Photo by Natasha Connell on Unsplash
By Marilyn Pellini
Aging is never a pleasant prospect, but aging in the time of this horrible pandemic is a great trial both physically and mentally.
I go to my timeshare in Florida every winter. It was especially great fun when my husband was alive. We rented a spacious cabana with two comfy lounge chairs, complete with an umbrella for perfect shading. We’d be happy as clams for the whole day. You’d find us on the beach every sunny day. There are literally miles of crunchy sand to walk on, explore, gather shells, and watch boats coming and going. And that’s not even to mention swimming in that beautiful blue-green water found where the Gulf Stream flows. We both loved to play cards — Gin Rummy, Cribbage, even Crazy Eights and King’s Corners (which we had played with our kids) would amuse us for hours. Each day we would have a game of Scrabble on our little portable board. For years we kept score, and we were very close in total games won, although I’d sometimes let him win if three days had gone by with me in the lead and him beginning to pout a bit.
Then the unthinkable happened. My husband died in a bizarre fishing accident. He was only 71 — really not that old for this day and age. Al did a very dangerous kind of fishing in many states along the East Coast. He would don a wetsuit, put his rod in one hand and plug bag across his chest, and swim to rocks a football field’s length out in the ocean so he could cast directly into the passing schools of striped bass. In fact, in 1984 he caught the second largest bass recorded in the world. As you can imagine, this was something I hated to know he was doing, but there’s no dissuading a man when his mind is made up. This particular time he went to a small, serene island off the coast of Massachusetts, and he went alone. Fishermen do not want anyone to know what rod, reel, or test line they were using when they catch “the big one.” No one knows exactly how the accident occurred and probably never will. It was just such a tragedy.
So here I am, approaching the time considered to be old age and totally alone. I still do enjoy getting away from the ice and snow up north in the winter, but it’s very difficult and sad in a place where everyone is still a couple. I have a few friends at the timeshare where I stay, and also some in the area who are kind enough to invite me to go to dinner with them, but I seem to cling to the few widows I know who still come each winter too.
For the last few winters, something has always come up just before I’m to leave on my trip south. One year it was water in my basement from a broken pipe; another year, it was a stringy tendon in my ankle that made walking difficult, as it was always so swollen and achy. This year I was experiencing dizzy spells and had a toe that needed three operations. I couldn’t lift my head off my pillow or turn it in any direction without feeling that both the room and I were spinning. I went to my ENT doc and she was quite certain she could cure this by resetting the crystals in my ears, but it didn’t work. I had asked my daughter to cancel the first two weeks of my trip in hopes of getting this straightened out before leaving home, but then I reconsidered. I like my internist in Florida so very much that I felt perhaps he could help me. So, off I went, not knowing how I would make out on the plane, juggling my luggage, going to the car rental place, and then driving to my accommodations. That part went just went fine, and I arrived here on a Friday.
First thing Monday morning, I called the internist’s office and was able to get an appointment for the very next day. He, too, tried to reset the crystals in my ears, but again it was unsuccessful. He then ordered a CAT scan of my head and neck since this had been going on for many weeks now. Both came back just fine and I was a bit relieved, but I was still dizzy. Next I was sent to a neurologist, and although he didn’t think there was a problem with the crystals, he too tried to reset them. Again it didn’t work, so I was sent for vestibular rehabilitation. That’s a type of physical therapy for balance and dizziness, and it did help quite a bit. Next I asked my primary care doctor if we could change my diabetes medication before we went on with more extensive testing. That did seem to help also, as my stiff neck went away and I was somewhat less dizzy.
But then in March, the coronavirus took hold everywhere in the United States as it had in foreign countries just previous to this. Everyone kept leaving this resort in droves, but my children felt that I would be safer here then going back up north with my medical problems. So, I extended my stay. Yes, I was here in paradise with lots of warm sunshine and fresh air and even a view of the ocean, but it was both eerie and scary. Suddenly, drastic measures were being taken. The beaches were all closed. The resort closed its food service facilities and also the pool. They did allow us to go and sit by the edge of the pool, but had placed the chairs well over 6 feet apart to adhere to the regulations. Each of the four buildings had only about 20 people remaining in them. What a time in life to be alone and old.
I wasn’t driving much then since I was still somewhat dizzy, so that made it hard for me to even get to the grocery store. There was such a demand for food and most especially paper products that the shelves were just about empty when I got there. Older people were asked to come to do their shopping first thing in the morning. I somehow got ahold of one mask and a pair of rubber gloves and did actually go to the grocery store by myself and stocked up as much as I could. Conditions were getting worse by the minute, and I wasn’t eager to go back to the market. My kids said that they’d make arrangements for groceries to be brought to me, so that solved one major problem.
Fortunately my hair is mostly gray, so I’m one of the few women in my age category that wasn’t miserable with her dye job growing out. But after two months here, boy do I need a haircut. I had brought a pair of sharp scissors with me and I’ve learned to trim my own tresses a little bit. I won’t be sending out any pictures of me at that time though!
I certainly know what they mean about necessity being the mother of invention. There are many things we’ve had to learn to do on our own. After my husband‘s passing I never did very much cooking, but with restaurants closed I was making every meal. The hardest part of this new existence, however, was not being able to see a doctor when you needed one.
I was sitting at the lonely pool at the timeshare one day when a couple came up to me and begin to chat. They were so surprised I was there at the resort alone. They seem to take me under their wing, which I so appreciated. It turned out that she had been a physical therapist and he a podiatrist. She gave me some advice on my ankle that was swollen and in such pain, and he looked at my toe from afar that had been bothersome since before Christmas and assured me that it was at least not infected. I wonder what the chances are of meeting the two exact people that I needed help and information from in such a dire time. The world and the heavens consort in mysterious and wondrous ways in our time of need!
Marilyn Pellini has recently published a grief book entitled Dear Al, A Widow’s Struggles and Remembrances. It has been selling quite well. Her other credits as a writer include a recent article in Brick Magazine entitled “Memories in My Button Jar,” pieces in Westchester Parent Magazine, Bay State Parent Magazine, On The Water, Balanced Rock, and others which she would be happy to provide copies of upon request. In May of 2018, she took the first place prize in the N.Y. State Federation of Women’s Clubs writing contest.