By Liza Nelson
Before my husband was diagnosed, I had never heard of MCI. Before my husband was diagnosed, we teased each other about our failing memories. Yes, he was weirdly forgetful, but I was worse at names--speaking of which, on my blog Alice in Memoryland I have changed our names to Alice and Ralph at the request of my husband, a private man. He is a man with a sense of humor, a fondness for “The Honeymooners,” and a not infrequent desire to send me to the moon.
In the two years before my husband was diagnosed, as his memory and mood deteriorated, our joking with each other dried up. I was increasingly scared and embarrassed for my husband, more often angry with him. Our long marriage had been passionate, but often out of kilter as our two strong personalities engaged and clashed and re-engaged. Then, in our late fifties/early sixties, we seemed to have found a happy equilibrium and began enjoying our marriage in earnest. Now here was Ralph ruining everything with what I saw as his inattention and disinterest in me and our lives.
Then came the diagnosis: MCI verging on Early Alzheimer’s. It has frankly been a relief to have a name for the still subtle but profound transformation in Ralph’s mental process affecting his behavior and our relationship. For the last five years, since a spinal tap showed the plaque build-up that predicts Alzheimer’s, the changes have been incremental but profound as we wait for his condition to slide into full blown Alzheimer’s, a disease that will strike more and more couples in the next decades.
Every case of memory loss or dementia, or any irreversible illness for that matter, is different. I cannot speak for anyone else going through the early stages of memory loss with a spouse. But having read other blogs and several books, I wanted to do something slightly different in sharing our experience. Starting from the beginning of Ralph and my journey down the memory rabbit hole, I have tried to use both key moments and the smallest details of our life to explore my own reactions, as a caregiver and also as a woman and a wife. After all, marriage is a relationship based on choice and commitment, not to mention the emotions and intimacy of love that poets and philosophers still struggle to understand.
Although I have published in the past as a novelist, poet and journalist, writing the truth about my past and present life with Ralph has been an enormous challenge. While I write about the moments of joy—and those moments do still happen—I also write frankly about my darker moments and feeling. I am frequently afraid that I am going to disgust readers in exposing my selfishness, my lack of patience, my resentments, and sometimes my fury. Instead, whenever I think I may have gone too far, readers respond with enormous support. They seem to appreciate putting a truth they recognize into words, however unpretty it may be.
It’s an incredibly lonely business caring for someone on the Alzheimer’s spectrum. I am so glad I have found a community in which I can speak my truth and be heard, that in helping others I have found help in return.
About the Author
Liza Nelson, who writes her blog Alice in Memoryland under the name Alice Cramdon, is the author of the novel Playing Botticelli and co-author of the James Beard nominated The Book of Feasts. She has worked as a journalist, dramaturge, real estate manager, wife and mother. She lives on a farm outside Newnan, Georgia.
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