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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:

(Real-time Entry)

The experience at the psychiatric ward has gotten worse before getting better.

Following a positive and energized week for me last week, I then visited Dad over this past weekend and was throttled by what I saw.  The hospital had him so drugged (in their ongoing effort to subdue his violent outbursts and reduce his hallucinations) that all he could do was mumble unintelligently while strapped into a wheelchair bent over at the waist unable to hold himself up and drooling. My God, how could there be such a horrific change in just 5 days??  I began struggling with what they’re doing to him, I became very angry at the medical and legal systems for thinking this was the best way to treat a sick person, and I began that oh familiar spiral downward…

Saturday’s visit was the worst one so far, partially because I was so unprepared for what I was going to find. Sunday Dad was still unable to use most muscles in his body but he was no longer drooling and was able to utter partial phrases, which I tried to understand by putting my ear to his lips.  At one point, he said I should call my cousin Debbie.  I said, Sure, Dad, I’ll call Debbie.  And why don’t I call cousin Karrie as well?  She sent you a big hug today and I could tell her you sent her a hug back! He said, Just… call all the girls… and tell them. I asked, What do you want me to tell all the girl cousins? He said, Uncle Frank… is dying. Tears welled up in my eyes and my Mom’s.  We were grateful his eyes were closed so he couldn’t see us.  I said softly to Dad, Is that what you think is going on here, Dad? That you’re dying?? He said, Pretty much… that’s what I see… going on. And he fell asleep and we silently cried.

I experienced a couple horrible days following those visits with a lot of tears and an unmotivated heavy heart.  I only started perking back up after Mom reported last night, Wednesday, that when she walked in for her visit, she found Dad walking around with the help of a nurse and he had been talking about the love of his life, Fran, and then he said, And there she is! The doctor had just changed Dad’s antipsychotic medication from Zyprexa to Risperdal (I believe with the other 5 meds remaining the same) and the results seemed nearly instantaneous and unbelievable! (NOTE: It is believed that by altering communication among nerves in the brain and by altering communication through neurotransmitters, this class of atypical antipsychotic drugs can alter irritability, resistant depression and the psychotic state.)

I have to admit, I woke up this morning a LOT easier and faster!  It does seem that when Dad’s having a good day, I have a good day; and when he’s not, it’s very bad news for me.  Interestingly, I am undoubtedly the only family member who is this affected by it all.  I’m also the most emotional person in my immediate family, besides my father.  And I do spend a lot of time and energy mulling over everything so that I can report back on it for my movie and website.

Does this sensation of me being so empathetic to his situation simply make me a dedicated and loving daughter and a good storyteller as a result of our close relationship? Or is it a detrimental effect that is harming me and my health and my life? My God, do I unconsciously believe that I need to suffer along with him?? I need to figure this one out so that I can support him without being dragged down by the awful set of circumstances that is undoubtedly going to continue to be in our lives.  As they say, I need to get a grip.

P.S. Today the 2 in-home care workers who stole from us went before a judge at The Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit (home of the Wayne County Circuit Court) and pleaded GUILTY to ALL counts!!!  Their trial and sentencing is set for March 19, 2010.  That news, on top of Dad’s turn around, was the perfect platform for my mother to board a plane today for Florida for some much needed rest, relaxation and decompression.  I hope she finds what she needs.

P.P.S. I wrote this blog this morning.  Below is video following my afternoon visit today with Dad.

(Real-time entry)

Anti-depressants: Day 30.  OMG, the results are A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.  I feel like my old self again!!!  I can’t tell you what a RELIEF that is and how great it feels.  I have been so weighted down for so long that I was really starting to wonder if I was still the same person inside.  I’ve actually been concerned that maybe the sparkly, fun, energetic “me” had left for good.  And, man, I really liked that girl.

However, in the past 3 days I’m suddenly getting out of bed faster, my energy is higher, I once again feel empowered to attack projects, and I desire social interaction.  Basically, I feel re-inspired to get my life under control and I am oh so excited to re-meet myself!!

So here I am at home having revolutionary, life changing results from one lone prescription, this little magical pill…

…And there my dad is in a psychiatric ward with a current combination of SIX drugs coursing through his veins: Depakote for seizures… Lexapro for depession/anxiety… Xanax for anxiety/panic… Desyrel for panic attacks… Zyprexa for psychotic conditions… with a side dose of Ativan for anxiety/depression (as needed by injection – along with a padded cell!)!!!

Seriously?? And somehow the medical and legal communities think that THAT is MORE humane than allowing a patient with a death sentence the legal and morale right to choose their own exit strategy, which may include just ONE pill?  I don’t get this part.  I really don’t.  I don’t get why we think it’s humane to put down our pets when they’re failing and in pain, but yet we don’t allow our fellow humankind that same decency.  Shouldn’t that be everyone’s personal right to choose for themselves?  Wouldn’t it be much more peaceful if a proven-to-be-dying person was to take their last breath in comfort surrounded by their loved ones in a controlled setting?

My dad clearly expressed wanting out before the end.  I believe what stopped him is that he didn’t want to die alone.  A highly social person who thrives on camaraderie and love, I don’t believe he wanted to exit alone after such a beautiful lifetime of family and friends around him.  …And so he stayed longer… which means he eventually lost perspective of time and perspective of his limited window of opportunity for that exit plan… and here we are.  He’s lashing out, harming himself and others.  He’s in pain.  He’s suffering.  He still regularly refers to one-liners about wanting to be dead, wishing he had a gun, wanting it to be over.  But it’s now too late for him to do anything about it, and I think he’s mad.  Mad at the world for not helping him end his misery… and mad at himself for ending up exactly where he never wanted to be, helpless, alone and afraid with no end in sight.

Honestly, as a race, what are we doing to ourselves?

