I just realized that I began blogging about Ralph and me in April of 2014. Is that only a year and a half ago? It feels much longer, as if Ralph and I have gone through years and years of changes in the last 18 months. At the same time it feels as if the two of us are stuck and not moving forward at all.
FEELS is the operative word. Feelings are subject. Feelings can’t be trusted.
A lot of things happened—deaths, weddings, children moving away, friendships evolving, business crises. The accumulation of events big and small that form our lives. But how much as really changed in terms of Ralph and me. Have we moved deeper into Memoryland.
To gain perspective I went back to my first post to compare and contrast the salient points:
Then: He “does not yet have the disease called Alzheimer’s. He has the CONDITION called MCI.”
Now: Still true as of his last test results at the Emory Memory Center
WHAT HE REMEMBERS:
Then: Impersonal facts like those on Jeopardy, His Meds, His Daily Routine, How to Drive
Now: He watches Jeopardy but not so much. He still retains facts, but not quite as many. He still can take his meds from his weekly box. His daily routine looks about the same on the surface although his actual day has shrunk. It is hard for him to get moving before 10 am or stay up past 8 pm. And he does a lot more sitting
WHAT HE FORGETS:
Then: Who people are. Conversations. Memories, especially bad memories…
Now: Fewer conversations are retained. More people and also facts seem lost. Old memories too.
WHO HE IS:
Then: “Sweeter than he used to be; less aggressive; more patient; less easily bored (because he doesn’t remember the twenty minutes of waiting for the doctor once it’s over); more in the moment.
But also less ambitious; less energetic; less adventurous; more passive; more dependent…Passionate about his farm and his dog…able to fix anything with his hands…a voracious reader.”
Now: Here is where the changes start. His personality is if anything even sweeter, even less aggressive. He no longer has an interest in analyzing numbers, facts and human nature. He may still be able to fix things with his hands but he doesn’t have much interest. Changing a light bulb becomes a major occasion, not because he can’t but because “it is so much trouble.” There has been a shift. A subtle withdrawal from the world we share that cannot be measured by memory tests.
Then: Eighteen months ago, I wrote, “although I’ve been warned there’s no telling how long before MCI begins chipping more deeply into his identity, Ralph is still himself in the most important ways.”
Now: I don’t know if I can honestly make that statement today. According to tests and my own comparison, Ralph is still functioning adequately with my support, but I have more trouble recognizing the man I married. There is a vacancy, a growing disconnect, that I sense but can’t measure.
Perhaps the greater change is not in Ralph at all, but in me. The relief I felt at first when we finally received a clear diagnosis for Ralph’s cognitive changes has shifted to something between acceptance and resignation. The support he requires weighs heavier.
We get along well on a day-to-day basis We still laugh together, usually in the mornings when he is sharpest, but we have less and less serious conversation either about the world around us or about ourselves. Sometimes, in a burst of ebullience, he’ll declare how much he loves me. And I love him, but the love is different and not exactly ebullient.
18 months ago I was a spouse learning with my husband to deal with his cognitive condition. Now I am not sure how to describe our relationship. I often feel more parental than wifely. But saying so feels (that word FEEL again) inaccurate and unfair. Because whatever we have become to each other and whatever we are becoming together and individually changes every day.