July 4, 2011 – To Those Who Have Served



Independence Day brings reflection and pride.  I think of my dad who proudly served his county (Airman 1st Class, The U.S. Air Force) and believed that it was simply part of his duty to preserve this privilege and comfort called the USA to which so many of us have become accustomed.  He loved freedom, stepping up, helping a good cause, and giving.  He believed that his military experience helped shape him into a good man, a gentleman, someone who appreciated a good challenge and learned to persevere despite all obstacles.

I fondly remember learning to make the bed as a child, fastidiously trying to create perfect “hospital corners”.  My dad wasn’t militant; he simply passed on his knowledge in a fun, creative way that made you want to learn.  Every fold was a connection to him – who he was in that moment, who he had been before I was born, who he hoped everyone would step up to be.  I yearned to be that person in his eyes.  And he was undoubtedly my hero.

I am so full of pride and thankfulness this weekend for my dad and ALL others who have served.  Their selfless and countless acts of kindness.  Their bravery while walking unknown territory.  Their perseverance to overcome what was thrown at them.  And their goal to be standing alive at the end of the battle.

I can’t help this year but compare the military experience to the Alzheimer’s experience.  They seem to me to have a lot of similarities.  Of course, there are those who have Alzheimer’s and bravely walk to the edge.  But I’m thinking more along the line of Those Who Serve Those With Alzheimer’s.  These people are true heroes in today’s society.  They don’t personally have the disease so they don’t have to take this journey – but yet somehow they choose to accompany someone else on their harrowing journey.  I believe THIS is the compassion and love and dedication that was represented in those “hospital corners”.

I have a few friends who’ve recently lost their beloved parents to Alzheimer’s.  Barry is one of them; he lost his mother ten weeks ago after being her primary caregiver.  Barry is wonderful, kind, funny and giving.  But Barry is struggling right now with some intense emotions, inexplicable thoughts and sporadic behavior.  And he’s apologizing for it.

I told Barry in a recent email:

It’s ALL part of the decompression process.  You may find yourself doing crazy things lately, and that’s just you trying to come to terms with what the *BLEEP* you just witnessed and survived… and now you’re taking stock of the rubble of your life, trying to make some sense out of it all, and needing to pick a direction to start moving in to restart your life.  Trust me, I get it.  You’ll be okay, eventually.

As I was typing these words to him, it struck me for the first time how much Caregivers really are like Veterans of War — and how important our role is to help each other re-assimilate when it’s all over.  I mean, we’ve really witnessed some harrowing things.  Through the process we’ve questioned ourselves and God, and we have had to discover what honor and duty truly mean.  And when the battle is over for each of us and there is nothing left to defend, we find ourselves standing alone in the middle of the field, blinking in disbelief, and wiping the proverbial ash off.

But the truth is, we aren’t standing alone.  We are among millions of other Caregivers who get it.  There are millions of people wanting to hug us, tell us Job well done! and welcome us back. Veterans are always the knowledgeable ones who have lived through the experience and can now help lead the way.

As I shared with my friend Barry:

You are in a complex state of grieving.  Anything goes.  Give yourself permission to be feeling whatever you’re feeling.  You need to decompress.  Just try not to displace anger.  Alzheimer’s SUCKS.  The medical system SUCKS.  We didn’t have enough support.  Curse the system!  …And then let’s use our newly-acquired knowledge to help others and change the world for the better…

Make it a point to hug a soldier, salute a flag, and to ask your fellow neighbor what you can do to help them during their battle with Alzheimer’s.  Let’s unite and become stronger as one – because there is strength in numbers and in believing you will survive.  Let’s change the world one “hospital corner” at a time.


11 Responses to “July 4, 2011 – To Those Who Have Served”

  1. fran firek said

    He was SOOOOOOOO handsome in his uniform – no wonder I fell in love with him! And then he turned out to be a wonderful husband and fantastic father. I have been so lucky. Thank you, God.

  2. Joleen,

    I think the luckiest part for you was that you had a brother like me! 🙂

    I think this entry into your blog may be your best ever. It was very moving and made me stop and think about dad, the military and the gratitude we all owe to this country’s veterans. It also made me think about how thankful I am that you and mom were able to take on and shoulder so much of the burden of dad’s Alzheimer’s. With my work and family demands, and with Todd living out of town for a good portion of the time, you two really stepped up and did a wonderful job with dad! I am proud of you both and I know dad is as well!

