I made my mom choose a support group and I went with her today.  It was at Holy Cross Church in Novi.  She was nervous and uncomfortable on the way there – but even she admitted that this experience would probably be good for her.  I was so proud of her for being strong enough to go.

And then… no one came.  No one.  It was just her and me and the facilitator.  Do you know how f*’d up that is to finally reach out for help – and no one shows???  It was a very grey, all-alone kind of feeling.  I felt HORRIBLE for her.  God, maybe she’ll never reach out again because, after all, what good does it do anyway?  I pray that she doesn’t fall into the-best-person-to-look-out-for-you-is-YOU mentality.  Wow.  We were the only ones there.

The facilitator asked Mom to introduce herself anyway and then asked her if she had any questions she’d like to ask.  I think it was good that she was invited to ask tough questions in a venue where someone was potentially going to know the answers.  And she was pretty much forced to ask the big, bad, scary questions – because, after all, what else were we going to do for an hour, look at one another?  Her and I have been feeling our way around in the dark on this so far, both too injured and uneducated on the topic to help one another effectively.  Finally, we had someone before us who has seen this happen to others.  So Mom asked… When do you consider a home?  …When do you take away the keys?  …How fast will he slide?  …How long will this last???

Mom even admitted aloud that she still hasn’t cried since hearing the diagnosis.  That’s two whole months!  The facilitator told her that this was a safe place and to go ahead.  And we waited.  And then my mom cried.  She sobbed.  For about thirty seconds.  And then she shook it off, apologized, and said she felt silly, as she dabbed her eyes back to composure.

On the way out, Mom wholeheartedly thanked the facilitator for her time and understanding.  But we left not knowing if Mom had gotten any real benefit from that experience or not.  I think she did.  Maybe it was having been given permission to finally cry.  Maybe she realized that, even though no one showed up, her support group was already by her side.  Maybe I was enough.

I have spent a lot of time lately compiling local support group information via the Alzheimer’s Association in an effort to present it to my mom so she won’t have the excuse that she doesn’t know where to go nor the time to research it.  I figure I’ll just give her the list of options and tell her to choose one, and then make her stick to it.

I realize that, no matter how dark the funk may be that I’m in, my mom must be going through something a thousand-times worse.  But she won’t reach out.  She won’t even really cry.  I think that would make it too real.  And she doesn’t want to appear weak.  This way, she can stuff it all into a manageable filing system within her where she’s able to deal with it in her own original way when she’s ready.  She’s definitely not an OMG-woe-is-me kind of person.  She’s strong.  Tough.  Like she always said as a child, Don’t let ‘em see you cry. 

But the danger is that she’s already a tough person and by getting tougher now to survive this, she WILL break down at some point.  YOU HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF THE CAREGIVER.  I’m working on getting this point through to her.  I have to get through to her.  I just can’t push her too much.  And I can’t give her too much space for too long of a time.  I have to time it just right.  She can’t feel smothered.  But I refuse to ever let her feel like she’s alone.

Mom and Dad are home and I rushed over today to see them!  When I got there, Mom and Dad were nostalgically flipping through a photo album on the living room couch.  We hugged, I love you’d, and gabbed about their trip.  After a while, Mom excused herself to go into the office to check emails and I continued to flip through the album with Dad.

We got to a picture of our family at Xmas maybe 6 years ago.  Dad asked with a scrunched brow, “Who’s this?”  I said lightheartedly, “That’s us, Daddy – you, Mom, Frank, Todd and me!”  He looked at the photo for quite some time.  Then I turned the page.  But he stopped me, turned the page back, pointed to the picture and said, “But who’s THAT?”

OMG, my dad didn’t even recognize me!!!

Given – I do have black hair now.  I grew up blonde, was blonde in that Xmas picture,  and Dad knew me most of my life (and his) as a blonde.  But I’ve been black for probably five years now. 

OMG, is my dad going to start NOT recognizing me??  Does it really start THIS fast?  You’ve got to be frickin’ kidding.

Crap.  Maybe I should go back blonde to help him out.  Maybe I should wait until me as a brunette is really unrecognizable to him and THEN go back blonde.  If I go blonde right now, maybe THAT would confuse him even more???  Geez, I don’t know how to sort this out…

Mom and Dad are due back from Greece tonight!!  I can’t even properly describe the elation, relief and anticipation I have in the matter! 

I feel as if I’ve been whirling around and slowly drowning inside an emotional vacuum since they broke the news and left.  I have such HOPE upon their return!  It’s like I can almost breathe again.  I feel like once I can actually see them with my very own eyes it’ll be like they are once again real and alive and by my side.  I’ve felt such dark aloneness in their absence.  I realize I’m losing Dad but I just experienced an earth-shattering view of what life would be like without them BOTH!  My god, I’ve been so lucky having them around – 37 years of their support and involvement in my life.  How blessed my life has been because of them, how enriched it’s become with them helping weave the fabric of my life.

