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In my last episode, I told you about my dad’s announcement, back in March of 2023: He’d determined that once my mom died, he’d sell the house they’d bought together forty-eight years before (the one he said he’d never leave) and get rid of most of its contents.
Next, he’d start crisscrossing from one continent to another, back and forth across the equator, on a three-year cruise ship with a company called Miray.
He was ready to trade life on land for Life at Sea.
The stage where this announcement was made was my parents’ living room, which we’d turned into a make-shift hospital ward for my mom, who had been on hospice for more than a year.
She’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July of 2021 and had outlived all predictions.
She’d wanted to stay at home and had no desire to go to a nursing home; but little by little, her mind had succumbed to dementia, until she no longer recognized her own house, and thought it was in fact “a residence home”.
Here’s a video of my mom from about December (a few months before my dad announced his cruise). She DID give me permission to post this when she was more lucid, and loved to rewatch herself (you might have to turn up your volume):
My mom definitely kept a sense of humor about her condition and continued to have a good attitude; but it was difficult to watch her decline.
For my dad, it was downright depressing.
I don’t think he wanted to face the possibility of living alone.
My Parents Had Been Together More than Fifty Years
What did he have to look forward to without her?
He was sitting in front of the TV, surrounded by an accumulation of memories, mementos, and miscellaneous clutter, while my mom was in the living room. We didn’t know when she would die; but we knew it would be soon. He didn’t know what he’d do without her.
That’s when he heard about a “trip of a lifetime”. A three-year cruise, leaving in November from Turkey. Something called Life at Sea.
There was little doubt he’d be all alone by then.
This cruise was an experience that had never been done before.
It was something to look forward to. It wasn’t anything like what the other widowers my dad knew were doing, and he liked that aspect.
He Started Making plans with Miray and Telling People of His Intentions to Sign Up for this Epic Trip Around the World
Some people thought he was crazy.
Why would anybody want to sell their stuff and live on a boat for three years?
Didn’t he know that when a spouse dies, the going advice was to not do anything drastic for at least a year?
People Wondered if I Was Upset About My Dad’s Plans to Go On a Three-Year Cruise
They approached me about it with a touch of an apology in their voices.
I wasn’t bothered about him living on a boat at all. I understood the “why” that would draw him out to sea for three years on a ship. It made total sense to me.
To Give My reasoning, I Guess I Should Start by Telling Some Family History About Boats
My parents were both officers in the Navy.
My mom, Beth Miller back then, was shy, but a bit of a social butterfly. She soon earned the nickname “Smiley” and was under the command of a rather sour Commander, named Ms. Stankovich, who hailed from – well, I won’t say where, because Ms. Stankovich had possibly earned some not very nice nicknames amongst the underling nurses.
My mom being called “Smiley” must have been rather rank to the unsmiling Ms. Stankovich, for she once informed young Beth, “You know, Miss Miller, you won’t always be a cute, young Ensign.” Perhaps long before Ms. Stankovich took the title of commander, she too had been a cute, young Ensign; or maybe she’d only ever been bitter. I’d better not speculate.
After two years, my mom finished her time in the Navy; but was still working as a nurse at the Balboa Naval Hospital there in San Diego. As my dad describes the story, she happened to go to a Marine Corps Dance when “a dashing, young officer” showed up in that same place.
If I could, I’d show you some photos from what they looked like, posed in their uniforms for portraits; but ever since the scramble to load up everything in the house for Miray’s supposed three-year cruise, all their stuff is rather out of sorts. So, for now, I’ll just share this snapshot.
My dad had been going up and down the coast of California on a destroyer, and sometimes out to sea, as a Sight Check Observer, making sure things stayed safe, while 5”/54 naval artillery guns were being shot off the side of the ship.
He had been issued orders to go to SEAL training, but this had been an oversight on someone’s part, seeing as how he could hardly get along without glasses. It was long before Lasik surgery. A little disappointed, my dad was rather bored on his ship, until the night he took his job as the Sight Check Observer on shore leave and caught a glimpse of a very smiley officer by the name of Beth Miller.
He was smitten
My dad had to get back on his boat, and my mom assumed she’d never see him again; but one night at work, about a week later, she received a phone call. Somehow that officer from the dance had managed to track her down at the largest Naval hospital in the world. He asked her for a date – saying he wanted them to make a meal together. When he showed up with a bunch of spices he’d just bought for the main dish, she figured he was serious about her, because those had to have been expensive.
The Vietnam War appeared to be wrapping up, so he decided to go to law school in St. Louis. She followed him back to the Midwest. When they stopped in Colorado, the foreshadowing moment of their relationship took place.
My dad backed his Nova out of its parking space, and thought my mom, in her VW, was ahead of him, not realizing their cars were in alphabetical order.
Obviously, he didn’t know her all that well back then, because once she’d get going, she could really go, but it would always take her quite a bit of time to get started (whether we’re referring to way back in the 1970s, driving a Volkswagen out of Vail, or in her latter-years, when it would take her quite a few tries to gather the inertia to stand up from the sofa. She’d get there eventually; she just needed a chance to get moving).
