What Is Normal Anyway?

people_in_the_park_204264 Is this the couple  Ralph and I are becoming? Jaunty hats and sensible shoes? Would it be so bad if we were them? Don’t they  look  happy and normal? But what is normal?

As I look at the life Ralph and I share now, I can’t help wondering.

When he was first diagnosed with relatively advanced Mild Cognitive Impairment, Ralph was in his mid-sixties and considered young to be jumping on the Alzheimer’s escalator. Now he is approaching 70 and those  symptoms—fogginess, lack of energy, loss of short-term memory, disengagement—that seemed so out of keeping with our peers a few years ago fall more comfortably into the gray area called “the aging process.”

And after all aging  is normal and even desirable  (the alternative being death) although it hits us each differently. For example, I called Ralph’s oldest friend the other day; the two have drifted out of touch over the years but Ralph still talks affectionately about Jim and I thought reconnecting  and reminiscing would be nice for them both to do while Ralph still can. Jim was excited at the prospect of re-connecting with Ralph but we couldn’t actually talk until  he put in his special hearing aid for phone use.

In that moment it occurred to me as it has before that while Ralph remains on his plateau of not-quite-Alzheimer’s-yet, his issues are not radically different from other men his age, at least according to what I hear from the women my age who live with them. So many of my friends complain that their husbands are slowing down faster than they are, that they no longer want to travel, that they’re becoming stay-at-homes, that they are more passive than they used to be, that they need to be cared for, that they require a lot of patience.

And we women have our own issues, or at least I do. The sleep issue—never more than six hours and often less, with the resulting sense of dull tiredness and desire for an afternoon nap. A nap for God’s sake! Ugh. The driving issue—is my driving getting worse or am I just more nervous? The concentration issue—much harder to turn off the wifi and buckle down (although maybe this problem will go away after election day). And of course the fashion issue—not that I ever dressed fashionably or learned to use make up but nowI either look as if I’m trying too hard or not hard enough.

The thing is, I still do feel younger, still want to fight aging, while Ralph has embraced it. Our day-to-day life has fallen into a frankly pretty comfortable pattern set largely by Ralph’s needs and wants. The pattern scares me because I find it enticingly easy to fill so much time dealing with minutia concerning managing Ralph’s care, our finances and our household, especially since my social life has actually expanded as Ralph’s has contracted. If this is this my new normal, it is not all bad? But I worry, where is my zest for the intellectual and creative ambitions that have always defined me before?

In a weird way I am almost heartened personally by the current election season in which two of my peers slug it out with vigorous, and in one case even brutal, energy (although I’m not saying their “normal” is the one I want). I want to believe I can still find that kind of passion and energy in myself. But maybe not, and maybe that’s okay.

Sorting out what is normal under my circumstances, or what is normal under any individual’s individual circumstances, is not easy, but it is where I find myself.

(PS. Last nightI asked Ralph, as I always do, if he’d talked to anyone during the day. He said no. I checked his phone. There was Jim’s number at the top of received calls; evidently they’d talked for over half an hour.)

6 thoughts on “What Is Normal Anyway?

  1. The business of remembering what you did that day, or what you might want to do the next, I think, is essential for creating an overview of your life – that overview is what fuels plan-making and that ties in deeply with identity.
    Only noticed this as J’s ability to remember anything that happened that day has diminished. The overview has also diminished, and so the partner that was so much a part of the definition of my last 22 years is slowly fading – still “there”, but different.
    So, as caregiving obligations slowly increase, that has become more of my identity. If I look at it from the right angle, it’s not a bad thing, altogether. Most of the time….!
    Thanks for writing, Alice.


    1. What you are saying makes a lot of sense. Actually, I think Ralph’s struggle to hang on to the overview you describe compels him to ask about certain plans over and over because they keep slipping from his grasp. And yes as that happens, my role not only as caregiver but also as maintainer of the overview grows, changing the nature of our relationship in the process…Thanks so much for your insight.


  2. Ralph saying he hadn’t spoken to anyone reminded me of a particular day with dad. I had taken him to an art gallery followed by coffee and cake in a cafe, a drive round the coast, and then lunch, ending up at my sister’s house. She asked him how is day had been and he said, ‘Oh, I’ve done nothing, not been anywhere.’
    There is no normal 🙂 And if you want a jaunty hat – go for it. Get one that really stands out.


    1. Thanks Mary. Funny you should say that about the hat since we are attending a birthday bash in and I will be wearing a leopardskin pillbox hat to take part in an homage my friend’s band will be performing in honor of Dylan’s Nobel honor. (I may share a passing resemblance to Dylan, or the young young Dylan)


  3. Very interesting discussion about what normal is. I think your observations are quite applicable for many. Maybe normal is whatever each of us is experiencing.


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