The Sorow of Laughing Lakes
Lori L. Hubner, RN, MSN, MA

The particular niche is families who have someone with dementia, usually of the Alzheimer’s or vascular type. Beginning to journey with them this past November, I vaguely expected to see the demographic cross-section of a retired, older population, ranging from wealthy to hard pressed, and expected matching educational and professional levels corresponding to the economics.  Venturing into these hurricane damaged communities, I wondered at the way so many were living. In one shabby trailer park after another I could feel the hint of a time warp, ill-defined but whispering an unsettling message. As I drove through narrow streets, invited into homes invariably clean and memorabilia laden, many were still blue-tarped, with pieces of façade or structure blown away to join other area debris. “How did they come to this?” I kept asking, as I sat on their sofas, taking notes. Then I met 83-year-old Annette and 86- year-old Arthur.

He called our crisis line one Friday morning. He spoke to me in a low, hurried voice, words running up against one another, empty spaces in between as if he’d stopped to let me catch up. His wife had suffered from a mild vascular dementia for some time, but they had “managed.” Watching TV after an early dinner, he heard the door slam and heard screaming in the rain soaked street. Somebody called for emergency assistance and Annette was taken to the hospital. There were tests and confusion, and he was told she had to be “Baker acted.” Arthur told me he thought that meant another kind of test, and agreed. Annette was whisked away to another hospital some 65 miles and two counties away. He couldn’t understand. He brought her home early the next week and had problems arranging for her new medication. This is when I went to visit them at their Laughing Lakes trailer park home and began to understand.

Trying to work through the intricacies of getting his wife’s new medication and doctor’s appointments were the ostensible problems, but something else, as big or bigger, was frustrating Arthur. We strayed from the medical issues to talk about the past. Arthur’s career had been on a big city police force up north; Annette, a homemaker. Married right after WWII, they had two daughters, one still alive and living in the north. When retirement came they had a wonderful life, traveling all over the country, as well as to exotic places abroad. They let go of the New York house and came to sparkling new Laughing Lakes in Saint Lucie County. It was paradise. There was plentiful, fresh produce and dairy – so inexpensive! The lovely trailer park home meant freedom, release from obligations and burdens. It was exciting, daring. They golfed, swam, bicycled and walked with new friends who were retired teachers, lawyers, plumbers. It was a real community. Flash forward 25 years. The money, carefully calculated to last, no longer stretches for enough medications, co-pays, for gas, or produce, or anything. They step back. The trailer park homes have not aged so gracefully. The couple cannot walk well or far, and feel too cold to swim. Arthur speaks disparagingly of neighbors. They no longer know almost anyone and the place is filling up with “losers, forty-year-old failures who’ve come back to live off of Mom and Dad.” They take a step back; they rarely leave the house now. Driving more than a few miles isn’t possible. Their companion is the TV. During the hour I’ve been there it shows an ice skating competition, featuring young, lithe, physics-defying athletes. Annette and Arthur step back, into the shadows.

I finally “get it”—the bravery of perseverance through loss, the sorrow of Laughing Lakes. 

Lori L. Hubner is a community nurse serving caregivers in Saint Lucie County, FL.  She says, “The families I meet each day as a community nurse teach me so much.”

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