Last weekend I took my first trip out of town since our move to Nola, flying to NYC to visit my son. Just two nights away. In the past two nights away was a no brainer. I used to take one week vacations occasionally and for about a year I came here to Nola once a month to help after infantRalph was born. I’d type up Ralph’s life list so he could check off items as he accomplished them. I’d leave plenty of food for him prepared in the fridge and ready to microwave. A friend or two might drop by for a visit if possible, but I knew he’d be fine on his own as long as he had his list. When I’d call him, he’d be perfectly happy and when I got home, he usually had the kitchen clean—a chore he seldom performed when I was home. In the months before we moved, I’d noticed Ralph was not quite as up to handling things alone so I didn’t go for more than a few days at a time, but Ralph could manage well enough with minimal interference as long as I called to check in.
Now things are different. I’ve had to abandon using our life list several times in our daily life together. Ralph can’t remember to mark it and then then doesn’t know if he’s performed a chore or not. He has not fed the dogs in the morning for over a year now. I’m not sure he can make coffee. He’ll take a shower and put back on the dirty clothes he’s been wearing for days. Almost daily, he asks me if he’s had lunch–sometimes he has and sometimes he hasn’t. If I’m not around he often won’t bother to eat or at most he’ll grab some popcorn or make a peanut butter sandwich, no matter what food I’ve left in the fridge (forget frozen meals or even frozen pizza). So if I am going to be gone for a meal, I now fill a plate and leave it on the counter where he can’t miss it. He no longer drives of course. He certainly won’t pull out his guitar without prodding. And I do go out, or to my office for long stretches; our interactions are basic and limited but throughout the day I pop in and out of his sitting space prodding him to perform small chores like putting his cup in the sink or brushing the dog or practicing on his guitar. He needs interaction, even a little marital bickering. The longer he sits alone, the more his mind drifts into a vacuum.
Bottom line, he can’t be left alone even for twenty four hours.
So I arranged with one of our good friends, I’ll call Hero here, to come stay with Ralph—thank goodness for frequent flier miles—while I was gone. Here is one of the few men in Ralph’s life who has tried to keep up with Ralph and I told Ralph Hero was coming because he wanted to spend some guy time with him.
Who is coming again?
To see you. You’ll have a guys weekend while I’m away.
Where are you going
Did you say Hero was coming?
Did you ask him to come.
No (a lie but I wasn’t ready to tell him) He’s coming to see you. And it is convenient since I’m going away.
Where are you going.
Who did you say is coming again.
We carried on variations of this conversation numerous times a day in the week leading up to Hero’s arrival. One one hand, I wondered if I should have put off bringing up the trip as long as possible; one the other I wanted to soften Ralph up to the idea. And I think that actually worked.
Hero arrived the night before I left. We all went out to dinner, and made it into a festive reunion. Ralph wasn’t thrilled to go, but he had a good time.
In the morning he didn’t remember that Hero was here or that I was leaving but that was okay.
Hero drove my car to take Ralph to his music lesson. They went out to dinner with my daughter and her family (she had offered to stay with Ralph but Hero really did want to visit), they went to the fancy grocery store and bought a prepared shrimp dish for another meal—I can never get Ralph to shop with me, but I admit I don’t try that hard because he makes shopping a bit more difficult and I’m in a hurry—and on Sunday morning they went to the WWII museum.
We have talked about going there for years, but Ralph has always backed out at the last minute even though he is one of those baby boomer men obsessed with WWII. Again I probably never pushed as hard as I could. But Hero wanted to go and made the extra effort to get Ralph there.
They stayed for FIVE HOURS.
And that evening they came together in the car to get me.
Ralph had a busier weekend than he’s had since Christmas of 2019. (I had a great weekend too, by the way.)
And when he told me that Hero was “a great caregiver,” I realized that Ralph is ready to accept the idea of at least a temporary caregiver, that he recognizes he needs help. As willing as Hero is to return, I can’t depend on him or friends or even family for the long run. Today I mentioned to Ralph that the next time I go away, a friend who is a nurse here will be checking in on him two or three times a day and may stay over night with her puppy. I told him that she is young and attractive and that I’m having her over to meet him soon.
Are you going to pay her? he asked.
Yes I admitted after a brief wavering pause.