This week was an adventure. Like all adventures, it offered highs and lows, memories I want to savor and some I’d rather forget.
Thanksgiving in New Orleans, with my daughter who lives here and with my son who met us there, was our first trip together, and Ralph’s first time away from the farm, in probably two years.
The last trip was to New York City for a wedding. He had no interest in making that experience into an actual vacation. He attended the official events, but otherwise I could not interest him in leaving the hotel even for a short walk around the neighborhood. All he wanted to do was nap. At the time I didn’t understand how much he needed those naps so I spent the two and half days in a general state of mild annoyance.
So, while I was thrilled at spending four days with my kids in a way we seldom do, and in a way we may not get to again, I approached this week with trepidation. As did Ralph. For the last month, each time he tried to remember the plan, I tried not worry if this much travel demanded more than he was capable of handling. Four days away from his familiar routine is a lot to ask.
On our trip to NY, the greatest stress for Ralph had been the actual travel—not only the time in the air but the airport with its crowds, its lines to maneuver and all the possibilities it offered Ralph to get confused or, worse, lost—our drive to Nola was actually pretty easy. For the six hours plus, I drove while he smoked and asked me questions over and over. We listened to the radio. It was actually kind of relaxing for both of us.
And he loved our small funky hotel in a converted mansion with its side garden where he could smoke….you might notice that smoking and Ralph’s ability to smoke has become a theme not only on this trip but in our life together.
These days I accept Ralph’s need for sleep and on this trip I made sure there was plenty of naptime. If anything, I let him sleep more than I do at home.
He needed to be as rested as possible because he was expected to take part in all activities with the kids. We ate great meals, we went for beignets, we walked along the river and down Magazine Street. We waited in line at Preservation Jazz Hall, where Ralph loved the music even though he had to stand the whole time. He loved laughing over jambalaya and drinks afterwards even more, loved walking through Jackson Square singing “The Battle of New Orleans” with my son-in-law as they vied to see who knew more of the words (a tie).
We spent Thanksgiving Day preparing a big meal at my daughter’s apartment listening to music, teasing, laughing, having the usual family spats and just hanging out together. Telling family stories Ralph was in his element, more the Ralph of years past than he has been in ages.
The description above is how I want to remember the week. But a shadow of tension followed me everywhere. “What’s the agenda?” he would ask and then ask again—questions I am used to answering over and over but my kids are not. At meals, I would suddenly realize that Ralph either wasn’t paying attention or had given up trying to follow the conversation the rest of us were having. Every time he needed to use the restroom in a restaurant I went on alert to make sure he could find his way there and back. He couldn’t follow the TV shows we sat around watching. Every few minutes he wondered aloud, “I wonder what the dogs are doing.” He went outside to smoke and went outside to smoke and went outside to smoke.
The good times, and they were good times, were a lot of emotional work for both us. I realized how much I have not only arranged my life around Ralph’s but how Ralph’s cognitive issues have played into my own tendencies toward over-planning and over-worrying, not only about him but about most areas of my life. What is most worrying is that I see how my own boundaries have narrowed, that I have to work doubly hard to keep myself engaged with the world beyond the parameters of Ralph’s MCI/Alzheimer’s.
Ten minutes ago Ralph climbed into the backseat of my car, headed back to the farm with my daughter and her husband who will fly off tomorrow on a vacation abroad (another anxiety producer given recent world events). I have stayed here in New Orleans to babysit my granddaughter for a week.
I know Ralph will be fine. He has been alone before, my son is going to stay on the farm with him a good part of the time, and various friends will be checking in regularly. His drugs are all marked, his calendar is filled in, there’s a week’s worth of meals ready, and I’m a phone call away.
But I am also a nervous wreck. Of course, maybe that has less to do with Ralph and more to do with taking charge of an 11-year-old girl who is a lot less easy to boss around than Ralph.