FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS:  Viewing: Monday, May 3, 1-8 PM.  Funeral service with Military Honors: Tuesday, May 4, 10 AM.  Location: The Heeney-Sundquist Funeral Home, downtown Farmington (www.heeney-sundquist.com).

Suggested memorial tributes to Alzheimer’s Association – Greater Michigan Chapter (www.alz.org/gmc) or for use in completing the movie, Frankly Speaking: Alzheimer’s™ – The Documentary (www.FranklySpeakingAlz.com).

(Real-time Entry)

Somehow the air seems so still these past few days.  A fog shrouds me at times, but inspiration from my dad forces me to keep moving and take action.

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(Real-time Entry)

A little after 9 this morning I decided to crawl into Dad’s bed and snuggle up with him to some of his favorite music.  I sang the Beach Boys “Fun Fun Fun” into his ear, reminiscing about his ‘59 Corvette and how cool he was to allow me and my high school friend Jill to learn to drive a stick shift while grindin’ away on its gears!

Then “Barbara Ann” came on my iPod and I sang even harder and happier.  I pounced Sparky around on his shoulder to the diddy, lightly kept the beat on his chest with my other hand, and said joyously, “Daddy-O, it’s you, me and Sparky dancing together – just like old times!”  J  And by the time I looked back up into his eyes half way through the song, I realized he was no longer breathing.  I looked up at his caregiver sitting by him on the other side (Veronica, the amazing and devoted caregiver who has been by his side at every possible moment), and I asked her, “Did he just stop breathing?”  She said yes.  We stared at him for what seemed like a long time and then I incredulously blurted out to Veronica, “Did he seriously just die in my arms while dancing to ‘Barbara Ann’???” Veronica just slowly nodded her head yes.

I seriously couldn’t have written this script!  Daddy literally died in his little girls’ arms with Sparky dancing on his shoulder and his favorite music playing in his ear!  What a way to go, Daddy-O!!!  XOXOXO  I am so, so, so proud of you!!!  What a way to live your life – and what a fabulous way to go!  I am so PROUD and LUCKY to be your daughter. 

I was then joined by my mom, Frank Jr. & Amy, Todd & Lynae, and Frankie and Ashton as we all said our final goodbyes.  Hearts were heavy but we were so thankful that God heard our prayers to let Daddy be in peace.

It’s a sunny Spring day with not a cloud in the sky – what a perfect background for his final magic trick!  And I know his mom and dad (my Beeka and Papa) welcomed him home with lots of wet kisses and warm hugs, his brother-in-laws Denny Roux and Jack McLean cracked him a cold beer and had his golf clubs polished and ready to go, our schnauzer Scruffy jumped in his lap ready to go for a run-run on the beach in Hilton Head with him, and Elvis performed a special, full tilt concert for him that began with “Hound Dog”!  The only thing better would be the Big Bopper singing “Chantilly Lace” as an encore…

… and the precious memory that my beloved Daddy-O died happy in my arms.

P.S. Visitation and funeral services for Dad will be held at Heeney-Sundquist Funeral Home in downtown Farmington.  Dates and times are yet to be announced.  http://www.heeney-sundquist.com

(Real time entry)

It’s 11am Saturday morning and Dad has been “sleeping” for 38 hours now.  He fell asleep at 9pm Thursday and we haven’t had an interaction with him since.

…But WHAT a last day we had!  J  Daddy-O just couldn’t stop dancing and giving all of his visitors one last amazing day!  How he was STILL going and able to stand (sometimes for 40 minutes at a time!!) with no food or drink for 4 days… what an amazing spirit he is!

Sparky is by his side.

(Real-time Entry)

I never even got to blog about the birthday trip I had 2 weeks ago!  To give us both a long-needed break, Mom whisked me and her off for my gift, a “Surprise 40th Birthday Trip”– destination unknown!  She told me what to pack but it wasn’t until arriving in Miami that I discovered we were going on a 4-night cruise to Key West and Cozumel!  She also surprised me on my actual birthday with snorkeling/swimming with the stingrays!!  I thought that was a VERY COOL WAY to ring in the new decade!  Her and I look so relaxed and happy in our vacation pictures – it’s been a long time since either of us have been at that level of relaxation and pure enjoyment.