He hadn’t seen that side of her, as he took off in his Nova, like a shooting star, thinking she surely must be ahead of him.
Observing her Sight Check Observer disappear from sight, she followed after him in her Volkswagen, which translates quite appropriately as “The People’s Car” – that’s probably what the hold-up was – she’d probably “got to talkin’” to one or more people on her way out the door.
Seeing his taillights fade away, she tried to push her pedal to the floor, but alas, her alternator wasn’t working right. The more gas she gave that VW, the dimmer the lights got.
It Would Have Helped, if She’d Had an Alternator that Worked
I wasn’t born yet, so I wasn’t there to fill that role. As the proverbial middle child, I’ve lived most of my life alternating back and forth, between my mom, who’s always moved slower than my dad, and my dad, who’s always hoped that increasing his speed would motivate my mom to pick up her pace.
If we’d be about to take a walk together, the faster he’d go out the door, the more she’d meander around behind him, wondering if everything had been taken care of.
Meanwhile, I’d be in the middle, becoming quite a prodigious walker in the process of relaying messages back and forth between the two, as they moved along at their mismatched paces.
From ahead, he’d beckon with his arm, “C’mon, Beth!”, then to me, “Tell your mom, to come on!”
I’d nod, and make my way back to where I started, then back a little farther, to see where she was. She’d be looking for her sunglasses, “They’re on top of your head, mom.” We’d both laugh, knowing that is the first place she ought to have looked, but that location hardly ever entered her head, being above it.
Then she’d make the rounds, turning off lights and double-checking doors. Before locking the last one, she’d say, “Ask your dad, if he has the keys”, so I’d turn back from whence I came, inquire, and get a somewhat irritated non-answer, with a reminder, “Tell her, we’re going! Where is she! Tell her to come on!”
I’d nod and make my way back half a block, or so, to where I started – again, wondering why I didn’t just grab the second set and lock the door myself.
My mom had usually made progress by that point; but would have stopped and talked to someone: a neighbor, or someone she hadn’t gotten a chance to meet before. It was all part of the process for any family outing.
Our strolls were a shining example of social distancing – with every member of our clan usually separated by several yards – front yards that is, with several driveways in between; like a parade, with my dad marching ahead, and my mom interacting with the spectators along the streets – and me in the middle, trying to keep track of the two of them and give updates to the other.
My parents always moved at two separate paces but somehow made things work – mostly by a determination to stick together, despite going in totally different gears.
My Dad Was the Dreamer and My Mom Was the Foot-Dragger
He’d come up with an idea, and she’d say, “We can’t do that!”
He’d make plans anyway, with her lamenting over his “bad idea”; but in the end, she’d be the one to most enjoy their adventure and go on and on about how glad she was that Dave talked her into such and such…
When he decided to go on a three-year cruise, he knew he would be going alone.
Ironically, it was a fear of loneliness that motivated him to sign up for Miray’s Three-Year Cruise.
I think he still felt the need to convince her it would be a good thing.
Quite frankly, she thought it was a stupid idea; but I wasn’t surprised by that. It had always taken her a while to warm up to the thought of any adventure.
This trip was different, though. She knew she’d be missing out, and the thought of that made her mad. She told my dad as much. He had to turn his hearing aids up, since her voice was hardly more than a whisper (the Navy hadn’t heard of hearing protection back when he was directing bullets on that destroyer in San Diego).
She stated her mind about his upcoming cruise, and he nodded, not wanting to be insensitive; but then, having been a lawyer, he stated his case, saying, “But Beth – you get to go to Heaven, why can’t I at least go around the world?”
I was there beside them, watching my mom die and my dad make plans to start a new life. As the alternator, it was a balancing act to be in-between.
Concerns and Fears About the Three-Year Cruise
My dad had been the visionary, while my mom was the one to tend to details. I was worried about him being on the other side of the world, especially since he couldn’t always find his hearing aids, or sometimes they’d go on a work strike.
Even after her voice disappeared, she’d still silently and slowly reach one finger up and press it into his shirt where unbeknownst to him, he’d spilled some food. She barely had the strength to smirk; but I could still see a little spark in her eye that seemed to say, “Who’s going to keep you from wearing food on your clothes on that cruise!?”
My mom had always had a fear of missing out. She was comfortable making funeral plans; but lamented that everybody would be there getting to see each other, and she’d be missing out. It would be like a party, in her honor, that she couldn’t participate in.
Besides all that, she still had a list of worries that she wanted to make sure were tended to before she left us. She was worried about balancing checkbooks, and thanking people for their cards, and getting her garden weeded, and keeping the house from becoming a mess.
My dad was still there in the house; but I think to cope with his upcoming loss, his mind had long before headed elsewhere, dreaming of what it would be like to live on a boat when he couldn’t cope with the nightmare we were in – with his wife there, dying in their living room.
For more about our lives back then, please feel free to click the link below:
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