    In this blog you seem to have a real focus. It wasn’t about you. You focused on dad, caregivers, service (to this country and to Alzheimer’s patients), making a difference, and recovering / assimilating back into society after it is done. And I know that if this is the kind of message and direction you take with your movie that it (and you) will be very successful!

    I love you.


    • Oh – did I forget to mention YOU in my post?? (LOL)

      Thanks for the input, Frank, and for the warm acknowledgement of how much of the load Mom and I carried. The Alzheimer’s caregiver experience definitely broke me, forced me to glue a new life together, and still continues to change my life every day. The overall experience is so much more than just taking care of the person you love, and I am getting vast satisfaction from reaching a hand out to now help others.

      As per your input, I have tweaked the Comment settings to allow comments to post automatically. I hope that opens up more free-flowing conversations within the site. Thanks, bro! xo ~ Jo the Shmo

  3. Aunt Kathy said

    Hi Hon, .
    This was a fantastic blog and I will share it with many friends. I also think it was your best or at least one of your best. You know Jo, I have always said “God writes straight with crooked lines”. I have a feeling someday you will see all that has happened and know it led you right where you were meant to be. Love you.

  4. Judith C. O'Connor said

    Dear Firek Family………..Jolene you cease to amaze me! What a beautiful spin for the 4th of July, and all so true. You are ‘right on’ with your advice to Barry. He’s so new to this journey & to hear thoughts/advice from a seasoned veteran will have so much more gravity. Our family is now going down this road, trying to deal with a loved one’s terminal diagnosis. Caregiver/Angels-the terms can be used interchangeably. What would we ever do without our faith, family, & friends. Love always, JudyO

    • Judy ~

      Going through the dark experience armed with love, compassion and gratitude are your 3 winning tools!

      In order to maintain balance and stay in the light, it’s so important to reflect with gratitude on the great blessings of your life. Even though happy times may be turning, realize that your family wouldn’t be so upset if they didn’t love and enjoy one another so much. THAT’s a blessing. Hold each other and hold each other up. May you all get through this with lots of love and no regrets.

      My heart is with you!

      ~ Joleen

  5. Tina said

    I have been following your time with and without your dad. And you make me cry most times when I read your blogs or watch your video clips. I lost my mom to cancer last August. She was diagnosed in March 2010 and gone August 2010. I still am sad and depressed. I miss her everyday. Everyone say’s it will get easier with time but do I really want it to do I really want to ever not think about her atleast once a day. I pray for your strength. You are so incredibly strong. I am proud to say I know you even though only here. Losing a parent is hard regardless of the disease. It makes you aware of so many things that need changing in the world like medical and financial help for the ill. Keep up the good work and thank you for this blog. Thank you for listening to me ramble.


    • Tina ~

      That is so interesting because I was JUST thinking about that last night: Will there ever be a day when I won’t think about my dad??

      Like you, I hope that time never comes. But let me state that I think there is a BIG difference between thinking of them fondly and being in pain when you think of them. I am finally at the “thinking of him fondly” stage and I am SO grateful for that! It took time (for me, a calendar year), and it helped that I spent much time and energy looking inward, developing new coping skills, and learning to have faith in the future and in the ebb and flow of life.

      I remember asking my dad sometime after his diagnosis how often he thinks of his own parents (they had been gone 15 years+). He thought for a while and said, “Definitely not every day. Probably not even every week. But when something reminds me of them or strikes me how much they’d enjoy something I’m doing, then they come to mind — and I reflect on them and how much I love them and miss them. And I know and look forward to seeing them again one day–probably soon.”

      I hold this thought in my heart that one day I’ll be with my dad again. It actually makes the thought of dying less scary. I do believe he’s here now in a 6th sense I can’t fully experience, but I absolutely miss being able to use my 5 senses to connect with him and get joy out of his presence. Sometimes my heart aches, sometimes I cry – but then I always laugh and tell him out loud that I love him! And I continue on with my day.

      Good luck, Tina, and please feel free to comment on this site ANY time. It was wonderful connecting with you! I get immense pleasure out of being introduced to who’s following my story.

      ~ Joleen

  6. You have succeeded in lovingly representing your father’s true spirit in life. I love what you have done and appreciate all your efforts in remembering him and letting all of us share the true beauty of his being. I did a story on my husband in the “Stories” page on my website that I would love you to see and comment on. I also invite you to do one for your father on my website, if you would like to do that. He deserves to be remembered. This was a wonderful man. I agree with you, he does look very handsome in his uniform. I think I’m falling in love with that man too. Thanks, Joleen.

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