dirty dishesRalph has been skipping the last item on his daily lifelist: putting Lola in her kennel bed before he goes to bed at night.Obviously this is a small issue and I am capable of putting her to bed instead. But I don’t want to. For one thing, I like not having to do it myself, like being off duty all together for an hour or two before I go to bed. More important, I like the idea that Ralph contributes, however small the gesture, to the practicalities of our life together.

The thing is, maybe I need to face that Ralph is no longer capable of remembering to put the dog to bed at night. Maybe his cognitive energy is used up by seven pm and I should not nag him the way I do now (and yes, sometimes if he’s still awake reading in bed, I make him get out and see to Lola).  And this realization makes me re-considering what I should be expecting from Ralph.

Never mind big tasks like running the tractor—our tractor crisis two years ago will never reoccur because Ralph avoids messing with the tractor at all now; thank goodness I have found someone who not only runs it but also can maintain it.  As for medium tasks, like changing light bulbs, I don’t expect Ralph to carry them out any more although once in a while he’ll surprise me like the other day when he was able to attach the propane tank thing to the grill (although he couldn’t remember how to turn on the grill itself).

It’s the small tasks that I’ve been counting on for normalcy. But can I really? It is not that Ralph is unwilling. If anything, he is more willing to than he was in his prime when he downright refused to pitch in any time he found it inconvenient. Now if I ask him to take a turn making coffee, he agrees. If I ask him to help bring in groceries, he agrees. If I ask him to help clear the dishes he agrees. He is happy to help.

But, and it is a big BUT, his ability to follow through can be haphazard. He’ll agree but immediately forget and I’ll be annoyed. While counting to ten I debate in my head whether to nag him or let it pass. Or he’ll agree but do the job halfway. Or look at me with a forlorn expression. The other day when I asked him to unpack his small suitcase after a weekend trip to visit friends (a trip he enjoyed immensely although I dragged him there against his wishes), he gave me that look Unpack a suitcase? Put my socks in the sock drawer? I quickly backed off but he caught my look back and asked outright, “What, you don’t think I can unpack?” “Of course you can.” So he unpacked. But none of the clothes ended up where they belong.

Again, not a big deal. And not that he doesn’t ever follow through, not that he doesn’t sometimes surprise me with his competence, the same way he sometimes surprises me by remembering a conversation I assume he’s forgotten. But there are so many other examples of disappointment. So many times I get annoyed because he doesn’t follow through. So many times I wonder Should I trust him even to try a task he seems reluctant to try? Is he unwilling or unable? So many times I wonder Am I being too tough? Am I being too coddling?

Of course, I am being both and neither. I never seem to calibrate the right balance because there isn’t one. Although Ralph appears more capable and competent some days than others, I have to face that his brain is going through its own climate change, a melting away sometimes indecipherable but undeniable. 





  1. I too find myself at a loss as to what to expect from my husband. Sometimes he’ll be doing so well I get lulled into thinking things will stay the same. Then comes the moment he says or does something that is so clearly a reminder that all is not well. In these moments I find myself surprised, angry, frustrated or sad- depending on the circumstances and my mood.
    Even in making plans I find myself somewhat adrift. Sometimes I feel I am being too alarmist trying to prepare my home in case I need to sell it at some point. Other days (usually the days his change in behavior is more obvious) I feel as though I should be more prepared than I am. I find the lack of “black and white” and the abundance of “gray” is so difficult.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, you describe the situation perfectly. I too feel lulled and then alarmed. As I write this I am thinking that lately I have been over watchful perhaps. Or perhaps not. The zig and zag is in my perception as well as in his behavior. Thanks so much for writing.


  2. I know exactly what you are talking about. My husband does many of the same things. He is much more willing to help me (most of the time) and is more agreeable than he has been in 41 years of marriage. However, he may or may not finish something he has offered or I have asked him to do as he does one part and forgets the rest. Or, as you said, he puts things in odd places, which I try to not comment on. It’s so difficult to know how much to say or not say as he tries so hard to please..most of the time. Other times he will sit in his chair and never lift a finger to help for hours and just look up (or not)every time I pass by. I just never know how it’s going to be when we get up every day. I just remind myself, day at a time.

