Yesterday I met with our new financial planner—Ralph would never have accepted the idea of a financial planner before now— and I was so anxious about the meeting that I left my laptop at the coffee shop where I’d just had lunch. Fortunately the coffee shop found my computer, and our retirement account is earning exactly the return the planner promised.
Money is not a subject I find comfortable to discuss. I have always been the artsy/intuitive, some in my family might say ditsy spouse. Even after I started working part-time in Ralph’s business office, using QuickBooks to make deposits, pay the bills and balance the books, I maintained the persona of Earth Mother not Business Woman. My domain was feelings; Ralph’s was the bottom line and money matters. (One important exception: using the example of my mother who used her coverage for her health aides, I successfully pressed Ralph to purchase long-term care insurance four years ago. Thank God.)
Since Ralph’s diagnosis, I have been thrust into the weird position of trying to think the way Ralph used to think about business and money. Well, that is not quite accurate because as I sort out our finances, I sometimes find myself disagreeing with the decisions he made.
Especially those he made in the last few years as his memory began to slip from his grasp. He had slacked off, clinging to outdated business habits and letting his assistant make more and more decisions. When she moved away and I became more actively involved at Ralph’s office, I saw the reality: while I worked ten hours a day, he came in at 11am and left at 3pm with an hour for lunch; he sat in his office reading magazines while I handled all the day-to-day matters. And yes, I was resentful to put it mildly. Still we continued to pretend he was in charge. He didn’t want to believe otherwise and frankly neither did I.
Then came the diagnosis of MCI/Early Alzheimer’s and suddenly there was no pretending we could go on as we had. We agreed that our longtime accountant and lawyer needed to know about Ralph’s condition early on. We quickly updated our wills and made sure that powers of attorney, including responsibility for health decisions, were in place.
As for Ralph’s business, the retirement that we had talked about, yet avoided for so long was now mandatory. Since Ralph’s business for the last 35 years had been managing rental properties he owned, selling the business meant selling individual properties one at a time, no simple matter.
As we began the process of talking to real estate agents and taking offers, it quickly became clear that Ralph couldn’t keep straight which real estate agent was which, which property was under contract, how much we should be asking, or how much was being offered. To tell the agents or buyers our situation would place us at a disadvantage, so I have found myself covering for him and acting as a kind of pseudo-go-between.
What has evolved is a kind of charade. The agents may not know officially about Ralph’s condition, but they have to sense something is odd. Ralph chats with them jovially, but I’m the one who responds to the offers. Ralph and I discuss the sales as if he is equally involved in the decision-making, but actually he cannot remember the details long enough to analyze them, so I make decisions with the help of our accountant and lawyer.
I have learned to be a tough bargainer, which I hate. I have learned to say no, which is incredibly difficult. I have learned to play on others’ sympathy, which has not been so difficult. Aging feminist that I am, I kind of like playing the helpless female.
And I have learned to manage our money, sometimes in ways that Ralph would not have accepted. While I have involved our son, another artsy type but with Ralph’s hardheaded business sense, in some meetings, ultimately I have made the tough decisions on my own. I had three closings in the space of six weeks. A fourth property is under contract now. I turned over some of our property to another management company that rented our office in the city. I now have an office at home.
Every day or so, sometimes three or four times within an hour, Ralph asks how much money we have in the bank. I tell him. Then he asks if we’ve paid off our mortgage. I tell him yes. Then he asks if we have enough to live on. I tell him yes again. Ralph, who used to walk and talk calculations down to the smallest fraction, doesn’t want to know details. He’s always satisfied with my answers. He trusts me completely.
Before MCI, I used to chafe at his controlling nature and complained that he didn’t trust my judgment. But the truth is, I was glad to shirk financial responsibility off on him. Now I have it, and it is lonely and scary, like so much of what being Ralph’s wife has become.