My last weekend in the Gold Coast was delightful. We lunched at a café on top of Hinze Dam, which supplies drinking water to the entire region. The view was spectacular and the food delicious.
Their “breakfast served all day” menu gave me a taste of perfectly poached eggs on ciabatta toast, with homemade hollandaise, avocado mash, sautéed mushrooms and arugula on the side, topped with a piping hot piccolo. Australian coffee is awesome.
The grounds are kept immaculate despite a steady stream of visitors. We watched their informative video “Water is Life” and I was sad to think about how, back home, we seem to care so little about the wonders of our own country.
I arrived in this beautiful city a few days ago. It is a 90-minute flight from the Gold Coast airport, which has undergone a super facelift since my 2015 visit. But it still has no boarding bridges.
They took my wheelchair to the tarmac and then I was taken up to the plane in a cherry picker. That was fun except this one was quite old and made all kinds of strange scary squeaky sounds like it was ready to fall apart. But it was cool and pretty from up there.
One has to be careful with the weight of baggage on a domestic Australian flight. Aside from stiff overweight tariffs, there is a law here that forbids airline employees from carrying anything over 30 kg. My suitcase was a wee bit under that but was tagged “heavy.” The young man assisting me was hard put to explain why he wouldn’t carry it, or to suggest how a person in a wheelchair was expected to get her own bags from the carousel. Apparently one must specifically request for “assistance with baggage” when booking the flight.
I was given an aisle seat in the second row. The elderly lady beside me seemed fidgety as she buckled up. She smiled at me and in a sad voice said, “I never sat by the window. That was always for my husband.” She cleared her throat. I offered her my bag of butter menthol candy. She took one.
After takeoff she explained she was nervous because it was the first time she traveled alone, that she had just come from her husband’s funeral and was now returning to Sydney to close their home.
Married 60 years
She started to tell me how alone she felt, and suddenly tears poured down her cheeks and she put her face in her hands. “I am sorry,” she mumbled. “We were married 60 years. And yesterday I buried him.”
I didn’t know what to say. Stupidly I asked, “Are you alright?” She shook her head and then started to tell me about her three children and four grandchildren in other parts of the world.
“It’s too far for them to travel. They are such busy people,” she said. “I understand. There’s nothing they can do. Next week I will return to the Gold Coast and live in a home for old people. It is pretty and near the ocean. My husband and I saw it a few weeks ago and planned to return next year to live there.”
She looked sad as she shrugged her shoulders. “Jeff chose it. Now he’s gone and I have to go alone.”
I felt helpless. I reached out and touched her arm. She held my hand and looked at me with sad eyes. Quickly she composed herself and apologized. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “It just hurts to remember.”
Memories can bless and burn. I recall the words of my wise old friend who, seeing me crying on my bed one night long ago, told me, “You may not believe this now, but this too shall pass, and the source of your pain today will be the source of your joy tomorrow.”
And she was right. God is good.
We arrived on schedule. I immediately saw my niece and her husband at the gate and I was overjoyed. Then I remembered Jeff’s widow and her tears and I felt grateful for my life.
The family was preparing my great-grand nephew Aaron’s 12th birthday party. For a while we thought it would be rained out. But the storm soon passed and, except for a slight drizzle, it was a perfect evening and the gathering of cousins was a smashing success. We had grilled sausages, a green salad and baked macaroni with béchamel sauce.
Sunday the rest of my Aussie family came for lunch and we had a wonderful day of laughter, more food, and lots of love.
There was a birthday cake for my cousin Tintin. Our dads were brothers, both sea captains. I last saw him in 2016 at the launch of our family book. He has since lost his wife.
“Julita really left us five years ago when Alzheimer’s took her away. I visited her every day. We had lunch together. But she forgot who I was.”
It is true what they say, that with Alzheimer’s you lose your beloved not once but twice.
Nicholas Sparks, author of “The Notebook,” writes, “Alzheimer’s is a barren disease, as empty and lifeless as a desert. It is a thief of hearts and souls and memories.”