I think this is the first month-anniversary of Dad passing during which I haven’t cried.  And considering it’s 11:36pm, I think odds are good I’ll make it through the whole day with dry eyes!  😉

Two months ago, I think I would’ve felt guilty about that.  But I don’t feel guilty.  Nor do I feel cold inside. I just feel like I’m adjusting to the new world around me which no longer physically holds my beloved Daddy-O.

This month, I’m definitely experiencing more smiles and warm feelings vs. emptiness and fear.  Dad’s departure song, Barbara Ann by The Beach Boys, has come on at unexpected moments during this past week of the full moon, and every time I hear it I sing and dance and invite him to join in.  All this week, the moon sends me to bed and follows me to work and I find comfort in that.  I feel like Dad is playing a game with me and I love it!  If he can’t move Sparky anymore, leave it to him to take to the sky!  🙂

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The past 4 months my life has been like a toy top… spinning this way and that… leaning here… spinning off way over there…

I’ve been waiting patiently for it to balance off.

It’s been a full month now that I feel more and more like my old self every day, with the bad days appearing less and less.  I’m very grateful to have gotten over the main hump of the grieving process.

However, today is the 4-month anniversary of Dad passing away, and I find myself quite melancholy.  It started last night on the eve of the impending date and is still present at 2:20p.  I mean, I’m fine – as long as I don’t talk about him or think about him for more than 30-seconds at a time.  That’s what I call a bad day.  Although it’s probably not really bad, it’s more just emotional and takes control of my otherwise composed body and mind.  Tears and longing.

Again, just part of the process.

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Today is the 3-month anniversary of my dad passing away.  I knew it before it even arrived, as the full moon winked playfully at me the past 2 nights – just like it beckons me every month at this time.  I believe it’s my dad talking to me, the moon in general.  It’s surprising how often I’ve noticed the bright moon out during the day these past few months.  Especially at poignant times… when I’m already thinking of my dad… feeling his void… I look up… and… there’s the moon!  It feels like my dad is watching me and is still sharing in the moment.

Lake Superior moon

The moon… and sunsets!  FULL-BLOWN red and orange BLAZING-sky sunsets!  They always make me stop and notice and appreciate the beauty of this life.  Sometimes they make me cry.  I vividly remember telling my dad in his last few weeks on earth to just let go, relax, fly away to heaven and become an extraordinary sunset for all to see.  So now every time I see a sunset, I feel like he’s letting me know he’s still around, as extraordinary as always.

Sparky’s still my faithful companion.  I’m very aware of the fact that, without my dad, neither he nor I would exist.  Dad gave us both life and an invisible bond you can only see with magic.  Dad always was an amazing magician capable of producing remarkable things!

Sparky’s been my co-pilot on many a traveling adventure these past few months: in 10 weeks I’ve been to Nevada, Texas, Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma, and camping deep in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  And only ONE of those trips was actually planned ahead of time!  Oh, and I spontaneously bought a new sports coupe!!  I’m not sure if this travel bug and restlessness is a result of suddenly being an unburdened caregiver who’s enjoying newfound freedom or if I’ve been running and changing scenery so rapidly in order to help me deal with my loss and fill the void.  Either way, I’ve had many adventures along the way, one thrill after another in between the tears, and it’s reminded me that there is still such much for me to do and see in this life!  I’m living in the moment and know it’s something Daddy-O helped teach me.

After recently returning home from my last trip, I feel a little more grounded and am thinking I may stick around for a little while this time.  My spirits are typically high, my productivity is slowly returning, and my zest for life is strong.  I just have to get my focus back.  Absent-mindedness is a common symptom during the grieving process – and I’ve been flakey beyond belief!  These past few months, I double- and triple-book events, I forget entire conversations, one evening upon announcing I was leaving my best friend’s house, I was incredulously reminded that the whole purpose for our gathering was the dinner we hadn’t yet eaten!  Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself, give yourself permission to be where you are, and believe that your friends and family love you and get it.

I have been busy trying to change gears with Frankly Speaking: Alzheimer’s in order to develop the business more intensely now that I’m not caregiving and needing to tape my entire life.  I’m taking a business class, finishing up a six-month screenplay writing class, dubbing and transcribing all of my footage (over 200 hours!)… all in an effort to help get my movie to the big screen as soon as possible and help other caregivers around the world desperately in need of support and guidance.

