My father had a heart attack in 2006 that he couldn't feel because of diabetes-related neuropathy. He cannot feel his legs from the knees down (or his feet at all), his arms from the elbows down (or his hands at all), and his vision is lousy at best. He had to retire from his job because he can't stand for more than a few minutes at a time, let alone walk.
All things considered, it seems logical that this is not the kind of man who should get into a pickup truck on a Saturday morning and take off for a road trip to Florida. Right?
There are over 1300 miles between the front door of my parents' home in Connecticut and my grandparent's winter home in West Palm Beach. The directions have fewer than five steps thanks to I-95 going down most of the East Coast, but still, this is not something someone in my father's condition should have done. It's not safe for the other drivers on the road, and it's not safe for him - and the drive down is only half of the story.
After my grandfather passed away in mid-January, my father and his brothers and sister have been working to finalize all the paperwork and settle his estate. This is somewhat challenging, given the strained relationship my father has with most of his siblings (a very long story for another day). And the lingering question was, who is going to close down the house in Florida? Of the eight living siblings, two are mentally ill and incapable of the task, and five have full-time jobs, wives, and families. So my father was the one delegated to the task. My father is not retired because he wants to be. My father is retired because he is physically handicapped. Is this task so urgent that it can't wait until the brothers can get some time off of work and take turns spending a week down there?
Evidently so. With little notice, my father packed up a bag of his things and headed south. I got a phone call from him last Tuesday asking me to find prices for a GPS navigator that announces directions, and when I called my family on Saturday morning like I always do, he had already gone. He had purchased a small pay-as-you-go cell phone at Walmart that he still wasn't quite sure how to use when he left that morning, and no one heard from him for days.
I am, by nature, a worrier. I am the kind of person who has to have definite plans and extremely well-organized schedules, so spontaneity makes me a little anxious; add in my already-present fears about my father's health, and I'm pretty much a wreck. I have a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that something bad is going to happen - between thoughts of him driving, not controlling his diabetes, and having to do all his errands himself, I've already imagined every single one of a million awful possibilities. This is a man whose hands are covered in wounds from burns after picking up pans he couldn't feel were hot, and now he has to cook for himself. This is a man who has tracked blood around the bathroom floor because he didn't realize he had stepped on a razor in the shower, and my grandfather's bathroom is not nearly as handicap-accessible as the one in Connecticut is. If something catches on fire, my father can't run for help ... he can barely dial the phone to call for someone.
I finally got a call from him last night to check in. He spent Saturday night at a hotel, arrived at the Florida house on Sunday, and spent Monday running errands. From the sounds of it, he's there to stay for a while (a month, at least). He needs to clean up the place, then close it down and get it ready to be sold. While he works on that, he wants to clean up his own act a little via eating better and exercising. And while I would normally approve of these steps, I am not quite sure they are steps in the right direction, given the fact that he is down there completely by himself. I'm worried that he'll overdo it and get hurt. I'm worried that his body will react negatively like it has done in the past and he won't be able to get things regulated before it's too late.
The true heaviness to this issue comes from one of my father's other Florida goals, which is a temporary separation from my mother. I'm not quite sure if I've explained this before, but my parents got divorced when I was in seventh grade, but then got back together when I was in high school - they are not remarried, but they have been living together for the past few years. It's been really great, as well as truly challenging, but lately the stresses have been outnumbering the positives, and everyone needs a bit of a break from each other.
I want my dad to lose weight. I want him to eat healthy food and be as active as he can. And I want my parents to get along the best that they can. But at the same time, I'm not sure his being in Florida is a solution to these problems.