The joys of travel during a pandemic

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I had planned to fly back to see my family in New Jersey later this summer but when my mother fell and broke her hip and shoulder the trip was expedited.
After my mom had two joint replacement surgeries and two months of rehab, I made the decision late last month to place her in an assisted living facility. There she will be taken care of for the rest of her life.

She hoped to return home to her apartment, but the nurses and therapists advised against it. This was one of the toughest decisions of my life because my mother has been such an independent woman, but the risk of having another bad fall was too great.

Mom hadn’t progressed sufficiently and so she was moved into room 210 of the assisted living center at the aptly-named Merry Heart Senior Care.

It was for this reason I had to fly back to New Jersey last week to clean out her old apartment where her debilitating mid-March fall took place. My sister kindly advised me the clean-sweep task would be mine – along with updating all her records and making sure her financial affairs were in order.

I thought my timing couldn’t have been worse. New Jersey is one state that remains under almost complete lockdown due to COVID-19. Until recently, New Jersey required everyone to wear face masks when outside. People were restricted from leaving their homes unless for an essential trip.

I wondered what it would be like on the flight from Oklahoma to New Jersey. American Airlines required everyone to wear masks upon entering the cabin.

I noticed how few flights were leaving Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers Airport, where traffic was down dramatically. While crowds at the airport were socially distant, each leg of my trip saw planes almost at near capacity.

I don’t like wearing a face mask because I have difficulty breathing and my eyeglasses tend to fog up. It also makes it hard to talk and eat. But I had to make concessions for my unexpected trip back to the Garden State during this pandemic.

Normally, I stay at my father’s home when visiting family. But he and my stepmother asked that I find someplace else because they didn’t want to risk catching the virus.
“I don’t want to die,” my dad told me.

I was taken aback by that statement, almost hurt, thinking I could be carrying a deadly disease from the airport to his home. A compromise was struck when my dad allowed me to share lunch on his back deck, insisting I remain 8 feet away. He even supplied me with a face shield and 10-pack of masks.

My plan was to stay in my mother’s old apartment as I gradually unloaded her furniture and household goods to anyone who would accept it. I figured it would take four days to either sell or give away items, then I’d have to try to pay someone to haul off the rest.

You know how long it took to empty the apartment? A day and half! The bed was gone the first day – even the mattress which I thought nobody would want.

I started posting photos and descriptions of all her belongings on Facebook Marketplace soon after my 1 a.m. Sunday arrival. I was amazed how quickly everything went, having figured Jersey residents were hesitant to enter a stranger’s home.
After two days of people shopping for bargains, there were a few items left: A worn-out side table, crutches I had used after knee surgery as a teen and some cheap dishware.
Those went to Morris County, N.J. Habitat for Humanity’s drop-off donation center. I claimed mom’s early edition copy of Mark Twain’s classic novel, “The Prince and the Pauper.”

Since the assisted living center accepts no visitors, I could only yell and wave to my mother on June 10 as I got a glimpse of her through her second-floor window on her 85th birthday.
I planned to return Saturday but moved the flight up since I didn’t want to keep paying Best Western Hotel. With no flights from Newark, N.J. to Oklahoma City on Thursday, I chose a return from LaGuardia Airport in Queens, N.Y. Usually one of the busiest airports, it was eerily quiet.

Interesting, my $165 cab ride to the airport cost more than the flight. I usually take an Uber or Lyft, but service has been dramatically restricted due to the health crisis.
Looking back, I should have just rented a car and driven myself to the airport. Ah the joys of travel during a pandemic.