On a trail run this week, I encountered two women blocking the narrow single-track path. “There’s a rattlesnake up ahead,” one whispered. “Coiled and ready to strike.”
Snakes on an Arizona trail aren’t unusual. But normally there’s no advance warning. I leap over them, the surge of adrenaline fueling me forward.
It’s not always like this.
My caregiving life involves planning: appointments, activities, lunch dates. But as a writer, in the increasing moments when I release outcomes to the Universe with all the magic of a child blowing bubbles in the wind, I can write fearlessly, submitting stories formerly challenged by self-doubt; joining a writing class that before had seemed an unattainable goal; summoning the courage to participate in a reading of my work.
A few years ago, my teenage nieces dared me to jump off the ferry pier on the island where my father lives. It was a long drop from wharf to water, the cold Atlantic churning below. Unthinking, I dove in.
Sometimes, life is like this.
Yesterday, we went for a walk, my mother and I. We had just finished lunch in the main dining room of the senior home, one of her favorite things to do.
“This is a horrible place,” my mother says, the chocolate cake from moments ago long forgotten. “You can’t imagine what happens here.”
I’ve heard this almost as many times as I’ve heard what a wonderful place it is. And I’ve learned over the years to nod, smile and redirect when she experiences the extreme emotions of Alzheimer’s.
“Look at the beautiful marigold bush!” I point to the purple sage on the xeriscaped lawn. These days, we call most flowers “marigolds,” regardless of hue. The familiar memory erases her distress as swiftly as she shifts between reality and dementia.
Today, when I visit, the residents are listing famous heroes on the white board. We take a walk, my mother and I. She picks a few pink oleanders.
“What beautiful marigolds!” she says. “I love this place!”
When we return, we begin a new white board game with her friends, listing all the things they love about living here.
“Chocolate cake!” my mother yells out. “We haven’t had that in years!”
“I’m looking into a trans-Siberian adventure next spring,” he announces. Having travelled the US on a Greyhound bus and across Canada on a train recently, my 86-year-old father’s ready to go global.
Russia? Alone? Dad is impulsive and lives to defy, leaving doctors and daughter scratching their heads.
No stranger to spontaneity, I’ve lived a life of rash decisions. Things changed in sobriety. I’m suddenly the responsible parent to a mother with Alzheimer’s and a rebellious teenage father.
To quell his wanderlust, I suggest a European river cruise. Three glossy brochures later, he was sold. But none of his friends was up for the trip.
Cruises aren’t my thing. Cramped in a tiny cabin? A boatload of seniors? Cringe-worthy.
Pushing aside preconceptions, I’ll accompany him on this trip of a lifetime. Because in the end, no one should be alone.