So yesterday, driving Ralph home from his shrink appointment in Atlanta an hour away, I hit a curb and flattened three tires. The day before I was writing an important email to an editor I wanted to impress and somehow hit send halfway through the first sentence. Sunday I was annoyed that all the guests arrived late to the brunch/shower I was co-hosting until I discovered the invitation said 11:30, not 11:00 as I assumed. (Well, my co-host got that one wrong too).
I tell these screw-ups on myself because I am aware that lately I have not been paying attention, that I am even more scattered.
Of course, I sometimes worry that I am “catching” Ralph’s Early Alzheimer’s, but more likely I am paying the cost of doing business as a caretaker without a caretaker personality.
The other night a friend from my adolescence called, and we had one of those wonderful rambling two-hour phone conversations that seldom happen anymore. Back when such calls involved sitting on the floor mindlessly twisting the phone cord while I chatted, she was the one everyone in our circle assumed would be the one with a big family. She was the warm, loving one. I was the one with edge.
But the other night she told me that dealing with her elderly parents who live across the country has taught her that she is not a nurturer after all. Fortunately, her more nurturing sister is taking most of the daily responsibility.
I have never thought of myself as the nurturing type either. As far back as I remember I was angsty and rebellious, even as a toddler. My younger siblings will attest that I was seldom a protective older sister. I avoided my family whenever possible. At thirteen I decided I wanted to be a Jewish nun to avoid marriage and children.
Yet here I am. I helped raise a step-son and two kids of my own. After my mother-in-law had her stroke, I was primary caregiver until her death two years later. After my mother had a psychological and physical breakdown, she moved in with me for the next nine years until her mid-nineties when she spent her last months in a nearby nursing home.
And now I am transitioning from Ralph’s wife to caregiver. The shift has been more gradual, luckily, than in many Alzheimer marriages, but it is always in process. And if Ralph is still in denial, I am less and less.
The patience required doesn’t come easily to me. I read other caregiver blogs and am amazed at the resilience, the selflessness, the willingness to give up so much.
I am not so willing. I have if anything thrown myself into more activities, begun more friendships. And although I do bite my tongue most of the time and don’t think Ralph notices too much, I am impatient.
And I am not as focused on Ralph’s needs as a nurturer would be. I don’t know what he is doing for hours each day. I encourage his painting, but I don’t push him to listen to music or talk about his past the way I know I should. I don’t get him to dance or bowl or join some activity to get him out and about. I don’t suggest we take walks together because I like walking with my women friends more.
And you know what, I am not a bad person. This is what I tell myself, anyway. I do what I can.
And I just need to calm down, take a breath, and put one foot in front of the other without tripping on my shoelace again…