As I mentioned yesterday, our trip to Asheville was a success, but not everything went as I had planned or wanted. I hadn’t fully grasped the degree to which Kate’s insecurity has increased. It was evident in three different moments while we were away.
The first of these occurred Sunday night on our way to dinner. Our hotel was about three blocks from the restaurant. Even before going, I had taken into account that the heat and the walk could be a problem. Not to worry, I remembered they have bike taxies. I would simply arrange for one to pick us up in front of the hotel and deposit us at the entrance to the restaurant. We had done this the last time we were there.
Let me digress for a moment. As a teenager, I worked for my dad installing venetian blinds in homes and commercial establishments. I learned a lesson that has stuck with me my entire life. There is a standard way to install a venetian blind. The only problem is there are so many non-standard situations. The same principle is true for just about everything else we do – even getting into a bike taxi.
Almost anyone could rather easily get into one, but anyone does not include someone in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. Kate was very nervous. It was just one step up and take a seat. We faced two initial hurdles. One is that she was unable to follow the instructions of the driver. He told her to use one hand to pull on the edge of the carriage seat. She could never get that. She kept grabbing the less sturdy frame of the convertible top. The second problem was that she had trouble lifting her leg to put her foot on the step. The driver decided it would be easier if he pulled over to the curb. That way she could start from a higher elevation. That introduced another problem. Every time we told her to step up, she stepped down. It was only after multiple attempts that we succeeded. It required our moving one of her hands from the frame to the edge of the seat and lifting with her other hand.
We were not off to a good start, and we weren’t “home free.” Kate was uneasy the entire ride to the restaurant. She has become sensitive to lots of little things since her diagnosis. That has been especially true in the past year. She was bothered by every bump in the road, and you feel them more in a bike taxi. Fortunately, it was only three blocks. Of course, the next hurdle was getting her out. She was frightened, but we were successful in less time than we had taken to get her in. I paid and thanked our driver and told him we would walk home.
The next day we had lunch at another restaurant that was also three blocks away. We walked. I was optimistic because our walk home the previous night had gone without a problem. I was wrong again. Kate is sensitive to heat and cold, and it was beginning to warm up. The bigger problem involved her perception of the difficulty of walking on sidewalks and pavement. Like many other people with dementia, she perceives differences in color and shape to be differences in elevation. We did, in fact, walk in a few places where a brick pathway required some care. For the most part, however, we walked on relatively smooth surfaces. Kate was hot and uneasy the whole way as well as going back. Fortunately, she relaxed quickly once inside the restaurant.
It wasn’t long after our return home yesterday, that it was dinner time. We went out for our regular Monday night Mexican meal at Chalupas. As she was getting out of the car, her face came very close to the top corner of the door. (I keep my hand on it to prevent an accident.) She was startled by how close she had come. I lightheartedly said, “There are so many scary things in this world.” She agreed and said in a serious way, “but I feel safe when I am with you.” This is yet again a reminder of how frightening life must be for her. As aware as I am of this, I tend to forget about it in the course of a day. But the best part of the day was yet to come.
We had a pleasant time and enjoyed our conversation. Kate seemed very relaxed. After I paid the check, I said, “Well, would you like to go home now?” She said, “Could we just relax a few minutes?” I said sure. That “few minutes” turned into almost an hour of conversation during which she did most of the talking. She talked about life, about the people who are much less fortunate than we are, about travel and how it broadens our perspective on life.
Several times when she paused I asked if she was ready to go. She said she just enjoyed being together and that she would like it even if we didn’t say anything. This was far from the first time that she has been in a talkative mood. I always enjoy these conversations. She seems so relaxed, so comfortable, so happy, so grateful.
This time her conversation caused me to reflect a little more on her insecurity of the previous twenty-four hours and the shift in her feelings. I have tried to maintain a routine life for her. As a person of routine, that was quite natural for me. It was also based on the experiences of many others who stress the importance of routine for PWD. Until now, I hadn’t been particularly aware of Kate’s experiencing any distress in connection with changes. I wonder now about the strangeness of being in a place she couldn’t remember and encountering things that frightened or bothered her. How was she processing all of that? I only know that she seemed very insecure in moments, but they were not lasting. She still enjoyed other moments like our time at Chalupas last night. She had a number of other special moments while in Asheville. That makes me think about one other experience while we were there.
After finishing her lunch yesterday and before the server removed her plate, she called my attention to the colors of the remaining food on her plate. She pointed to the red of a piece of tomato over “here” and another “over there” and the green of the last pieces of lettuce. She saw them as something beautiful, a work of art. She also took interest in some very small bread crumbs on the table. They were smaller than ants. I thought she was going to tell me they were alive the way she had done this past Friday at dinner in Knoxville. She didn’t. She took them for what they were, just crumbs. Then she surprised me by putting a small piece of lettuce on her thumb and saying, “This one’s still alive.” I said, “I love it when you enjoy such simple pleasures.” We both said the simple ones are the best, and they are.