After our trip to Boston, I was torn between wanting to make every remaining day of Dave’s life an adventure and wanting to give up. Caring for him seemed overwhelming and unmanageable. He was like a man sized two-year-old. Despite the difficulty, I felt a responsibility to myself and to Dave to keep living and experiencing the world around us.
I remembered it was summer. I remembered summer could be fun, and there were adventures to be had, so I accepted Sugar Shack Mike’s invitation to meet for rock climbing and camping on the south end of Lake George in the Adirondacks. I loaded Dave, a cooler, climbing gear, and camping gear into the car and headed north. We met Mike and Matt at the camp site.
The spot was beautiful and the weather was perfect. I dragged towels and cushions and snacks over the short trail through the woods. Even with my arms loaded with cumbersome stuff, Dave had a hard time keeping up with me. He deliberately stepped over rocks and roots. He would stop to brush leaves or twigs from the trail.
Despite his snail’s pace, Dave seemed eager to be in the wilderness. He looked up at the sky and around at the trees. Whenever I looked back to check his progress, he smiled at me.
The trail ended at the lake, where Matt and Mike were reclined on a large flat platform rock. I set a cushion for Dave on the rock and he heaved a big sigh as he settled onto it. The short walk had worn him out.
I chatted with my friends about the rock routes we had planned to climb that day. The sun was still rising and casting vibrant light through the clear blue sky and onto the lake. The lake was undisturbed. Small, even ripples reflected the sun in sparkly glints. Dave was mesmerized, watching the lake through squinted eyes. I was mesmerized watching him.
Dave sat still for the first time I’d seen in months. His body and face were slack; the Adirondacks had melted his tension.
I felt a great relief sitting with David. It was one of the first relaxing moments we’d shared since the whirlwind of his illness brought us to the psych ward. At home, David paced and fidgeted; he would wander off in the blink of an eye. At the lake, he was content to sit by the water.
After sitting for an hour or so at the meeting place, it went without saying we weren’t going to climb. The walk to the cliff was uphill, rougher and longer than the short approach to the lake that had worn Dave out.
Although David still referred to me as his wife and seemed most content at my side, it was unclear how much memory he retained or how much understanding he had about what was happening to him and around him. He would wander off if left unattended, didn’t speak unless spoken to, and didn’t seem able to form complete sentences.
I asked Dave if he wanted to take a walk. He answered with a nod and I led us along the lake’s edge. The path was flat and easy, and openings in the trees gave us gorgeous views. David moved slowly and took in the scenery. This was one of the few times during that early summer that I felt as though things were OK. We were in a safe place, and both content. I was in one of my favorite places with one of my favorite people. Walking in the woods was difficult for Dave, but he pressed on. It seemed that he, too, was happy to be out adventuring.
We walked along the lake side by side for a few minutes. I was matching Dave’s pace, expecting him to need to stop for a rest at any time. When he did stop, he reached out and turned me to face him. On that perfect June day, on the shore of a calm Lake George, we looked into each other’s eyes and stood close.
Dave looked peaceful, yet determined, and cleared his throat.
“I appreciate everything you’ve ever done for me,” he said.This was the first unprovoked statement David had made in months. It floored me to hear his voice form a complete sentence and it melted my heart to know he was aware.