Carol Weston sang along with “American Pie.”
Joining in on “and good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye” is not usually part of her day. But this day was different. This was a day to let go — even if it was just for the chorus to a familiar song — and relax. This was a day for the music to play.
So, Carol sat back aboard the King Fisher Fleet sightseeing boat and sang with Shawn Brown, who provided the entertainment for the 17th annual Caregivers Cruise, a 90-minute voyage on Charlotte Harbor for nonpaid caregivers. It’s sponsored by OCEAN (Our Charlotte Elder Affairs Network), a coalition of public and private health, human and social service organizations that serves as a resource for Charlotte County seniors.
Carol’s day usually starts with a shower before the alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m. and her husband, Denis, wakes up. Denis, 77, a retired teaching pastor, has Alzheimer’s. If she doesn’t shower before he wakes, she won’t.
And then the daily routine begins.
“He doesn’t want to get out of bed,” she recited. “He goes to adult day care, so I tell him he has to get up and get ready to go. He says, ‘Where am I going?’ ‘Now you have to have your shower.’ He has breakfast, and I help him get dressed.
“By the time he gets ready to leave, I’m already burned out. And it’s 9:30 in the morning.”
Carol’s story is not out of the ordinary for a caregiver of someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, brain trauma or motor impairment. There were 72 others on the boat’s two decks who knew exactly what she was talking about.
They were treated by eight OCEAN members to the complimentary cruise, lunch, goody bags packed with information and Brown’s inspired song selection. Complimentary respite care for anyone who attended and did not have that available also was provided.
“It’s our way of giving nonpaid caregivers a leisurely afternoon on the water,” said Ami Conti, OCEAN vice president.
Carol and Denis have lived in Port Charlotte for five years. He was diagnosed two years ago. She and their two sons had hoped that the progression would be a slow one, and that long-term care would be years away. But then, about a year ago, Denis fell and hit his head, and “that really accelerated it.”
So often with Alzheimer’s, it’s the little things that lead to a diagnosis. That was true in the case of Carol and Denis when she noticed he began making errors in his teaching with Southwest Florida Bible Institute.
He was teaching the Last Week of Jesus — a “course he created” — and “he was making mistakes. They weren’t critical mistakes, but I knew what should have been. He just wasn’t his usual self, but you don’t think it’s anything. You rationalize it’s something else that’s doing it.”
Their 49th wedding anniversary just passed; Denis didn’t remember.
Alzheimer’s not only affects memory and the person trying to cope with that loss, it changes roles.
“I was used to being the one catered to,” said Carol, 68. “Now the shoe’s on the other foot. Now I’m doing all the driving. I’m doing everything.
“Because he can’t.”
For a short while, Carol and he other caregivers were provided an escape. She sat next to friend Cindy Chicmacia on the second deck, enjoyed the breeze, munched on lunch and sang along with Brown.
“I think it was really good,” Carol said as the cruise concluded. “It’s nice to sit back and be spoiled for an hour and a half. You kind of forget your cares.”
Chicmacia leaned over.
“It’s a little getaway,” she whispered conspiratorially. “I wish it was longer.”