Here are my thoughts while on my way home from business class tonight:

I am proud of all that we accomplished at the Alzheimer’s Association Race For Your Memories event.  We had the support of a LOT of friends and family, as always.  I know that the teamwork is something that my Daddy-O would REALLY be proud of!  🙂

Here is my brother, Frank Jr.’s, email recapping the event:

Greetings all!

Well the Alzheimer’s Association’s “Race for Your Memories” was Sunday and, if my Dad was still around, he would be calling me a “cake”!  “Cake” is a term of endearment in our family that translates into “you’re a wimp”.  One of the unstated rules in our family of doing a run is that you actually “run” the whole race.  Well, I was not able to do that Sunday.  (Here come all the excusesJ)  It was hot, the course was hilly and I trained on flat ground, and I started off too fast by running 9 minute miles for the first 2 miles.  I had made it about 4.5 miles when we encountered a big uphill climb.  My legs already felt like tree stumps as I started the hill.  And by the time I was half way up my legs had nothing left, my head was throbbing and I felt like I might pass out.  So as much as I did not want to do it, I ended up walking for a short distance to get up the hill and regain some energy.  I then ran for about another mile when we came to the biggest, steepest hill on the course (who in their right mind would put this at the 5.5 mile mark of a 6.2 mile race?).  I told the person I was running with I couldn’t do it and he said “bull sh*t, you’re going to do it”.  So I kept going and I did make it up the hill.  However, I then needed another walk to regain myself before we ran the last quarter mile to the finish line.

I had a number of goals for the race:

  1. To complete the race – Some might say I completed it, but in my mind I did not as walking didn’t count between my Dad and me.
  2. To finish in under an hour, or 9:41 per mile – I actually finished in 1:02:36, or 10:06 per mile.
  3. Team Firek finish as #1 in donations received – We finished as the #1 team with $2,375 in donations.  The #2 team had $1,483.
  4. My mom and I finish #1 and #2 in donations raised per individual – At the time of the race start my mom was #1 and I was #3.
  5. To have 30 members on Team Firek – We ended up with at least 33.  Some people registered the morning of the event and I may have missed one or two here.

Thank you all for your support of the Alzheimer’s Association and of Team Firek!

NOTE:  I know my Dad would be proud of what we did here.  But I still owe him a complete 10K and I will be doing that in the next month or so.  I just need to find another 10K run in the area and keep up my training.  And I WILL run the entire race and break 1 hour this time!

FYI:  Origins of the word “Cake”.  The exact details are a little fuzzy, but it goes something like this.  My dad was out for a run once when I was a kid and as he was running a large dog came barking and running towards him from the porch of a house.  My dad picked up a rock in case he needed it if the dog attacked.  But the owner called off the dog before he got to my dad and then started yelling at my dad for picking up the rock and he called my dad a cake.  My dad said “You think I’m a cake.  Let’s see you run 3 miles and then we’ll see who’s a cake!”  And after that, “cake” became part of our family vocabulary.

Frank Firek, Jr.

I’ve plunged back into the working world as of 3 days ago and find myself moving along at a fairly decent clip, all considered.

Prior to that, I was like a wounded animal limping through the haze.  Those first few weeks after losing Daddy-O were foggy, painful and just plain surreal.  It’s weird when your world instantly loses one of its constant beacons; you lose your way and have to numbly find your way back to reality – albeit a new, revised reality.  And then you have to get used to that new place.

Nine days after the funeral, during this hazy process, my roommate and I escaped to Vegas for a quick getaway.  Quite frankly, looking forward to that trip actually helped me get through the funeral proceedings in the first place.  Then, once in Vegas, I distinctly felt myself disconnect from the regular drama of my life, and I was thankful for the tangible, much welcomed and much deserved break.  I figured I would get back to mourning a few days later once I touched back down in Detroit.

Surprisingly, though, back in Detroit, I discovered that I had healed a lot between Vegas and home.  Maybe it was the onslaught of neon lights and casino noise or the cool drinks and cloudless skies or simply the fact that I was nowhere near home and so no one knew I was mourning.  Whatever it was, I was able to act normal and literally be carefree for the first time in years!  It was an amazing sensation.