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    1. I didn’t realize that putting things in odd places was part of the disease. Interesting … thank you for sharing this, as I think about the stack of neatly folded t-shirts sitting in the bedroom window by my husband’s treadmill. They’re to be donated, and he’d given me two other shirts just a week ago. I noticed the stack in the window and mentioned it to him. He said they were to be donated. I have a box for donations in my garage, yet the stack of shirts continues to grow. I don’t want to say anything to him about them. It’s a minor thing, and eventually, they will be dealt with. The fact that he’s stacking the shirts in the windowsill rather than to give them to me or to put them in the donation box himself is totally out of character for him.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So interesting. Ralph too performs small previously out of character behaviors I have to work at accepting. Be careful your husband doesn’t put every shirt he owns in the stack–I’m only half kidding. Thanks for writing.


  3. This post rekindled many of the frustrations I experienced, asking myself the same questions about the same issues. It’s probably no consolation to you but I don’t think we any of us ‘get it right’. Probably of even less consolation is that once Dad had further declined and the unwilling vs unable question no longer arose things became easier – at least we knew where we were with unable.

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    1. Thanks Mary. It IS a consolation, only to know everyone grapples with the same dilemma at some point. But I have to admit the reactions I have received have made me aware that the balancing the scale will not be an issue at all at some point once the scale tips further….So your comment that things in some ways will be easier even as they get more difficult….is that a contradiction in terms or an oxymoron?

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  4. I believe I have mostly left behind the the “he will not v. he cannot” debate. Even things he is capable of doing can be short circuited by his memory, so a task of more than one step or that takes more than 3 or so minutes is pretty clearly one he can’t do. Interestingly enough, our biggest area of contention between us right now is his overdoing what he can do–walk the dog. He only can walk her around the townhouse community where we now live, and I can keep an eye on him, as getting lost is a huge issue now. He wants to walk her about every 15 minutes, and the poor beast gets too hot and tired. We made a schedule, but he doesn’t remember why we have it and gets very angry when I remind him that it’s not time. Anger and some meanness also are prevalent these days. What I find myself doing now is trying to find tasks like folding clothes or suggesting watching baseball on TV or unwrapping things from moving boxes. Anything to give him something to do, especially something that requires minimal participation from me. I cannot leave him alone anymore, due to the wandering, so that has changed my world. This journey gets harder and harder.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This a sobering reminder that what I complain about now will likely become what I will regret losing later. I am sorry to hear that his (and your) quality of life has shifted downward–and that you also having to deal with anger and “meanness.” Reading your note makes me think about my plan to move and what our new home needs to offer, for me as well as for him….Thanks so much for writing this. Stay in touch.


  5. You’ve nailed it. It’s when your person is functioning well about half the time, or with about half the activities he used to….only you never know which times or which activities will get done, or done right. Balancing act is exactly it.

    Time to get the tractor guy to set up the propane grill – you REALLY don’t want any small steps forgotten with that particular task.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my gosh, you are so right. No more propane! A classic case of me not getting the balance quite right, or not thinking through the risk factor involved in finding the balance. Even as I was writing analyzing the difficulty I didn’t notice the obvious. Thanks so much for the wake up….

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have the same experience (and the ensuing questions and feelings) with my mom who is in the process of getting a diagnosis. I am always wondering whether she’s unable or unwilling. Should I push and insist that she participates even in small things or should I let go in admission of her incapacity? I am often swinging between disappointment and surprise.
    A lot of what you share echoes my experience. Thank you for helping me feel less alone on this difficult journey.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Unwilling vs unable is becoming such a blurry line, isn’t it? Thanks for writing. Hearing from others who recognize the issues I deal makes me feel less alone too.


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