While in Napa CA for the family Christmas, I decided to return in March. Considering my diagnosis and prognosis, I want to take more time with my family while I can still travel alone and am still fun to be with. But as the March date gets closer, the three-week period I planned on is feeling short. For ecological reasons, Marja and I always take Amtrak, which is seven days out and back. I want to spend a few days with my son in Seattle. I recently added a stop-off in Minneapolis to visit my sister. So the original purpose of the trip—time with my daughter and grandchildren in Napa—is getting short shrift.
In the past I’ve generally confined trips out west to three weeks. Even taking that length trip two or three times a year, I’ve felt a guilty embarrassment that I was taking too much “vacation.” I had a vague sense of being irresponsible to my relationship with my Eighth Day faith community, which is important to me. Up until now, I’ve been trying to graft the new priorities onto the old ones. But there are only so many hours in a day, so many weeks in a year, so much energy in my spirit. So I’ve been squeezing more and more into an already crowded space, not only creating more tension than necessary but also feeling guilty and scrimping on what has most meaning for me. But now, as my life changes with Alzheimer’s, I’m giving myself permission to rework my responsibilities. So I’ve added a week to the trip and will be gone almost a month.
My life is not the same now: different relationships and activities will be important. I’ll have to let some responsibilities go to make space for my changing priorities. In this case, it means less time with Eighth Day and permission to take however much time I need to be with family.
This change is significant. My diagnosis gives me an “excuse” to live a more fulfilling life: closer relationships, time in nature, less responsibility and more delight. I suppose I might have made these life-giving decisions before my diagnosis, but I didn’t, and regrets are a waste of energy. Here in the present, I feel much freer to live with greater fulfillment.
(For some of you, I’m suspect, my struggle with responsibility will seem masochistic or obsessive. Let me only tell you it’s very real; I was reared as Dr Responsible, and I’ve never let it go. Some of you may also wonder how month-long trips away from my wife Marja fit into our relationship. Well, throughout our marriage, we’ve always given each other space to do what’s on our hearts. She needs to stay in Washington because it’s important to continue volunteering at the school she started over twenty-five years ago. I need to go to Napa because my time to be with children and grandchildren is limited. Besides, we’re both independent and being away from each other isn’t that difficult for either of us. Marja can bless my absences.)