When I returned home to Detroit I found myself shocked – and then saddened – when I realized I had actually somehow recovered beyond my expectations in that one short weekend.  I suppose that after 3 years of pre-mourning the loss of my dad, I was somehow, somewhere deep inside, more prepared to move on than I thought.

That’s not to say that I don’t miss him LIKE CRAZY and sometimes still cry when I think about him!  The difference I’m speaking of is that I can talk about him sometimes without crying – which, I believe, is quite an amazing feet.

When I consider that my family and I could have been dealing with my father having this horrible disease for another DECADE – like millions of families do! – it absolutely blows my mind.  I have NO idea how people survive years and decades of this heart-wrenching disease.  I suppose that’s exactly why 40-percent of Alzheimer’s caregivers die before their failing loved ones.  I mean, seriously, WHO can take all that??

What I have now is scattered feelings: I feel blessed to have been Frank’s daughter, I feel sad because I miss him, and I feel lucky to have been released from this madness.

I find myself listening to oldies music at every possible opportunity – in the shower, in the car, while working.  The music feels like my last tangible connection to him.  Like, if I just smile big enough… and sing loud enough… and think happy thoughts enough, maybe Daddy-O will shine down on me, smile, and dance back…

(NOTE: Frankly Speaking: Alzheimer’s subscribers didn’t receive an email alert upon my last blog entry a few days ago for some reason.  If interested in reading that entry, scroll down one entry on my website to read my dad’s amazing eulogy as delivered by my cousin, Karrie [McLean] Martin.)

(NOTE from Joleen: Today, on the 2-week anniversary of my dad’s funeral and the 3-week anniversary of his death, it seems fitting to remind us all what Frank Firek meant to us and some of the great lessons he taught along the way.  Take it away, Karrie…)

As you all know, Uncle Frank was magic… so I must be honest and tell you that late last night, I found myself saying a little prayer… asking him for just one more magic trick… because it will be nothing short of magic if I can describe to you this amazing man in seven minutes or less without crying to the point of speechlessness… so please, F.A., just one more trick!

My uncle, My Godfather, my father’s best friend: Frank Firek, my F.A., was all of these… to Aunt Fran, he was Prince Charming.  To Frank Jr., Todd and Joleen, he was Dad.  To Frankie and Ashton, he was Grandpa.  To many, he was boss, to others he was Coach, or Mentor.  To some, he was “Mr. Magic.”  To countless people, he was friend.  And to all of us, he was a teacher.

During the days of our long goodbye, I pondered what I would miss most.  Would it be his smile?  His laugh?  The excitement in his voice when he greeted me with a resounding, “FA – I said it first!”  (FA, short for Fat Albert, being a nick name that we had shared for as long as I can remember.)  I found myself questioning why he had been such an important part of my life, and suddenly the answer was clear.  What I will miss most about my FA, will be the lessons that he was forever teaching me.  Because honestly, I didn’t learn everything I needed to know in kindergarten.  Everything I ever needed to know about being a good human being, I learned from my Uncle Frank.

From FA I learned that heroes do exist, that fairy tales sometimes come true, and that the Beatles weren’t lying when they said “all you need is love.”  Uncle Frank taught me that persistence pays off, that a promise is something worth keeping, and that magic IS present in every fleeting moment of this rare and precious life we’ve been given.  By watching him interact with others, I learned that kindness is the key to happiness, that diversity is the spice of life, and that living a life which abounds with childlike wonder will bring joy to everyone you meet.  But perhaps the most important lesson he taught all of us is that there is no greater power on this Earth than love.

Aunt Fran and Uncle Frank proved to the world that soul mates do exist and that love is ALL you need.  From a small house in Redford with carpet samples covering the floor… to a life of worldwide travel and a penthouse on the Hilton Head beach… their epic love was the driving force and the crazy glue that made this fairy tale possible.  Regardless of the challenges that life laid before them, their fortress of love was unwavering.  I grew up watching them love each other.  Watching them play backgammon together at the kitchen table and dance across the kitchen floor, watching them hold hands at every possible chance, watching Uncle Frank massaging her feet while they watched TV… and knowing that when I grew up, I wanted a love like theirs.

