|Grandpa Joe and Hannah in 2000|
Saturday, July 11, 2015
ALZHEIMER'S: TRAVELING WITH THE GIRL SCOUT
I’m sitting here in front of my computer trying to write an entry into my blog and thinking to myself, “Why does this seem so daunting?”
It isn’t that I lack material. Since I last wrote we’ve had several “adventures with Joe and Al and Jane”. Well I should say, “Joe and Al and Hannah and Jane”, because our granddaughter from Oregon just spent 18 days with us, four of them traveling in a car together.
You’d think words would just spill onto the page.
The problem is I don’t want my blog to be a travel log. You know, we saw this and we saw that, which of course we did. I’d rather write about how a sixteen year old and her grandparents coped on an odyssey with Al (the uninvited guest).
To tell this story I have to go back a few years.
Hannah is the second child in our daughter’s family. We had delighted in her birth just as we had with all the grandchildren. As a baby she had serious separation issues, and we had disastrous babysitting attempts where she cried inconsolably until her parents returned (heartbreaking sobs). Just a couple years later we watched her weep again, this time because her brother was headed to Oregon with us. Being too young for such a long trip, she had to stay in Montana with her parents (another wrencher).
After Hannah’s family moved back to Oregon Joe and I settled into the grandparent role with frequent visits and stay-overs. One of my most cherished memories is the time she was transfixed by Santa Claus, a fully costumed Grandpa Joe (whom she didn’t recognize).
But here we are, just over a decade later. Hannah’s childhood will soon be leaving the station, so to speak, and with Joe’s progression with Al, this might be the last time such a trip is possible. We’ve mentally prepared Hannah for the summer heat in Arizona but, being a true Oregonian, there is some fear that she might just self-combust.
Hannah had certainly met Al before. But for the most part it was while Grandpa Joe was more or less still “in charge” in the early stage of the disease. Al could be quite pointed with the grandkids when the noise level got too high for him. And, there were some issues with cannon balls in the spa. But as long as there was order to things and the guest room didn’t get too messy, Al stayed out of the way.
Hannah’s since become very savvy about Alzheimer’s. But it’s one thing to know about Al and a whole other experience to live with the changes he’s created. I wasn’t sure how she’d cope.
I’m happy to report we all survived. The actual time in the car, though long, turned out well with Hannah and Grandpa Joe switching time as co-pilot. In fact, she was a big help to me in many ways, especially keeping us on course by interpreting the car’s navigation system.
I still don’t understand how kids today are so adept at all this. It’s like they come out of the womb preprogrammed for it. When I was a kid traveling with my parents the most important thing was to be sure I didn’t throw-up in the car. Sometimes I didn’t even succeed at that.
I think Hannah would agree that Al truly complicates travel. Getting from place to place and things like ordering food just take longer. I’d look at her and we’d smile as Grandpa Joe grappled with choices. She seemed okay with our slower pace, showing little reaction other than an occasional look of dismay when she realized she’d gotten half a block ahead of us.
We stopped one night in Las Vegas. I knew there wouldn’t be much there for someone Hannah’s age but I wanted her to see all the glitz. We unfortunately became part of the summer crush, the whole town packed in like sardines. Maybe it’s the ten years of Girl Scouts training she’s had but she was a trooper guiding Grandpa Joe through it. Even without Al tagging along it would have been overwhelming for anyone with a handicap.
That was emphasized again on our trip to the Grand Canyon…yes the Grand Canyon. I know I said no travel log, but I have to say how truly awesome it was seeing it for the first time. I would also tell you if you are in a wheelchair you better bring lots of friends. After pushing Grandpa Joe halfway around the South Rim we were both exhausted (me more than her). At one point, sitting on a very hot and over-crowded shuttle bus, I feared we might have stumbled into one of the “Griswold” family outings.
There were many things on our trip that Hannah might have enjoyed more with people her own age. I’m sure there were times we seemed tediously humdrum (after all we are senior citizens). But I think she knows how truly grateful we are for the time she shared with us.
Hannah has now flown off to California to visit her newly-wed brother and sister-in-law where there will be excitement filled days and late nights, kind of the yin and yang, a compliment for forces completing the wholeness of her trip.
I already miss her. I just hope that in her life our “Al” is the only “Al” she ever spends time with.