West Coast Again

Paul and I got back from our whirlwind nine-day trip to Florida last night. With full days of travel at either end, this left us a week: Three days in Sarasota with my parents, two days in Tallahassee, seeing friends (and Paul of course worked on a friend’s film) and two days back in Sarasota with my dad while Mom zipped up to Indiana to organize some things up there.

Generally my parents “winter” in Florida, and return to Indiana each summer, and generally my siblings and I manage to travel to Indiana to stay in large rambling house we grew up in, see some friends, eat some tomatoes from the farmer’s stand that sets up along the road in a field near our house. I usually cut across the back lot to visit the librarians at the small strip mall near our house, some of whom still remember me from story time hours and the summer reading program where I proudly read a hundred books, returning after each to fill out little questionnaires. Now I guess it would take me half a decade to read a hundred books.

This summer, my father has not been well enough to travel north, and in truth, may never do so again. Due to budget cuts, all the local libraries have been closed. The field with the tomato farmer has been annexed to a neighboring tree farm. The world turns.

The Florida trip was sad and happy, inspiring and daunting. I loved seeing our friends in Tallahassee, and there were a couple of perfect evenings that I could not improve upon by any editing. Writing and it’s practice were never main topics of discussion, but with writers it is often referred to in passing, and even these small aside discussions were enough to jar me from the screenwriting hole I have burrowed into of late, reminding me, not for the first time, that I have some real contemplating to do about where and how to invest my writing time.

Seeing my parents was very emotional. They have a lot of transitions going on right now, and in truth, I can’t even imagine what each of them is going through, but these days were a window into their lives right now. After several conversations and glowing recommendations from people who have been in similar situation, I imposed myself to set up some outside help in the form of instating a hospice team. and I hope it was the right thing to do. Paul says that I seem sure of myself in these decisions to the point of arrogance, but I am sure of nothing, except that in times of severe stress, the people you are trying to help don’t have the resources to entertain the personal angst and indecision of people who are supposedly helping. I figure better to approach possible solutions with confidence enough to encourage a real try. If they fail, it won’t be for lack of commitment. Hospice services can easily be revoked, but in my time there, the visit from the social worker alone seemed worth the paperwork. She spent almost three hours letting him talk and cry, and asking good questions, and the experience seemed to really raise his spirits and lessen his anxiety.

I kissed my dad goodbye yesterday knowing I might end up back in Florida for several more weeks this summer or it might be the last time I ever see him.

In either case, the moment highlighted my awareness throughout the trip of the imminent ending of ways of life that had become habitual. In Tallahassee we played a board came with our friends Mark and Becky, and it felt so oddly the same as it always had, though a year has passed. And then I would be washed over with a wave of realization that it might be another year before we do so again, maybe never in that same house, and depending on fate, maybe never.

Our friends David and Nancy showed up as several of us were hanging out at Frank and Cherie’s house, and we all sat and joked in the living room as we had in the past but David and Nancy had stopped by to say goodbye, as they were leaving the following day for new jobs and lives in San Francisco. The chances of that particular group of people all gathering together in a single room is slim indeed.

So, cliches. Things are always changing. Nothing stays the same. Life is bittersweet.

Waves of gratitude for the family and friends that we love are succeeded by waves of sorrow that they cannot last–that we cannot last. But in the end I guess it is gratitude that wins out, for this impossible and temporary time we have been given.

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