I also spent a fair bit of time as a child wishing that they were my parents instead of my Godparents.  I didn’t realize it then, but now I know that Uncle Frank was busy teaching me how to someday be a parent.  It was obvious that Uncle Frank was the coolest Dad in the world ~ Frank, Todd and Joleen had mopeds, parties, a pinball machine, a pool table, and a secret closet to talk on the phone in that was FILLED with sugar cereal and sweet treats!  But there was more to their dad than that…  He was the original “Hands-on-Dad!”  He was their Cub Scout leader, their coach, their cheerleader, and their mentor.  When most dads would say, “Go outside and play!”  Uncle Frank would say, “Let’s go outside to play together!”  Whether it was a game of tag that involved the whole neighborhood scaling fences, shimmying down poles and jumping off decks, or a squirt gun fight that spanned an entire condo complex soaking innocent bystanders, Uncle Frank was always the one leading the fun!  When other dads said, “Go to bed!”  Uncle Frank would say, “Stay out here until I call you” and would then proceed to set up elaborate “haunted hallway” and would scare the kids silly as they ran down the hall toward their beds.  And while other dads would be angry when their children made small mistakes, like running over the hard top to a prized ’59 Corvette, or knocking the mirror off a brand new moped… Uncle Frank would put on his angriest face, for a moment or two, before his endless smile would melt the angry face away and he would crack a joke instead of doling out a punishment.  That is not to say that he didn’t know how to strike fear in small children… because he did!  He had a mask collection to rival a Halloween store and I never knew when he was going to come around a corner wearing one of them!
Uncle Frank taught me to face my fears head on when I was still small.  Looking back, I don’t think it was a coincidence that he always needed ME to get him something from the basement.  I would stand at the top of those stairs, toes curling over the edge, trying to gather my courage for the decent into The Viking Lounge.  I’d count to three, sprint down the stairs with my little fingers bumping against the wallpaper, turn the corner, run like hell, grab the desired object, and get back to the stairs as fast as my seven-year-old legs could carry me!  I never fully outgrew the distinct feeling that one of those hairy Vikings was going to step off that wall and gobble me up whole!  As an adult, he taught me how a hero faces fear… because on a spring day, three years ago, it was FA who stood on that scary precipice, facing a most terrifying diagnosis and, in true Frank Firek style, he was determined to run, to dance, to love, to laugh, and to teach his way through it.

Determination and persistence were ever present qualities in FA’s life… You don’t successfully start a business from scratch, knowing NOTHING about the said business, without a fair amount of determination!  You don’t finish your second marathon, 20 years after your first and three minutes faster, without persistence.  And you certainly don’t decide to conquer the problems of the Detroit public school system single handedly through a one-on-one reading program without an amazing amount of both!  And so, upon his diagnosis, he set out to write the book that he had long talked about writing and through his determination and persistence, he kept his word, and made yet another dream come true.

Uncle Frank always kept his word… even to my mother’s chagrin.  When my sister, Katie, and I were young, he promised us that EVERY time he came to our house he would play with us… and so, on nights when Aunt Fran and Uncle Frank would end up back at our house, regardless of the time, he would come running into our bedroom, throw on the lights and tickle us until we were sufficiently wide awake and laughing hysterically.  He also once promised to buy me a bird for my birthday…  All I am going to say is that it took a year for the story to unfold, and by the end of it, two important lessons had been learned: 1.) Uncle Frank always keeps his promises; and 2.) The Master of Pranks will not be out done… even if it means renting an elephant!  There was certainly something magical about seeing that elephant saunter down Northville’s Main St.

Everything about Uncle Frank was magical ~ he didn’t just do magic tricks, he WAS magic!  It was as if those graceful fingers were the most powerful magic wands in the world.  He delighted friends, family and strangers with his magic shows.  He knew how to transform mundane moments into magical memories.  He taught me that there is magic in traditions; be it a pen set won in Vegas, a Christmas Eve story recited by heart, or a small red and white bear with a desire to go places!  If you knew Frank Firek, you knew that magic does, in fact, exist.  And so, I can’t say that I was surprised by his final disappearing act.  It seems only fitting that the magician would wait until the stage was perfectly set, and the music, which coursed through his veins, was just right.  With his final dance danced and his final beer drank, he had just one more lesson to remind us of before he rocked and rolled up to heaven.  In his daughter’s arms, he reminded us one last time, that LOVE is all you need.

Many years ago, Uncle Frank was asked to speak at a funeral, and during his speech he said that memory is the ability to smell a rose in December.  Thank you, FA, for all of the memories… for I shall have a bouquet of roses to enjoy when December roll around.