Tag Archives: Alzheimer’s moving

Ralph’s Ready to Move: A Small Alzheimer’s Victory Worth Celebrating

 

house key

So Alice, are you excited about moving?” Ralph asked last night striding into the kitchen as I was dropping corn into a pot for dinner.

Yes, sure.” I said carefully keeping my eyes on the pot, not daring to ask him the same question back, afraid what he might answer. (Also, to tell the truth, my own eagerness to move is mixed with plenty of anxiety I don’t share with him about the practical details and emotional upheaval involved.)

Well, I think it’s going to be great. I’m over the farm. I’m ready for something new.

What? Did I hear him right? Going to be great? Over the farm? Something new? I listened as he went on to say how much he was looking forward to spending more time with BabyRalph and his big half-sister and looking forward to doing things in Nola.

Was this enthusiastic guy Ralph? My Ralph who greets every suggestion of an activity, whether dinner at a favorite or a visit with his oldest friends  or a call to his children, with resistance? Whose most positive response afterwards is usually “It was okay“?

Yep, that Ralph. He actually is showing a new energized interest. He is choosing to be happy not scared.

I admit I am patting myself on the back a little for handling this major change better than I thought I could. For waiting until the time was right, for slowly readying Ralph for the idea, for involving him in the decision-making even if I might have chosen differently, for spending time each day showing him pictures until he actually remembered and got the mental reality of the move locked in place.

I may be premature in my self-congratulations; so much might still go wrong, like Ralph getting there and being miserable. But I want to share this moment because none of us—carers and carees both— congratulate ourselves enough for all the hurdles we manage each day. I am/we are busy worrying, second guessing and struggling to maintain against the tide of Alzheimer’s, whether it is coming as a slow undertow or massive waves. But facing incapacity, managing meds, making a quick or deliberate decision, swallowing impatience, struggling with frustration, facing grief—it’s hard to remember these are efforts that deserve to be applauded.

So here’s to all we do right despite ourselves! clapping.jpg(And tomorrow when I am back on the dark side, annoyed and impatient, you can remind me what a happy Pollyanna I was today.)

HOUSE HUNTING WITH RALPH (WITH A LITTLE GUITAR STRUMMING ON THE SIDE)

IMG_3066.jpg

 

Ralph and I just spent an intense week in New Orleans: We spent working hours babysitting BabyRalph during the hiatus between summer day camp/day care ending and preschool beginning, and we were also house hunting. I use the word we,but obviously was doing the childcare and the house hunting.  Having Ralph along with me was a challenge on both counts.

1. Babysitting:

Usually, when I go off on babysitting or business travel, Ralph stays  home since he hates leaving his dogs and settled routine. I prepare an extended life list, call him constantly and arrange for “visitors” who  make sure he is eating and following his list.  But I took him along last week because: one, he’d had a precancerous growth surgically removed from his wrist the week before so I needed to clean and bandage his hand daily; and two, I wanted him to have a sense of involvement in the decision-making process of moving from the farm to  New Orleans. Not just a sense–his involvement mattered in practical terms as I realized the longer we were there. Needless to say, Ralph was challenged in New Orleans in ways he is not challenged by his daily routine at home.

We slept at an Airbnb a block from my daughter’s home, but Ralph spent most of his days either “reading” (i.e. napping) on my daughter’s couch and smoking on her back porch. Not unlike home, except he was “reading” on a couch in the living room, not tucked away in his bedroom, so BabyRalph and I were always aware of him and affected by both his presence or absence. BabyRalph would ask where “Bop” was going all the time and would try to follow him to the porch–where he could no longer play since it was given over to cigarette fumes–or try to rouse Bop from his couch stupor so they could play guitar together.

In fact, the two had some lovely moments making music together; a useful reminder to both Ralph and me that Ralph still can and should play his guitar on a regular basis, an activity to add to his daily list. But while Ralph is gentle and wants to be helpful, his cognitive limits and needs were more apparent than ever. I was caught between a curious, active 2 year old whom I need to keep an eye on at all times and an oblivious, inactive 72 year old whom I needed to keep an eye on at all times.  It is not that Ralph is irresponsible all the time, but I can’t rely on his judgment from moment to moment. I could not leave the two alone together for even a few minutes any more than I could leave BabyRalph alone with another two year old.

2. House Hunting:

When I was off BabyRalph duty, I took Big Ralph to open houses. It is important to note that he has completely accepted that we are moving.

I don’t do any of the things on the farm I used to like to do anyway,” he says with a certain calm acceptance that both gladdens and saddens me.

