Photo by Jerry Zhang on Unsplash

Harry McAvoy: Meet me in Cincinnati…

By  Harry McAvoy
  • December 4, 2021

It would be a long journey, which I suspected would end badly. The American border had been closed for almost two years due to the pandemic, when the Bride decided she was going home to visit her mother.

I agreed she needed to go and encouraged her to buy a plane ticket. That wasn’t good enough. Jennifer insisted I join her, and due to the cost of the flight, we should instead drive the 800 kilometres to Cincinnati, Ohio, as we have for 37 years.

I didn’t like her plan and asked, what if they turn me back at the border? She maintained we had played by the rules, but now her mom was having health issues and she would need her husband’s support. While I doubted and envisioned a day of relentless travel, I decided to hold the tension and started working on plan “B” in the event I was turned away.

After nearly five years of memory issues, life is harder, but I still have much to do, so I do my best to stay positive and keep going. I decided, if I got turned away at the border, I could take a train from Windsor back to Toronto, then fly to Cincinnati. I dubbed it my “planes, trains and automobiles” adventure, with a nod to John Candy’s classic movie. We said our prayers entrusting our plan to God’s care, and started packing the car.

When we got to the Detroit border, the Bride made our case. The officer listened and said to her, you can come in, but he can’t. I politely wondered why I couldn’t drive over the border if I can buy an expensive plane ticket and fly? He responded, “I don’t make the rules, I just enforce them. You are ‘non-essential’, so you have to go home.”

That evening, while Jennifer and I sat in a Windsor hotel room, two of our daughters, Emma and Hope, were back in Newmarket working out a new travel plan. They figured if their memory-challenged father was going to make the journey safely, they would have to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.  They even rallied their siblings to help pay for dad’s airfare. In the morning, Jennifer and I prayed again for God’s assistance and kissed goodbye as she dropped me off at the train station, before heading south across the Ambassador Bridge.

I took the four-hour train ride back to Toronto, praying my rosary and enjoying the quiet time. I was interrupted only briefly when my son, Harry, who was visiting Amsterdam, called to wish me well. When I arrived at Union Station, my daughter Clare and sister Carol were patiently waiting, ready to whisk me to the airport. As we drove, they broke down the plan which included a flight to Chicago, with a three-hour layover, before a final two-hour flight to Cincinnati.

I again said goodbye to my loved ones and found my way into the airport. It has been many years since I have flown and I wondered how I would navigate the crowds, the check-in and the many gates, each with their own destination. Cognitive challenges have a way of undermining one’s confidence. I quietly called on the Holy Spirit and followed my daughter’s instructions.  When needed I would smile and say, “I have memory issues, can you help me?” My inquiries were met by acts of kindness from strangers who went out of their way to help me get where I needed to go.

On both flights I sat like a five-year old with my nose pressed against the window, in awe of God’s creation, and only looked away to scribble notes, so I might remember. I was surprised at how much fun I was having, amazed at the cloud formations not far below, and the dazzling blend of pink and orange that lit up the horizon at sunset. God does good work. On the second leg, the lights of O’Hare and the surrounding Chicago metropolitan area made me think of Christmas. 

As we approached Cincinnati, just before midnight, I said a prayer of thanksgiving. For God, whose presence engendered a sense of calm; for my children’s creative and generous efforts on behalf of their father, and for Jennifer, the one who would be waiting when I arrived.

Before departing the plane, I donned my new Chicago hat and reviewed my notes. I know well, if I am not intentional about remembering, even what is memorable will too soon be forgotten. 

(McAvoy has been sharing his journey of dealing with memory loss with Register readers.)

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