The big issues connected to Alzheimer’s and dementia are almost too hard for me to grasp at this point despite the never-ending stream of factual information pouring off the internet and in the media. It is the small moments that capture what it means to live with memory loss. For instance:
When I get home in a grumpy mood after driving my daughter through rush hour traffic to catch a plane, Ralph is in his usual spot, the front porch rocking chair, with cell phone to his ear. I head inside without stopping to ask whom he’s talking to.
After all, Ralph has his regulars: one loyal friend who checks in weekly, his sister, and the oldest of our three kids.
He talks to his sister almost every day. Both have a lot of time on their hands. Often they can talk for over an hour. Whenever I ask what they talk about, Ralph shrugs. “Small talk.”
He talks to our oldest son almost every day. If Ralph is laughing, but again, I assume it’s Josh, but again when I ask what they’ve been talking about, Ralph says “Small Talk.”
Our much younger two kids love their dad but they are of the text not talk generation. Their phone conversation with their dad are fewer and farther between.
So I was surprised when Ralph came inside and said he’d been talking to our younger son Jacob.
Surprised and pleased until Ralph added, “I called him but he didn’t seem to want to talk. It was a short conversation. I don’t think he likes me. Was I a bad father?”
This is no excuse, but I was hot and tired when I answered with the truth. “Not exactly but not always very nice. You weren’t very supportive.”
Ralph gave me a heartbreaking hangdog smile. “I wish you hadn’t told me.”
“But you asked.” (I know, I know, I could kick myself.)
“You should have lied.”
By then I was already desperately texting with Jacob: Dad said he called but you didn’t seem to want to talk. / Really??? It didn’t seem that way to me but ok / I made it worse because I said he was kind of mean / LOL
Jacob immediately texted Ralph saying he hoped he didn’t sound “out of it” but he’d just come in after riding his new bike home from work. Evidently they had talked at length about the bike during their not hour-long but not short conversation.
Of course, then I had to figure out to get Ralph to find the text since he never checks for texts on his fliptop unsmart phone.
I waited about twenty minutes, said my phone was dead, asked him to check his because I was expecting a message from our daughter to let us know if she made her flight. He said he didn’t know how. We looked together.
“No message from her, but look there’s one from Jacob,” I said casually and read it to him out loud.
“Why would he send that?”
“I don’t know. Didn’t you talk today.”
“Maybe so. I don’t remember. But this was nice of him.”
Guilt, angst, manipulation, all for nothing maybe. Or maybe not. Ralph went to bed smiling.