So, I guess, I’m grappling with the thought of… what becomes of me once their gone???  They have always been such a rock for me, the base from which everything for me has sprouted and grown.  They are SUCH GOOD PEOPLE.  I loose my breath when I think that someday they’ll be gone.  Someday, I’ll be totally on my own. 

I mean, geez, I’m married so it’s not like I’m exactly all alone in my life.  But I derive such peace from just knowing they’re around, that I can call them up and involve them more deeply in my life at any moment.  They have taken SUCH good care of me, as a child, a ridiculous rebellious adolescent, as an unmarried adult, even now.  They always do whatever they can to ensure that I’m okay.  They are some of the best people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

So, tonight they’re back!  And I want to welcome them home with outstretched arms and a marching band in their honor!  Of course, I’ve settled for the largest bouquet of flowers I’ve ever bought (which I split the cost of with my brothers) – which I’ve secretly placed just inside their back door so it’s the first thing they’ll see when they walk in their house!  I just want them to know that I am SO GRATEFUL they’re home.  That we can resume where we left off.  That it’s not over.

I’m spinning out of control in a total panic!  I can’t stop crying.  I’m sobbing as I’m typing this.  I know I’m losing my dad, but with them dropping the “A” bomb on me and leaving town so fast and for so long, I now have this unsettling panic that I’ve lost them both!  I realize it doesn’t make any sense rationally.  But Mom and Dad are both out of touch to me – somewhere unreachable on the other side of the globe – and I just feel like they’re both never coming back. 

F***.  My entire world is crumbling!  I can’t explain what’s going on inside but I’m spiraling downward to somewhere I don’t want to go.  The entire world looks bleak.  It’s hard to breath.  I can barely get out of bed.  I cry all the time.  Even at work, I lay and cry on my desk.  I can hold it together for short periods of time, but then it all comes bubbling out, no matter where I am!  Jac has made me come over, she usually can cheer me up out of any mood, but at her house all I do is flop on her couch and cry harder.  I can’t get it together.  I know this isn’t rational.  But I can’t rationally pull myself out of these dark depths.

I tell myself I’m SO LUCKY to have had the life I have had: GREAT parents, a privileged upbringing, everything a child could long for… But then I crumble and am paralyzed with fear and emptiness that it’s all coming to an end.  Camelot is crumbling!!  THEN what do I have??  I’m tormented by some force I can’t even explain nor get my head around.  I am afraid and see myself sliding down a VERY DARK path…

I’m numb but feel that I should write something down so I remember this ominous day.

Mom and Dad leave in the morning for their long awaited 3-week vacation & cruise through Greece.  They called tonight to say bon voyage!  Or so I thought.  They called to say that they finally received a diagnosis today from Dad’s months of ongoing tests with the University of Michigan.  DAD HAS “EARLY-ONSET ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE”.

OMG.  I’m almost not even completely sure what this means – except that it’s bad.  Really bad.  Like, as bad as it could possibly be.

We’ve noticed some small – but very noticeable! – memory issues lately.  Like, when I was visiting recently, Mom and I were talking about something and five minutes later Dad interrupted us with, “I don’t know where I heard this, but someone told me recently that…”  It was what we had just TOLD HIM!  Mom and I just looked at each other blankly – and then tried to pick back up where we left off.

Problems have been arising apparently at work between Dad and Frank Jr. and the other employees for some time.  I think this is part of why Dad went back in for re-testing.  Five years ago they sent him home from testing with a very loose diagnosis that he may be developing some type of long-term dementia.  Before that, I think he was on some unproven supplements to help with memory and no mention of dementia was given.

SO, here we are.  Shit.  My parents are ascending on their long-dreamed vacation with THIS hanging over their heads??  I told Dad, “You know what, Dad, you should have a frickin’ drink already!  I think this vacation should be the time you say goodbye to healthy living and just really live it up!  Seriously, you need to have a drink.  Probably a few!”  He agreed that I might be right, that after ten years of not drinking and tending to his body in a non-fanatical way, “Look what good it’s done me.”  But he was pretty upbeat, at least in a “I’ve had a wonderful life and will take what God gives me” sort of way.  Admirable.  He’s quite a guy, my Daddy-O.

Me?  I’m pissed.  They’ve worked hard their whole life, they’re SO close to retirement, and THIS happens?  I’m scared.  I know things just changed, that somehow the end just began, but I still don’t really know what that means.  Maybe I’m just overwhelmed with a concept I just can’t yet grasp.  Maybe there’s a better word.  It’s so hard to say when I’m just this numb.