Tag Archives: Alzheimer’s spouse

I Commemorate my Dad’s 100th Anniversary; Ralph Celebrates Him Daily

scotch.jpgMy father would have turned 100 yesterday if he were still alive. Ralph and I celebrated with one of Dad’s favorite dinners: roast beef with truffle sauce, or rather a cheap cut of beef I found on sale and a dab of Croatian truffle olive spread we received as a gift.

“I really miss Charles,” Ralph said several times during the meal. Charles was my father. Ralph brings him up almost every night at dinner. And frequently at other times as well.

“You know I was thinking about your dad today.” “Remember the time your dad….” Charles was a character.” “I really miss old Charles.”

Me too.

My father was tall and elegant, charismatic if not traditionally handsome (bald but in a Yul Brenner way), an extrovert both charming and domineering. And he definitely had a temper. My siblings would agree that he was a better father to his daughters than to his sons, who were made to feel that they didn’t live up to his standards and expectations. My sister and I adored him, and as a little girl I never doubted that he adored me back, but our relationship grew complicated during my teens as I began to rebel. We never quite regained the closeness.

But if anything redeemed me in my father’s eyes it was Ralph.

Ralph and Charles were soul mates. They came from completely different backgrounds—my father the son of a Russian Jewish immigrant who made good and sent my father to an Ivy League college, Ralph the son of a Pentecostal mother who spoke in tongues and a father raised dirt poor in the hills of Alabama with ancestors who fought in the Civil War and possibly the American Revolution—yet they recognized themselves in each other from their first meeting.

They liked to schmooze as my father called their never-ending conversations about business and politics. Again, it would seem they had little in common. My father ran the business his father had started; Ralph was an entrepreneur just starting his real estate business when they met; my father was a Nixon republican, Ralph still a socialist when I introduced them. Nevertheless they talked and they talked and they talked, often loudly though never angrily, into the wee hours long after my mother and I had gone to bed. No doubt they were fueled by scotch, my father’s drink of choice, which he introduced to Ralph.

After a restaurant dinner with my parents months before Ralph and I ever discussed marriage, Ralph told me that my father had proposed while I was in the ladies room. My father used my absence as an opportunity to tell Ralph he would be very happy to have him as a son-in-law. I am not sure how Ralph responded.

Of course I was pleased that my father approved of my choice in husbands, but I admit I was also a bit jealous that my father clearly enjoyed Ralph’s company more than mine. I can only imagine what my brothers felt witnessing Ralph and Charles’s rapport, a rapport they did not have as Charles’s sons.

As for Ralph—whose own father, a skilled but uneducated mechanic, was a master sergeant when he retired after twenty years in the air force and never quite adapted to life as a civilian—he suddenly had the father he’d always wanted. He listened to my father’s advice with rapt attention. He lapped up the affection and praise.

And when my father died at 73, Ralph mourned much more deeply than he had when his own father died.

Months later, a whippoorwill settle outside our bedroom window at the farm and Ralph and I began to joke that the bird was my father’s reincarnation keeping us up at night . It was a comforting joke, an intimacy I look back to now with nostalgia, but it was a joke, a way to ignore or minimize sorrow.

Since Ralph’s cognitive impairment began, my father has loomed larger in his memory. As I have mentioned before, Ralph only holds onto happy memories these days. And his memories of my father are among his happiest. In the last few years he has decided that my father’s old marble top bar, now in our small formal parlor, is haunted by my father. In a good way of course. At least several times a week he calls me to come into the room because he senses my father’s presence.

Pre-MCI Ralph might have joked about a whippoorwill, but he is completely sincere now. And his belief is NOT a case of dementia. It is a case of affection so strong that it has taken a shape or at least a form. For all the negatives of Alzheimer’s, Ralph’s ability to feel purely is really a joy. And I am a little envious of his relationship with my father all over again.

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Alzheimer’s and Nurturing Men

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I was picking out apples at the grocery story yesterday when I noticed a woman having a kerfuffle over by the oranges. After she knocked over a small display, her husband rushed to her side and gently steered her away. As I picked up the display, I couldn’t help watching how he spoke quietly to allay her anxiety and confusion. Walking walked past him on the way to the spinach, I whispered, “You are a lovely man.” (To be clear I was not being flirtatious and he was definitely not lovely in any literal sense.)

A few moments later we found ourselves standing together by the avocados. I explained to him that I spoke to him because I wanted to make sure he got credit for the nurturing way he dealt with his wife. I said I understood his situation as a spouse caregiver myself. The look of calm that washed across his face was different that gratitude or relief, was closer to what I imagine war veterans must feel when they connect. We talked for maybe a minute or two and then I moved on before he could see that I had tears in my eyes.

One of those brief moments that reverberate and reverberate.

But it got me thinking, not for the first time, about how much harder it may be for husbands than wives, at least those of my boomer generation. We were a generation who adopted feminism but were not born to it. There was a lot of intellectualizing about women and men’s roles, but there remained an emotional pull to the way we were raised. The men, however “progressive” or “liberal” or even “radical,” paid lip service but under the surface, our roles only shifted so far.

So men now in their fifties, sixties and seventies with wives who are struggling with impairments are having to learn to nurture the way women in similar situations have known how all along. And men like my grocery store friend are stepping up. I am amazed at their openness about how hard it is and their willingness to go all out. Frankly they often seem more open and more willing than I am.

Like many a good feminist of my generation I have never been above a little vicious, resentful man-bashing, let alone husband-bashing. But this is my little shout out to the guys. We are all in this together.

Alzheimer’s As Public Health Issue

ALZE_NPD_24p_04.01_08_06_12.Still012.jpgfrom Every Minute Counts

PBS is airing a program entitled EVERY MINUTE COUNTS about the importance (is that the right word…danger? risk? cost?) of Alzheimer’s as a public health issue. It will be telecast this coming Wednesday, January 25, 2017, at 10 pm.

I have not seen the show, only the promotional material, but being someone who tends to view Alzheimer’s and degenerative cognitive disease through the narrow lens of my personal experience as the spouse of someone on the Alzheimer’s spectrum, I look forward having the chance (is that the right phrasing… will force myselffeel a responsibility?)  to examine the larger social and economic effects.

For those of you with access to American television:

EVERY MINUTE COUNTS   10 pm  Wednesday, January 25, 2017   your local PBS station.