I love to travel. I’ve been to five continents and 47 states, to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro and the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Over 25-plus years, J was by my side for most of these adventures. Although J was usually ready to go home before I was, she was still game to see something new, learn about a different culture, eat good food and meet new people – at least for three or four days.
If we hadn’t traveled together, we never would have met the couple at the next table in the San Francisco restaurant. Together we ventured to Martuni’s bar, where neighborhood folks belt Broadway songs like Ethel Merman. We never would have been followed by menacing bison in Wyoming and lived to tell the tale. We never would have sat at a sidewalk pub in London and commented on the hats as couples came up from the Tube on their way to a garden party at Buckingham Palace.
Imagine my surprise then when about six or seven years ago, J started expressing that she didn’t like to travel. Africa in 2009 was my dream trip and she didn’t want to go. I went with our daughter and was hurt when J didn’t want to see our pictures or hear about our trip.
J’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis came in early 2010. I began to understand that J’s new reluctance to travel stemmed from anxiety about the unfamiliar and was not lack of interest in me or my activities. In 2011, our daughter was heading to Israel, which for many years had been at the top of my very lengthy list of places I longed to go. I assumed that, once again, I’d be on the road without J.
But our children intervened. Son T and daughter L sat J down and said, “Mama, sometimes when you’re in a relationship, you have to do things you otherwise wouldn’t want to do. You shouldn’t make Mom go to Israel without you.” So J went for part of the trip and we had a wonderful time exploring Jerusalem just the two of us. We prayed at the Western Wall, observed the marks left by Crusaders on the wall of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and visited the Temple Mount. The compromise was that J would leave after a week and L and I would continue south, where I crossed into Egypt and climbed Mt. Sinai.
Meanwhile, J’s plane was diverted because of bad weather, and she had quite the adventure getting home, but she got there. (Of course, that she remembers!)
Traveling with J is still a joy because she is always very much in the moment and even more enthusiastic about the unexpected treasures found in new places.
J probably won’t be with me when I get to Machu Picchu, but we are finding ways to continue to travel together and I am allowing myself to travel apart when that makes more sense. Once again I have learned that Alzheimer’s disease does not have to end activities we previously enjoyed together.
Maybe you’ll catch us in San Diego later this year. J says she wants to see the zoo.