. Last summer, she was driving herself to church and to the hairdresser; now she needs help getting out of her chair and gets confused really fast. Keith drove over to her independent living facility from our pink and turquoise efficiency apartment on Tampa Bay almost every day. He also took the opportunity to upgrade her into assisted living, get her switched to in-house doctors, get her hearing-aid fixed, and try to take the whole thing in. It’s a sobering experience to see somebody go from cheerful, energetic and independent to confused, grouchy, and needy in such a short time.  I didn’t always go over with Keith; I did a certain amount of walking up and down Clearwater Beach and reading Margaret MacMillan’s unforgettable study of the years leading up to World War I. But I also spent a lot of time talking with Keith about his Mom and what it means for a parent to be so clearly moving toward death.

In the middle of all this, we drove over to St. Petersburg one night to see Alexander Payne’s Nebraska. It was deeply moving to watch such a brilliantly crafted narrative of the relationship between a father in decline and his family while we were trying to take in the sudden decline of the last remaining of our four parents. We were mesmerized by the trip to Lincoln Nebraska the younger son of the Bruce Dern character, Woody, takes his father on to pick up the million dollars he most certainly didn’t win in a sort of Publishers’ Clearinghouse scam. The austere black and white photography of the Nebraska landscape seemed better suited to the issues we were confronting than the brilliant Florida sunlight (though I must confess, the sunlight cheered me up as well).

We arrived back in Brooklyn on the weekend. Keith has called his Mom several times. His sisters are on the job, but Betty sounds as confused and unhappy as when we were there with her. It’s snowed twice since we got home. The black and white and gray remind us of Nebraska.



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  1. Dear Marian,

    That is so difficult a development in your mother-in-law’s life, and yours! I send you and Keith my loving friendship, and I will hold you and also Betty in my prayers. (I affirm the wisdom of not making it known that you were leaving your home in Brooklyn. It has taken me years to relax from all the urban safety strategies I had developed by living close to downtown Dayton in what was known to be a “high crime” neighborhood.) Love and thoughts, Ellen Duell



  2. Thank you, Marian. This leaves me pensive too since it brings back my own experiences accompanying my loved ones to the threshold. It’s on my mind even four years after my husband died. Blessedly the poems that come are healing, like a recent one – “When My Time Comes.” (for my third book.)


  3. Dear Marian, My mother’s condition has also changed radically this year, with a sudden onset of full-blown dementia, and if I wasn’t able to be home with Jim 24/7 his Alzheimer’s would require that he be in a nursing facility. My lifestyle is quite a spiritual (and physical and emotional) challenge. It’s amazing what one can get used to, what one discovers one is grateful for, what grief looks like, and hope and joy. I send you prayers and blessing for your journey. Much love to you and Keith, Meg


  4. What a beautiful personal meditation, Marian. Thank you for putting it “out there” for us. Yes, on some level we can all relate.


  5. Hi Marian! Just happened to catch this on fb and it is great to hear your voice and see that great photo of you. What a moving meditation. I remember how hard it was for my Mom when my grandma was at the end of her life….such a tough time for all. Tavia and I head to Florida next weekend, and I can’t wait to get outta here for a bit. Going a little bonkers with all the snow days, but can’t really complain – warm house, etc. Sending you love! – Brenna


  6. For sure do not let people know you are out of town. Facing the aging with good local grail friends.


  7. Dear Marian and Keith, We send you love and support. Joe and I have three parents remaining (although Joe accompanied two dads over the threshold). We talk and think about this process a lot with our siblings and friends. It is so interesting here in Tuzla where inter-generational families are so much more “entwined” in daily life. It doesn’t make the physical and mental declines any easier on children and grandchildren, but it does seem to prevent the shock of the dramatic change since the last time you visited. It also seems to spread out the caregiving differently. If there is a network of 4 kids and their spouses and 15 grandchildren, then there is more support for the caregivers as well as for the person reaching the end. Maybe one lesson is to try and create that support network for yourselves. If you can count on siblings or friends to listen, pray and help make decisions you may all more easily find the Grace available to you. Count on us to be with you. Love, Kirsten


  8. Having lost both my parents years ago, I struggle with how to be helpful to my friends as they deal with the aging and loss of theirs. My father died at 62, which I will be this year, and my mother died at 72 in 1990, and I still miss them very much. Hard to believe how long it has been since they are gone. But I never had to do the care giving, I lived in NYC, as I still do, and came in for visits. The intergenerational families Kirsten recommends seems a great idea, except my husband doesn’t want to live with anyone. Being present for people, and encouraging them to share their love as much as they can seems to be what I can do. Prayers are yours, of course.


  9. Quite a trip, indeed, my dear!!

    I am younger, but feel like I did a lot of similar reckoning about aging parents over this winter. We will talk.

    My sister is younger still, but she posted something that reaaaally helped me after I got back from visiting with my dad.

    In the caretaking of my mom, she was really too young, and absent. Re: my dad, she’s leading us in figuring it out.


    From: Marian Ronan <comment-reply@wordpress.com> Reply-To: Marian Ronan <comment+7hdjh-8-pizsj0w6p36j7z@comment.wordpress.com> Date: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 2:58 PM To: Information Technology <julie.e.byrne@hofstra.edu> Subject: [New post] Florida. Nebraska. Brooklyn.

    Marian Ronan posted: “First, a confession: you haven’t heard much from me in the past month because I’ve been in Florida. My husband and I drove down to Clearwater to keep an eye on his ninety-two year-old Mom, Betty, while one of his sisters had double cataract surgery and th”


  10. I feel intrusive, since we don’t know one another and I only lurk here. But when my mother, who had slowly begun to lose her memory, got pneumonia and then suffered a precipitous decline, I took all the medications in the apartment to her physician, along with the list of meds that were being doled out to her at her facility. Mom’s doc trashed the outdated ones and the ones which he himself had not prescribed (some were from the facility MD), then reviewed everything and removed some others from the list.

    Mom perked up, was more ‘with it’ and a little more energetic. It didn’t last but a couple of months, but it was a help. Medicine interactions can take lots of forms.

    My very best to you and your husband as you figure this out.


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