Has Ralph’s Cognitive Impairment Turned Me Into A Butterfly, Or A Moth?


IMG_0250[Fittingly this moth (or faded butterfly) has fossilized onto our garage wall]

The fishing trip Ralph was scheduled to go on last week didn’t happen. His fishing buddy’s wife got sick and needed him at home. Ralph did not mind AT ALL…”I am dreading it”he kept saying as he usually does before going anywhere… and I was secretly relieved that the four days I had resigned myself to giving up were suddenly restored. I briefly considered not telling anyone, using the found time as a holiday from the world.

But I didn’t.

Instead, I called my vegetable garden partner to do some playing among the squash and corn on Monday.IMG_0298                                                                   I spent all Tuesday morning at a business meeting I’d forgotten to cancel, then called my Tuesday walking buddy. Wednesday I went to my Pilates class and then drove a visiting photographer, sponsored by the ArtRez committee I’m increasingly involved with, into Atlanta to spend the day at the Martin Luther King Center. I made a lunch date on Thursday with a friend I knew needed cheering up. And on Friday I headed back to Atlanta for a meeting of the patient and family advisory committee at Emory’s Brain Center.

Then I picked up my daughter at the airport. She and her husband came to stay at the farm for the weekend and we all attended a wedding together.

In the years before Ralph’s diagnosis, this week would have seemed a whirlwind of social activity.

But as Ralph’s social world contracts, mine seems to expand, as my recent posts attest. This is in many ways a good thing. I love having new friends, love being engaged with the world around me. But I also recognize a certain manic need that I need to face more squarely….

I was the kind of child whose grandmother caught me hiding in the coat closet at family gatherings. As I’ve written here before, I was the introvert, Ralph the extrovert. He loved to go to parties and stay late. I wanted to stay home or leave early.

So why have I turned into this gadabout who joins committees, seeks out new friendships at every turn, commits to projects without thinking?

FEAR is the word that pops into my head.

Our life together, Ralph’s and mine, could so easily become a constant retreat from the world. And to be honest, I feel drawn to drift along on Ralph’s rhythms. To rise late and go to bed early. To spend my day not doing much or talking much.

What I fear is the attraction I feel to downshifting with Ralph.

A lot of dealing with a spouse with cognitive impairment revolves how much to accept, how much to fight and push back. I cannot see into Ralph’s brain or read his thoughts. I understand he is viewing the world differently these days and that his needs have changed. But we don’t really talk about it. I sense he doesn’t want to, and I am not eager to press. All I can do is to [try to] accept who he is at the moment and not make unfair demands.

Because Ralph has a reason, an excuse, to withdraw from more active engagement with the world. (And dementia activists aside, he has made that choice.)

The problem is that sometimes that withdrawal is scarily appealing to me. Is that appeal innate within the mentally and physically lazy woman I’ve always been? Or is it a sign that I am becoming that dreaded condition called “old.” Neither option sounds too good.

I’m not about to cut back on my friends and commitments in order to burrow into a domestic burrow with Ralph. But I am going to work for a little more balance.

4 thoughts on “Has Ralph’s Cognitive Impairment Turned Me Into A Butterfly, Or A Moth?

  1. I know what you mean. I’ve never been one to seek out too much in the way of social engagements. I’m the introvert. But as time goes on I find myself seeking out more outside contacts, more of a social life, and more involvement with other people in my daily life. On some level I am afraid when I think about the isolation that this awful condition can cause. I don’t want to be alone. And sometimes that is what it feels like, even though my hubby is right there beside me.

    I think the other factor is that I want my life to be more than being a spouse of someone with a cognitive impairment. I need more than than.

    I sounds like you have some nice opportunities for social engagement. It will likely always be a balancing act, meeting your needs and meeting his needs. Your involvement with Emory’s Brain Center sounds interesting. We have nothing comparable in our area. I would imagine it provides a level of support for you and for others serving on this committee.


    1. Your are exactly right. Fear of isolation and desire to be more than a spouse of someone with cognitive impairment. From talking to people I think both are common for spouse/caregivers. Thanks so much for this.


  2. What an interesting post which has made me think back to how it was when caring for dad. I began to resent friends who wanted to meet up with me when I had some free time. Often, I did not want to do anything during the few hours I had to myself – partly because I was so tired and partly because it was ‘my’ time and I felt I should not fritter it away meeting someone for coffee. The friends I really appreciated were those who came to visit me at dad’s. He loved seeing people but usually fell asleep so my friends and I could catch up over coffee and cake. I could have become very isolated without them but I wonder why others didn’t realise this – were they afraid of being in the company of a demented person? I’ve never blogged about this because it might hurt some of those friends who read my blog. Sorry, this is really completely off the point you were making.


    1. It is not really off the point. Your situation was different and your reaction was therefore different. But not wanting to fritter away time makes complete sense to me and my question is what constitutes frittering in my case. Is it being with other people or relaxing alone. And I certainly relate to your wondering why others didn’t come by. I am never sure whether to invite people over. Have been thinking of calling Ralph’s old friend from childhood whom he hasn’t seen for several years. I think Ralph would enjoy, but would the friend? Ooops, now I am getting off subject.
      Obviously you got me thinking…..


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