When Mom and I returned home tanned and rested, we drove right from the airport to see Dad at Courtyard Manner… and the Alzheimer’s ride continued FULL FORCE!  Just that morning around 5am… he had smashed out his bedroom window… with his head!  He had cuts and scrapes all over his head and arms and was quite the site.  We even noticed that he’d lost MORE weight just in the short 5 days we had been gone.

Fast forward to last Wednesday (6 days ago)… his head wounds still haven’t healed and totally disappeared.  The hospice nurse referred to this phenomenon as “skin breakdown”.  She said that since he is barely eating or drinking anymore, his body is using all of its available energy to focus on keeping his organs alive.  Apparently, skin reparation is the step his body is now ignoring out of natural necessity.  He also regularly has new scratches on his limbs and back from scratching himself so we are trying to keep his nails short for his own safety.

When I hug him, I usually announce, “I have a hug for you…”, and then while embrace he shrugs his shoulders to hug me back and oftentimes mumbles, “MmmmmmmMmmmmmm…”  🙂  You get head nods for answers sometimes, and sometimes he even pleasantly surprises you with opening his eyes or kissing you on the lips!  A little bit a mumbling/talking a little bit of the time, but not much for speech anymore.

This past Saturday he refused all food and drink for the first time, then Sunday he rallied (see videos below), and Monday (yesterday) he was back to no food or drink.

But how special that Frank Jr. and I have that wonderful Sunday night memory!!  Dad really came out to play!  Way to rally, Daddy-O!

…Today, just 2 days later, Dad is bed-bound, having a hard time swallowing his natural saliva.  He experienced some seizures today while sleeping.  Vallium has now been ordered (he started Morphine Thursday) along with a directive that NOTHING be given by mouth anymore for his own good.  We are bedside full of love…

(Real-time Entry)

Life goes on for the family outside of Dad’s 4-walls, but we always get back to him as soon as humanly possible and we are spending a lot of time there this past week.

In an effort to squeeze in meaningful visits and let him know he’s not alone, my immediate family has begun taking shifts around the clock at Dad’s home. I personally believe that Dad knows how much he is surrounded by love, even if he is sometimes physically alone, but there is no harm in someone being there all the time to speak lovingly to him and hold his hand or scratch his back.

Some loving cousins and uncles have volunteered to take shifts in order to help out, which makes me realize that I should mention to everyone out there that if you’d like to visit Dad, please just let me know.  This would allow one of us to take a break.

Of course, you never know how long this process will take and so we’re just doing what we can – from the bottom of our hearts.  I do truly believe my dad is still steering his own ship and he’ll let US know when it’s time.  🙂

P.S. Another blog entry with more video to come tonight…

I am too emotional and strapped for time to edit this video down to be any shorter than it currently is, let alone even add one dissolve to it.

An intervention of fate?… I dropped my camera and my lens cracked this week – but I videotaped the events as they unfolded nonetheless, cracked lens and all!

I have 2 items of good news to report today!!  And, I must say, it is so nice to finally be able to report anything positive here!

ITEM #1: I visited my Dad on Monday with my wife Amy and our 7-month-old Ashton.  (Our 5-year-old Frankie hasn’t seen my dad, his grandfather, in the past 2 months, as we want him to preserve his positive memories of his grandfather.)  During this visit, my dad was the most alert I have seen him in about a month.  Usually when I go there, he just lies there and doesn’t get up or respond – and, if you can get him to sit, it is only for a minute until he tries to lie down again.  But on Monday, he was “awake”.  He actually opened his eyes some of the time, we went for a couple walks (more like shuffles) in the home, and when we put on some Motown music, he danced.  Now, his dancing is not nearly as energetic or entertaining as it was 2 months ago, but it was dancing none-the-less.  We then put him in a wheelchair and took him for a short walk outside.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t “awake” enough to see Ashton.  We put Ashton in front of him several times and told him his grandson was there, but his eyes never locked onto Ashton.

ITEM #2: Today was the sentencing of the 2 young men who robbed my parents back in December.  [Click these links to WATCH or READ original news coverage of the story]  They had stolen money and jewelry from my parents’ hidden safe while they were employed as in-home healthcare workers to care for my dad.

