Monday, March 7, 2011
From Disney to Dying: Saying Goodbye
When I was in High School, our family took a vacation to Florida, which was my first encounter with Disney World. It was unforgettable. So much so that once I was old enough to travel on my own, I continued to visit with friends and even my college boyfriend during Spring Break. What I loved most was the feeling of childlike wonder and awe that everyone there seems to experience regardless of their age.
I vividly recall going to Florida with my BFF, sitting in the parking lot trolley when the tour guide announced, “Hello all, you are now in the Goofy Parking lot. Get ready for your magical adventure to begin.” Well, us 22-year-old girls couldn’t stop giggling anticipating the blast we were going to have. And, girl, was it fun!
Several years later, while my husband and I were dating, he suggested we go on our own magical trip to Disney to visit some sites that neither one of us had traveled to, including Universal and Epcot. Our trip there was wonderful, with the highlight being going to Universal where I was chosen from the audience to participate in a live show. Combine that with all the amazing shops, behind the scene tours and rides such as “Back to the Future” and “Earthquake,” I was enthralled.
So with all these amazing moments spent in Florida, why have I incongruously titled this blog post, “From Disney to Dying? Well, after our family’s recent trip to the Sunny State, I was forced to acknowledge the backdrop of sadness for me in Florida—sadness I have always been able to keep at the backburner of my mind. Yet now, the light is burning bright—keeping me up at night, causing many moments of reflection and contemplation about my past trips there and crossroads we have faced and still have to address.
My husband’s parents moved to Florida 10 years ago due to my mother-in-laws failing health. She suffered from emphysema and needed to move to a warmer climate. Before going to Orlando for our trip many years ago, we visited my husband’s parents at the retirement community where they now lived, only an hour away from Orlando. The community was filled with activities from golf to dancing classes to archery, fun from dawn to dusk. Although my in-laws lived quiet lives, the social calendar of many of the people we met there was full, almost as if the members were children again: spending time with friends and relaxing at the pool all day—and they deserved it after working so hard for much of their lives.
Still, the sadness I experienced came from seeing so many senior citizens with physical ailments and emotional struggles. Some of them shared that they had waited too long to enjoy their lives—and they didn’t have much time to make-up for it. In just the few days that we were there, the ambulances sounded often. We listened to many stories about elders in community who recently died or had illnesses and hardships: worst of all, as I chatted with the seniors, I looked into many sad and lonely eyes.
It reminded me of the time when I was in high school and my own family came to Florida for Disney, and we visited my Nana & Papa who retired in Fort Lauderdale. I recall my dad sharing with us that it was painful to watch his parents slowly hobble getting on the plane, their age taking its toll on their bodies. My Nana, known for her delicious culinary dishes no longer had the stamina to cook.
Each time I would visit Florida, while my grandparents were alive, I would spend a few days with them. I have some poignant memories and much thanks for all those special moments. One in particular that always makes me smile is recalling visiting them with my BFF. Upon our arrival, my Papa gave us our very own radio, an old-fashioned one which he programmed to all the Big Band stations. He was so excited when he turned on the music that we pretended to be just as elated. The truth is we didn’t know any of the songs!
When my Papa died, my Nana had to sell the house and come live closer to family. She was devastated.
Two years ago, my mother-in-law died in Florida. One day she was coming home from the hospital and the next day we received a call that she died. The saddest part was, besides her husband, no other family was at her bedside. We were too far away to get there with such short notice. The one consolation we had was that my husband told her how much he loved her and appreciated all she had done for him when he spoke with her on the phone the evening before. Since she couldn’t talk, she hit the phone with her breathing mask to let him know she heard him.
Her untimely death made us much more appreciative that we had taken the kids to see her a few years prior and she treated us to a day at Disney—while she stayed at home, barely 90 pounds in weight, suffering terribly, shadowed by the rolling oxygen tank that had become her salvation. At that time, my husband and I had vacillated on whether it would be appropriate for our kids to see her in such a weakened state and opted that it would be better to spend some time with her especially since she expressed a desire to see her grandkids. We ended the visit with the gift she gave us spending a day at Disney.
Going to the Magical Kingdom as a parent is special in a totally new dimension as our children were wowed by all the characters, rides and performances—not to mention the amazing night-time fireworks display that illuminates the entire park in a new way! It helped ease the sadness of seeing their grandma in such a sickly state.
I know death is a reality in life. It’s just so hard to deal with when its forceful hand comes knocking at your door at an ungodly hour. It’s awful when someone you love and see in one way transforms and deteriorates into an unrecognizable person.
. In good health, I love the fun Florida represents; the childlike wonder and adventure for those of us who are able to enjoy it. For those who I’ve known and have died there, it has become a dark and frightening ride that I want to get off of, but I’m locked in.