(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.

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.

(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!

It has been nearly 2 weeks since Dad was discharged from Botsford Geri-Psych and was relocated to a new home specializing in Assisted Living for Dementia, Courtyard Manor of Farmington Hills.  This place has proved to be special and every single person working inside its 4 walls appears to be very loving, genuine, patient and kind.  It does my heart and conscience well to be able to trust in them and their facility and the approach philosophy they have for Dad.  During Dad’s violent outbursts, the staff reacts with loving words, kind suggestions and  one-on-one friendship.  I really see a place like this working well, where the dignity of the patient is ALWAYS first and foremost.

The confidence I have in the home has allowed me to relax and step back, knowing that Dad’s in extremely capable hands.  This transition has given me permission and space to focus again on myself and not to worry if I don’t get to see Dad every other day.  Every 4 days or so seems to work out just as fine for both him and me from what I can tell so far.  And he’d be happy to know that this break has allowed me to get my work life kickstarted once again.  I already feel so much more complete and just overall SO much better!!

This is also the perfect time for Mom and I to transition into a VERY WELL-DESERVED vacation getaway to somewhere warm!!!  In just 3 short days I will be turning 40 years old, and my mommie and I will be off flitting around on a beach or a boat somewhere tropical (she planned the trip as a surprise destination for me!), just the two of us, cut off from the drama of back home, getting to know ourselves again and truly being able to unwind.  Ahhhhhhh… We SO deserve this trip!

The attached video is from one week ago.  It contains footage from 2 of my visits to see Dad over the same weekend.  You will be blown away by how he can be nearly comatose at one moment and then dancing the next!  You truly NEVER know what you’re going to get when you open that door.  And when there’s a special day waiting there for you, on those rare days when you get to look into Dad’s beautiful blue eyes, especially on the days when those eyes have sparkle and life in them! – THOSE are the moments we’re cherishing now.  Each little joke, each dance step, each connection is worth a million dollars in gold…  


My Dad was finally transferred out of Botsford and into his new dwelling at:

Courtyard Manor of Farmington Hills
29750 Farmington Road
Building 1, Room 12
Farmington Hills, MI 48334

(248) 539-0104

He was in the Botsford Hospital Geri-Psych ward for 5 LONG weeks.  It is such a relief to get him out of there!  When he was admitted, he had social skills and interest, you could still usually find a sparkle in his eye, and he had enough energy to want to dance and sing all the time.  Unfortunately, that is not the way he is coming out.

He was supposed to be picked up by ambulance today at 10am and brought to Courtyard Manor.  I was there waiting with my Mom, and around 11am we called the hospital to check on his status.  He had not left yet, so I headed into work.  About 1/2 way to the office my mom called to tell me he was on his way (it figures!).  When I got there, he had already arrived.  (Watch video: AMBULANCE)

When I went inside, he was already in his room.  The on-staff nurse was checking him in when I got into the room.  He was slumped forward and pretty unresponsive.  We tried to engage him in conversations, but mostly, all we could get were some mumbles from him. (Watch video: DAD IN NEW ROOM)

My mom then started to unpack his things, and I stayed with him to massage his shoulders and talk to him.  He has lost soooooo much weight.  I could feel every bone in his shoulders and back.  I told him we needed to start getting some weight back on him and get him back into marathon shape and all he could whisper was “OK”.  He was still pretty unresponsive and sat with his head slumped forward.  I have to be honest, I had a hard time believing that this was really my dad.  I didn’t see any of him in there today and I am very sad.  No one should have to go through this.

My mom told me about a conversation she had with the ambulance drivers before I arrived:

The ambulance drivers told me that everyone at Botsford was hugging him and saying goodbye to him.  The staff told the drivers what a wonderful man Frank is.  They don’t know the half of it.

We got Dad up out of the chair to move when his hospital bed arrived.  My mom took one arm and I took the other, and all he could manage were 1-2″ baby steps.  He was very hunched over, i.e. his spine was almost parallel to the floor.  We asked him to stand up as tall as he could and he only got about 3/4 of the way there, but his head still hung forward.  Once the bed was in, we sat him down again.

My mom sat with him for a while and tried to comfort him.  If you look, you can see in this video that this is very emotional for her as well.  I just hope she continues to have the strength to get through this.  She doesn’t like to ask for help and she usually turns me down when I offer.  So I think we all should probably just insist that she let us take her out and help her get her mind on some other things.  (Watch video: MOM AND DAD)

I left a little before lunch and my Mom stayed with him.  She told me he had a good lunch, used the bathroom, and then went to bed.  It had already been a long, tiring day for him.  On my way back to the office I realized I was hungry so I stopped at Greene’s Hamburgers in Farmington.  Greene’s was a hangout of my Mom & Dad’s when they were in school and dating.  They also had their Surprise 45th Wedding Anniversary Party there just this last August.  Man, it is so hard to believe how much worse my Dad has gotten in just 7 months since that party!!  It takes my breath away just to think of it like that.

My mom said the nurse at the Nursing Home said they may try to reduce some of Dad’s meds to see how he reacts.  I am very interested to see the results of this.  What I would actually like to see is what he would be like if we took him off of all his meds for a week.  I can’t help but wonder how much of his current degradation is drug induced, and not a result of his Alzheimer’s.  But I guess I may never really know the answer to that one.