Tag Archives: coping with anger in caring for a cognitively impaired spouse

2 Conversations With Ralph–one bittersweet, the other just bitter


When the kids were small, I always knew our best conversations happened in the car.dialogue.jpgStrapped in seatbelts the kids tended to open up more about their lives; now Ralph does the same. We were driving home from a visit to his dermatologist when he brought up an issue that has clearly been bothering him.

“My IQ score has dropped,” he announced out of the blue. “Is that normal?”

“How do you know that?”

“I saw it on my chart last visit.”

I don’t know how he saw this nugget of information (or even if he read it right), let alone remembered, but I realize that problems  he cannot sort out seem to get stuck in his brain, like gum on the bottom on his shoe that he can’t shake off.

“Well memory probably affects IQ results.”

“117 is still above average though right?”

“Right.” My heart ached with protective affection.


On the other hand, Ralph and I have always had our worst conversations at night when we are tired and Ralph has had some drinks.

dialogue two.jpg

So last night while I was trying to relax after a long day by watching mindless TV at the kitchen table, Ralph stormed out of the bedroom.

“What was the name of that real estate agent who tricked you into selling too cheap?”

I told him the names of the agents we used, one a friend of his. He grumbled some more and went back to bed, only to return moments later and begin to rant about how we were cheated and I should have known better.

He was talking about some property we sold in 2013, the year he got his diagnosis and was still half running things. He had chosen the agent and begun the negotiations pre-diagnosis; I had completed the deal post-diagnosis. Ralph and I had discussed the terms exhaustively. I didn’t want to sell the building at the time but he insisted.

Those months were among the worst in my life, a time I’d rather not remember myself, filled with my mother’s precipitously failing health, Ralph’s heightened, often angry anxiety over his diagnosis, our desperation to sell our business profitably, the sharp learning curve I had to master while laid up in a cast after I crushed my ankle falling on black ice. I did not necessarily make stellar business decisions, but frankly I handled it all pretty damn well considering.

In Ralph’s head last night, we had sold the property just weeks ago and he was obviously obsessing over the numbers (which he had wrong). As he began to berate me, I pretended to be absorbed in Saturday Night Live. In fact I was stewing in resentment and in memories of Ralph during the middle years of our marriage when I often felt he bullied me.

Then he switched gears.

“Where’s our money now? Who are those people who supposedly manage our investments? How do you know they are not going to take our money? You need to make sure they can’t steal our money.”

What I felt as he ranted was about as far from protective affection as you can get—hot white hate tinged with damp self-pity that I was stuck with him until one of us died.

This morning Ralph brought me coffee in bed, as sweet as could be. The conversation has erased itself from his brain as if it never occurred. I wish I could say the same, but I can’t.



*A side note: as we were entering the examining room, the nurse behind the desk said to another nearby, “The Alzheimer’s patient is here now.” I clearly heard and am sure Ralph did too, but neither of us brought it up, not even in the car.


Sometimes a Little Rant Helps

Okay so I got a little furious at Ralph last night. That’s an oxymoron, isn’t it? Furious implies more than a little anger. But dealing with Ralph since his MCI means that any given moment I cannot allow myself more than a little anger, a little resentment, a little impatience.

Be warned what follows is my little rant. Even as the words show up on my screen, I see how “little” the incidents were that set me off. But if you are dealing with a loved one with cognitive impairment (or anyone who has ever been married), you know the way those little moments build.

Ralph and I drove into Atlanta yesterday so Ralph could try on a new suit for our daughter’s wedding. He said he didn’t want to go (“too complicated” as usual), but once we were at the store with our daughter, he started enjoying himself. He basked in our compliments about how good he looked, he told the salesman stories about his wild youth. Back at my daughter’s house, she and I got on the computer to order wedding knickknacks while Ralph relaxed with a glass of wine (and a smoke on the porch).

Since the three of us were laughing away, having more fun together than we have in ages, my daughter and I assumed that when her fiancé got home, we would all share an early dinner at one of their neighborhood restaurants. I had mentioned the plans in a vague way to Ralph, the way I have learned to mention most plans ahead of time, and he had seemed amendable.

But when my daughter made the understandable mistake of asking Ralph directly whether he was willing to hang out another half an hour, he said, “No, I want to get home to my dog.”

My heart sank. I knew that if we’d waited to mention dinner until the arrival of my daughter’s fiancé, whom Ralph is crazy about, Ralph would have gone along with the idea and then had a great time. But it was too late now. When I gently suggested that dinner out might be a nice change of pace, he became adamant about going home. I didn’t push. So at the height of Atlanta rush hour, we got in the car.

Slipping into the driver’s seat I asked, only half joking and barely pleasantly, if we were ever going to eat out in Atlanta again. He answered with the rhetorical question, why would we want to. Well that’s easy, I thought but did not say out loud, because we have always loved going to restaurants together, because I am as obsessed with food as I was when he me, because I am sick of cooking every night, then sitting in front of Jeopardy while we eat. I bit my tongue and said only that it might be a nice change of pace.

For the next few minutes we drove in seemingly pleasant silence—Ralph oblivious to my private stewing over being cheated out of a good meal—but then I suggested we take a different route to the interstate, one I know but Ralph doesn’t remember, so we would avoid the heavy traffic that comes after five.

A big mistake. Since I was driving I should have kept my mouth shut and just gone the way I wanted. Ralph again became adamant. He said my way was further than his way, that I was wrong about the time it would take. His voice rose with his anxiety. Before his diagnosis, I would have argued back, and screaming would have ensued. Instead I followed his route knowing it would be a disaster.

The tension barometer in our car rose not helped by my audible sigh with each minutes that clicked by. After sitting in the same line of unmoving cars for thirty minutes, Ralph turned to me and full of contrition said, “I forgot how back traffic gets. Next time you should just override me because you know better.”

Guilt immediately washed over me. How could I be mad at a guy who so willingly apologized and acknowledged his limitations?

Well, I could. I might be guilty about it but I was still mad. Mad because I was craving a nice meal out. Mad because planning the wedding has been a difficult but special time for all of us and I wanted this chance to share a sense of celebration with the two lovebirds. Mad because we were now stuck in traffic when we could be halfway home if I’d taken that left turn I’d wanted (and we’d be halfway through dinner by now if gone out with the kids). I was mad because I gave in unnecessarily. Oh wait, was I mad at him or myself?

I began writing this post with threads of resentment still clinging to my psyche. Petty bickering and small issues that blow out of proportion are part of most marriages; they were certainly part of ours before Ralph’s diagnosis. But they feel different now, complicated by moments of condescending pity knotted with bursts of affection and flashes of appreciation for the man Ralph remains. Complicated most of all by my own ambivalence at becoming what I always thought I wanted: the one in power, the one in control.