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.)