How Is Ralph Adjusting?


dogs reading

How is Ralph adjusting? That’s the first question I’ve been asked in most of my conversations over the last six weeks (i.e., since my last post; God knows where the days have gone). People, particularly that growing list of old, almost lost friends I’m back in contact with, are understandably concerned; after all Ralph has had to adapt both to a strange new house in a strange city and to the new strange reality of a world ruled by the corona virus.

The answer is simple. He is adjusting just fine.

In fact, he has been living pretty much the same life in our New Orleans house that he lived for the last six years on the farm: rising late, reading and hanging out with his dogs all day, drinking his late afternoon beers, dinner followed by a Nestlé’s Drumstick for dessert, asleep by eight at the latest.

In some ways the adjustment strikes me as almost too easy. Limitations suit Ralph all too well and so do the lowered expectations that have crept in. Since his hospital stay he never went back to following a life list. Instead, I do the remembering: I give him his pills in the morning and tell him to shower (checking the towel to make sure if I’m not around) and eat breakfast. He eats a peanut butter sandwich for lunch, actually sometimes for more than one lunch since he’s not always sure he’s eaten when I ask and better to eat twice than not at all. He spends pretty much the rest of the day “reading” in bed or sitting on the porch with his dogs. He no longer even thinks of smoking or driving. Or listening to the radio although there is one by his bed. He still drinks beer. But since he can’t drive and doesn’t know where all the closets are in this house, I control his intake in a way I couldn’t before. I put three in the fridge and when he asks for more, I explain I can’t because of the virus. In fact, I am thinking of switching to non-alcoholic beer to see if he notices. He eats whatever I cook for dinner while we listen to NPR or his preference Pandora; he no longer keeps up a pretence of an interest in the news and gave up on following television ages ago.

His main focus now, even more than on the farm, is on his dogs. They never leave his side and are all the companionship he seems to need. Although he and I have only the most basic conversations, I can hear him chatting with the dogs on and off all day. The dogs may not have the space they used to, but they seem satisfied with their yard and the ease of access in and out from our bedroom although happier with their constant attention and….

OOOPS. AS I WAS WRITING THE LAST LINE I HEARD A COMMOTION AT OUR FRONT DOOR. Ralph was calling the dogs frantically. He had forgotten my warning a few minutes ago not to use the door because our gate was open to let the men making a repair outside. Now the dogs were loose, about to disappear into the streets of New Orleans. I ran downstairs. I yelled unpleasantly at Ralph, What were you thinking?! as I flew past him to grab Lola the younger dog before she ran away.  In fact she was happily peeing under a tree just outside the gate. The older dog was merely confused, not unlike Ralph, wandering between house and sidewalk.

I admit that once all three were safely inside, I snipped at Ralph again when I realized his plan had been to sit on the porch with the dogs and a beer—it was not yet 1:30 as I barked at him. Of course, in the excitement he had already forgotten his unopened beer can on the porch anyway.  I took a breath and re-found my patient voice, then suggested he look at his cell phone for the time.

I didn’t know it was so early, he said amiably and went back to his room (officially “ours” but practically his and the dogs until the minor but stalled renovation can be completed on his “studio,” attached to the garage but entered through the dog yard and only steps away from our bedroom door). Peace is restored. He has also already forgotten my lost temper—no need for apology or forgiveness these days.

Whatever I was going to  describe ten minutes ago is forgotten as well. All I am thinking about now is how we used to argue about everything, how a small mistake or misunderstanding could unleash all kinds of larger angers. How ugly the temper flares could be, how cold the silences. I can’t pretend I miss the overt tensions that mushroomed so quickly between Ralph and me for years and years of our marriage. But I am not sure what to think about our lopsided relationship now. So much responsibility on my side, so much contentment on his. So much resentment on my side, so much loving dependence on his. I can’t say I envy him, but sometimes I do.

12 thoughts on “How Is Ralph Adjusting?

  1. My wife and I have the same little conflicts that mushroom into wars. I wonder how I would do if I had look after her constantly. She is in poor health and needs help but that doesn’t stop the arguments. I know I enjoy the morning time before she gets up. It’s so peaceful. I wonder if I would regret the needless, endless conflicts and see how I was more to blame than I now realize. I think about how I might see many ways I could have been easier to get along with. Do you have any of these thoughts?

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    1. Thanks for sharing this and getting me to think about the old relationship a lot. A few years before Ralph’s diagnosis we had actually come to a better place in our relationship and were enjoying each other’s companionship in a way we had not before–had moved beyond the ever constant tension to a more relaxed place. But there were so many years when things were off. How much was his fault, how much mine? Who knows and now there is no fighting allowed. If I lose my temper, I immediately regret it because there is no parity. Ralph is so easily hurt and so unable to fight back. And I know I am lucky that he is more gentle than he used to be, not more aggressive or angry.

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  2. Thanks for bringing us up to date. I agree that with his increased dependence on you, the balance beam of life has shifted heavily to your side. With Ralph’s increasing dementia, he’s calmer and more easily contented, which to an extent, makes your life a bit easier. Glad things are working out for you.

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  3. Oh, your situation sounds so familiar. Except the last move we made (two in 6 months due to big mistake with condo that he could get out of anytime he wanted in spite of elevator, codes, etc.). He got confused and called it “your house” and asked where he was sleeping, etc. I hated that the move confused him so. I am glad Ralph is so content and understand your frustration about the “lopsidedness.” So good the move feels right to you, though. I am embarking on my third move in a year. Lockdown is hard on the grieving process and after Ned’s death, the place didn’t suit me. This will be my “forever” home, and my younger daughter is going to rent out her condo and live with me. Onto the next step in this journey. You have done well with your next step and all the work and courage it took.

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    1. It is good to hear from you. I will never forget your first move, or rather your description of it. I was just beginning this journey at the time and so admired your honesty in discussing the challenge. I also remember the last time we were together and Ned was beginning his last steep decline. I cannot believe how many moves you have had to make in this last year, but this does wound like the right step for you. So glad you will have your daughter with you.

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  4. It’s so good to hear from you. I’ve been wondering how things were going and hoping Covid-19 hadn’t added too much to your problems. It sounds like Ralph is pretty settled – and the dogs. Are you in lockdown in New Orleans? I don’t really know which places in the States are in lockdown and which are free of restrictions – though it’s getting a bit like that here. England easing up, Scotland, Wales and N Ireland saying, ‘not yet’. I think you should enjoy the peace with Ralph, even if you do resent being the one who has to do his thinking for him. By the way, the last two years I’ve done ‘dry January’ to give my liver a we rest and I actually quite enjoy alcohol free beer – as long as it is cold. However, I’m not usually a beer drinker – red wine, actually – so perhaps my palate is not as discerning as Ralph’s but you could give it a go. Or, does it matter if he has three beers in an evening? Hugs – virtual, of course.

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    1. Hello Mary!! Yes, New Orleans is in heavy duty lockdown–was a definite epicenter due to Mardi Gras and the general party nature of the city. We got here one day before the quarantine was put in place. Ralph is settled and generally I am not as crazed as I turned out to be this afternoon. In fact my peace is greater than in months if not years. I am going to try to the alcohol free beer on him if I can find it–so far no luck due to shortages–because his palate is far from discerning. He now drinks the lightest beer available, but I would love not to have to keep count quite so carefully. Virtual hug to you back. (I too am a red wine person when I drink at all)

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      1. When I was staying with Dad, I used to love my red wine when I finally got him to go to bed (you still have this phase ahead of you) then I’d go to bed thinking, ‘oh, shit, if anything happens I’m now over the limit to drive. I’ll have to call an ambulance.’

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