We were told to be at the courthouse today at 9am, which we were.  We waited there until our attorney showed up – our normal attorney was not available so she sent a replacement.  (I was a little nervous about someone coming on board so late in the game, but he proved to be more than capable.)  Once our case was finally in front of the judge (around 11am), our attorney started off by stating he did not agree with the sentencing guidelines on the court documents.  At one point our attorney had to look up some information in a thick reference book to answer the judge’s question and the judge reprimanded him for not being prepared (my heart sank a little at that time).  However, he convinced the judge that he was right and the judge changed the minimum sentencing quidelines from 0-9 months to 12-24 months (I was then feeling pretty good about him again).

Once they worked out the legal issues, my family was given a chance to speak in the courtroom before the judge made his sentencing decision.  The judge forewarned us that what we said would not effect his decision.  My mom went first – she was very emotional and tearful and told how her life was drastically altered once she could no longer rely on in-home help… how this led to us having to prematurely put my dad into a nursing home… how this led to him becoming angry and violent… which led his hospitalization in a Psychiatric Ward… which ultimately “turned him into a zombie” after all the radical medications they gave him.  She also talked about the betrayal she felt after welcoming these two men into her house–men who claim they love our family, and she spoke of the sentimental value of several pieces of the jewelry, including which pieces had been left in their Will to Todd, Joleen and me.  My mom did an excellent job of presenting the catastrophic emotional distress and disruption this initial event caused in her life and in my dad’s.

Next my Uncle Al Firek, my dad’s baby brother, addressed the court.  He talked about my dad’s loving character and lifetime achievements: serving in the U.S. Air Force, coaching his kids’ sports teams and being their Cub Scout Master, being an entrepreneur who had hundreds of employees over his career, giving back to the community and how he and my mom started The Firek Vision Council to teach inner-city Detroit 2nd and 3rd graders how to read.  He also talked about the disruption and pain that this theft had on the entire family.

Both Al and my Mom clearly stated that they did not want to ruin these 2 young men’s lives and that they hoped they would someday contribute to society.  But they also stated that because this was not their first run-in with the law that we would like them to receive at least 2 years in prison so that they would finally learn a lesson.

I was scheduled to speak next but then passed after hearing how powerful Mom and Uncle Al’s speeches were.  My sister Joleen then spoke on behalf of us children and she also did a great job, adding a very powerful point: that if the 2 defendants had simply approached my parents about their financial difficulties they probably would have “received 100-fold more” than what they were able to get by stealing and pawning off my parents’ jewelery.

Then the defendants had a chance to speak and they both appologized to our family for what they did, stating that they did love our family and they had been in bad spot and made a terrible choice.  They also both expressed an interest in joining the service when they were done with this, if they could still join the service.  This military interest is something they have expressed since the day we met them.

With barely a dry eye left in the courtroom, the judge and the attorneys from both sides left to deliberate.  When they came back, our attorney informed us that both young men would be getting a flat sentence of 2 years prison time with no chance of parole in a prison for 17-25 year olds who have sentences no longer than 3-years and that this prision offered a lot of rehabilitative classes and opportunities for the inmates to better themselves.  He also informed us that this sentence would be “under HYTA“, which means that if they behave themselves and successfully complete their sentence then they will not have a criminal record.

We were extremely happy with this result!!  This means that they get the 2 year punishment we asked for with no chance of parole (with 92 days of credit for time already served), and also that they will not have their lives ruined with a criminal record after that.  So they WILL be able to join the service, get a job, etc.  And hopefully they will have learned their lesson and will make a positive contribution to society in the future.  I am positive that my Dad would be very happy about that!  Even in his current deteriorated mental state, he is STILL helping people and making a difference for them!

One of the defense attorneys also approached us prior to the judge officially announcing the sentence to tell us that the men were getting 2 years.  He also mentioned that he has heard a lot of plaintiffs speak before the judge during his career and that we did one of the best jobs he has ever seen.  He said that our speeches caused the judge to change his mind and go from a 1-year to a 2-year sentence!

Once sentencing was over, my mom approached the mothers of the 2 men.  The mothers told my mom how sorry they were for us, and my mom told them how sorry she was that they were having to go through this with their sons.  It was pretty emotional and pretty cool to see.

We are all VERY pleased with the process and the results.  And now, of course, there is one less thing to worry about!