The house we move to in New Orleans will be the house where I die,” he says with less calm and even more poignancy.

But acceptance is not enthusiasm. If Ralph’s capacity for enthusiasm is extremely limited these days under the best of circumstances, leaving the home where he’s lived for over 20 years, really the only home he remembers well, is far from the best of circumstances. And looking at property for sale—once his favorite activity in the world and what he did for a living as a small time developer/renovator/manager—has become a tedious chore for him (no smoking for one thing).

I thought of not making him come along but besides wanting  him invested in the house-buying,  I wanted to get a sense of what, if anything, might spark some, well eagerness seems to strong a word but at least a smile.

I personally was looking for something that needed no renovation, was relatively close to BabyKnox, and offered walkability. I was thinking small, but, of course with a porch for Ralph and some kind of yard for the dogs. Oh, and an office space I could escape to. I was thinking cute bungalow. But not one house I picked based on my criteria brought anything like a smile to his face.

Then on a whim I dragged him along  to a house that was totally outside my comfort zone: both bigger, a two-story, and older than I wanted. We went to see it for fun because my agent had seen it already and said it was “Amazing,” and because my daughter wanted a peek inside.

It was pretty amazing but what was most amazing was that Ralph actually liked the house. He loved the yard and the garage and the workshop. I liked the loveliness of the architecture and the fact that though old, it seemed in better condition than any other house I had seen in the price range. Ralph said he could imagine living there. I wasn’t sure I could. It was so not what I’d been looking for.

The next day Ralph didn’t remember the house at all. So we drove by it again, twice, he liked it again both times. I did too, but I still wasn’t sure.

Ditto the next day.

And the next. Meanwhile I kept checking out other houses by myself,  but none compared. The yards were tiny. The layout, even in smaller houses, would have been too confusing for him. The prices as high or higher.

So we now have a signed contract on a house. If all goes according to plan, we will move next spring. I am more excited each day, planning small changes, plotting what furniture to take. This will be the nicest house Ralph and I have lived in.

As for Ralph, I still wouldn’t say he is enthusiastic but as he repeats daily, “It’s the one with the yard and the workshop, right? That should work fine.”

Leaving Memories Behind Is Hard When Memory Itself Is In Short Supply

 

IMG_0125Ralph and I had one of our increasingly infrequent genuine conversations last night. He was sitting in the porch rocker as usual and I had come out to tell him that I had finally found the courage to warn Manuel that we’ll be moving and have to let him go in the next months. He has worked for us for over 20 years, first as a maintenance man at our apartment management business in Atlanta, then for ten years on the farm. Although we are not moving for awhile, I don’t want to wait until the last minute and leave him in the lurch. But letting him know we are going seems like a defining moment.

You know I’ve never lived anywhere in my life as long as we have out here, Ralph mused as I sat with him. This is going to be a life changing move.

Yes it is, I agreed and meant it.

It will be hard to give up this view. He gestured at the trees, the pasture, the pond. A leafy green and blue postcard picture of rural life.

Yes it willI agreed and meant it.

The truth is that lately I have been feeling like an observer as I go through the motions of handling the various details of our life. Not only watching over Ralph, stepping in to do actual care-giving as necessary—lately for instance, I’ve noticed his worrisome new tendency to skip showering and changing clothes, an issue I’ll explore more at some other time—but also as I go about my own life roaming real estate sites on the internet for a house to buy, going through closets to start winnowing out belongings we don’t need to move with us , focusing hard on what’s left of our business to be as financially ready to move as possible. Is that the same woman who just accepted an invitation to a party of new friends. Should she/I be bothering under the circumstances? But I do attend the party and enjoy my friends with if anything new intensity. because the idea of moving feels slightly unreal. Unreal, it occurs to me,  the same way Ralph’s diagnosis felt to me in the beginning. (I remember we were together in car on some trip, him at the wheel of course as he always used to be, and we began joking about a future when I would have to drive him. Was I at all aware how soon that day would come?)

Sitting on the porch with Ralph at sunset it was hard to imagine leaving. Were we really going to upend our current stability, static yet shaky as it may be?

Of course, Ralph said interrupting my thoughts, when I think about the farm these days I’m mostly remembering stuff I don’t do anymore. Duck hunting, raising cattle.

True. I agreed.

So I went into the house and got my phone.

What’s this? Ralph asked as I hit play on the video of him singing Alouette with BabyRalph.

What you get in exchange for giving up the view, I said.

Of course he doesn’t remember the conversation or the video this morning, but that’s okay. I was reminding myself at least as much as him.