Last week, at my request, my younger brother flew down from Pennsylvania and spent two full days on our John Deere tractor bush-hogging our fields.

That I had to ask my brother, or anyone, to come represents a turning point. Two years ago, already diagnosed, Ralph spent every day for months mowing the same fields to have them pristine for our daughter’s wedding. A year ago, he was still mowing regularly. But he has not driven the tractor since last spring. And over the summer the wheat/weed mixture grew higher than an elephant’s eye.

I asked during our last Emory Brain Center check up if Ralph should quit mowing, and was told mowing was fine. Although he has stopped driving most places out of fear of getting lost, his motor skills are fully operational.

Ralph’s problem was not ability, but motivation. About every two days we discussed the fields. I’d ask him if he was sure he was up to mowing. He’d say yes…yes but he was too tired or had a stomachache or it was too hot out or too chilly so he was planning on starting tomorrow. Then tomorrow would come and we’d have a similar discussion.

This is the pattern that the spouse part of me has had the most difficulty accepting. I was supposed to be the procrastinator in our relationship, at least in non-emotional areas. I was the one who put off unpleasant chores; Ralph was the one whose mantra was BE A CLOSER, who taught his kids by example to follow through and get the job done because he always did. Not anymore; each time a situation comes up, from helping to clear the dinner dishes to mowing the fields, I want to believe him when he agrees so pleasantly to do whatever I’ve asked. And then of course he never does and I become increasingly frustrated, mostly at myself for falling into the habit of depending on him.

As usual, over the last few weeks the reality slowly seeped into my brain that for whatever reason—because he simply forgets or lacks the energy or has unspoken anxiety about his ability to remember how—Ralph was never going to mow those fields.

And the only person I know with tractor skills is my youngest brother who has always shared with Ralph a love of machines—they spent a joyous summer over thirty years ago taking apart three elderly Triumphs to build two refurbished ones. But over the last thirty years the relationship between the two, once extremely close, became increasing problematic. In fact several years back tensions intensified to the point that the two of them got into a physical altercation during a family wedding.

Of course Ralph doesn’t remember the altercation and has only a vague recollection of there ever being any tension. And my brother has been more than happy to patch things up. He has visited several times recently while passing through. I called and asked if I could pay his way down to help. He agreed immediately.

I told Ralph my brother was stopping by on his way to a business meeting in Florida and suggested maybe we could Tom Sawyer him into helping out around the farm. Ralph thought that might be a good idea and was remarkably unsuspicious on the first morning when my brother voiced an interest in mowing. For the next day and a half my brother mowed and Ralph sat on the porch.

For the first few hours, my brother thought Ralph seemed pretty much as he remembered but that has time went on there were increasing signs of Ralph’s memory lapses and his less definable personality change from Get Things Done Man to Ho Hum Whatever Guy—when a tractor hose broke, Ralph’s response was ‘We’ll deal with it tomorrow’ until my brother reminded him that he was leaving tomorrow and needed to mow today. But the two of them hung out together and generally had a lovely time.




Boy those fields look great. Maybe we could get him to come back and mow a couple of times a year.” That’s Ralph talking not me. Over the last couple of days, he has made this suggestion a lot.


Does Ralph realize the mowing visit was a set up? I don’t know and am not sure I want to ask. We may have found our way into new don’t-ask-don’t-tell territory where we don’t acknowledge but accommodate ourselves to Ralph’s limitations while maintaining his dignity. Or perhaps I am kidding myself about his awareness.


  1. This post made me stop to reflect (as most of your posts do) on how things were with dad. Sometimes he looked so terribly sad and I never knew if it was because he had an insight into what was happening to him. I asked once if something was making him unhappy and he nodded but he couldn’t find the words to express what he was feeling. Nancy is right when she says every day is a new normal.


    1. Yes, I see that expression in Ralph’s eyes on occasion and wonder. But he was never one to talk about his feelings all that much except in occasional moments of self-reflection, so I don’t push. I can’t decide if talking makes it better or worse for him to be honest.


  2. Every day is a new normal; every day is unlike the one before and the one after. The hard part is that you always know it but he never really does. Or if he does, he soon forgets it. I was thinking (just yesterday) about how obsessive Bo was about the yard — picking up every single leaf and twig, often bending over for a couple of hours while he did it — but for the last 4 or 5 years had no idea where those leaves came from. When I explained about fall, he just looked at me blankly and said, “I don’t understand” and kept on picking them up one-by-one. Then he lost the motivation.


    1. You are so right Nancy. I know and he doesn’t and sometimes I am better about the differential than other times. So good, as always to hear from you. I hope you are doing well and embracing life day by day….


  3. Really good solution, Alice. I know what you mean about the don’t-ask-don’t-tell zone, and I, too, never know if J DOES know about her limitations, and doesn’t want to talk about it, or truly isn’t aware.
    Hope you have a good Thanksgiving, whatever your plan.


    1. Thanks for sharing. Ironically, Ralph just walked into the kitchen and asked if I ever hear from my brother these days. I reminded him that we just had a visit and he quickly regrouped and asked about my ex-sister-in-law instead.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s