Forgive me if I sound a bit automated with this written recap.  The accompanying video clip will tell you the additional information you need to know.

Unbelievably, it was nearly a week ago that my father was transported by ambulance from Sunrise Assisted Living to Botsford Hospital’s Geriatric Psychiatric Ward for Involuntary Admittance by the State after repeated bouts of aggression and physical violence at the nursing home.  Apparently, this is a new stage he’s at in which you never know when the aggression is going to rear its ugly head.  Our family and friends have never personally witnessed one of these full-blown outbursts.

Dad was initially transported to Botsford last Tuesday afternoon and he wasn’t allowed visitors until Thursday evening when Mom and Frank Jr. went.  Mom then went back on Friday, only to be told that Dad was tranquilized and in isolation and that it had taken 3 security guards to hold him down for the tranquilizer shot.  The next day, I visited Dad at the Psychiatric Ward for my first time and I left with a heavy heart.

The few positive things I can tell you about this experience is that, first and foremost, the point of the hospital admittance is so that Dad can be strictly observed while his meds are tweaked until we discover the magical combination of drugs to return him to a calmer, happier, more peaceful state of mind.  Also, when we visit and explain to him why he is there, he agrees he should be there, he shows a heroic willingness to want to “get better”, and he can’t stand the thought that he might harm anyone (isn’t that SO much more like him?).  Lastly, I had a loving, heartfelt visit with Dad on Sunday – Valentine’s Day.  I will never forget that visit with him.  It melted my heart with love and helped make up for the sadder visit the day before.

However, it is touch and go and today Dad was in isolation again when visiting hours began. Mom and Frank Jr. were there and were allowed to help Dad out of the isolation room, but I am told that it required a wheelchair and that it took nearly half an hour until he was conscious or aware enough to look them in the eye or  respond to them in any way.  Before leaving, Mom gave Dad his first shave in a week while Frank Jr. held him up in a chair.  Mom says she is getting used to all the drama that seems to endlessly come our way… but I somehow just can’t believe it.  Sometimes I can’t believe any of this.

(Real time entry)

Okay, I have a pound of material to post but have been putting it off for weeks trying to take a break from the topic of Alzheimer’s to focus on me and my needs. However, after being sick yet AGAIN this week (for the 3rd time this month), I figure I’ll just jump online real fast to update everyone on a bunch of stuff all at once so I can get it off my chest and then everyone will be in the know.

COURT. The case of the “alleged” thieves has been transferred from Plymouth to Wayne County. The boys are still in jail awaiting a Feb 17th date with the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice to hear what the consequences will be if they choose to plead guilty. At least they’re still in jail and have had a very long month.

DAD. I’ve been visiting Dad 1-2 times a week – a combination of trying to step back a bit and simultaneously being sick. From what I can see, I would say that he has good hours and bad hours, no longer consistently good and bad DAYS. I’m not sure there is any method to the madness over there.

After yet another aggressive outburst today from my dad toward another resident (he was calling a woman derogatory names and trying to push her off a couch), the Sunrise Assisted Living psychiatrist made the professional call to send Dad to Botsford Hospital’s Geriatric Psychiatric Ward for 5-7 days of strict observation, monitoring and prescription tweaking. A bed wasn’t scheduled to be open at Botsford until tomorrow, but after yet another outburst this afternoon, the police were summoned to Sunrise. After Dad responded disrespectfully to them, an ambulance transported Dad earlier than planned to Botsford for what is called Involuntary Admittance by the State. Last I heard, he was going to be kept in the ER until a bed opened in the ward.

I can’t even IMAGINE what he is going through. When he was in the hospital for seizures 1.5 years ago he was overwhelmed, scared and utterly confused. My poor, poor Dad…

Of course, Mom and I were horrified to hear this news today and then distraught when we were informed that Dad will only be able to have very limited visitors for ONE hour a day. God help him. He is going to be all alone on this journey.

The upside to all of this is that apparently this course of action happens to approximately 30% of Sunrise’s Alzheimer’s patients (based on the 3rd party information I received today) and there can be amazingly positive results that emerge from the ultimate experience. Hopefully, Dad will emerge transformed, calm and peaceful. This is at least what we pray for him everyday. It seems to be the only thing we can really do.

(Real-time entry)

I am still under the weather but I am slowly healing, both emotionally and physically.  My medications (from my ER visit 9 days ago) have been downgraded, and now I am working on getting my voice back after a serious head cold struck next. 

So even though I’m not yet totally “back”, I wanted to post an entry today with the latest news:  The in-home care workers who “allegedly” robbed us had their arraignment today… and we are goin’ to trial!  🙂

The defendants were each held over with $100,000 bond and spent their day being led in handcuffs from jail to jail!  I hope they had a VERY LONG DAY.  As of writing this, I have not received word of them posting bond.  I hope that their families choose to or are forced to leave them in jail for the next 2 weeks leading up to their February 1st preliminary hearing.  I think a couple of weeks in lock-up would do them some good.  Let them REALLY THINK about what they did to one of the nicest, most loving households in America! 

As I walked into the courthouse this morning, I was calm and all business.  Waiting together in the courtroom hallway with my mom and Uncle Al, we were physically close to AJ and Matt (the two suspects) for about an hour.  I know my mother found pleasure in finally being able to “look them in the eyes”.  I kept to myself.  When our case was called, my family took the front row and I reached in my purse for my good luck charm.  I pulled out my little red teddy bear, Sparky, and Mom and I held hands during the case with Sparky amidst our fingers.  While we all waited for the judge to review their file, the courtroom became very quiet.  In the silence I closed my eyes and said a prayer.  I said, God, if there is yet ANOTHER lesson for me to learn here with this one, then let it be.  But I truly think that the lesson this time is for THEM.  You decide and let the lesson unfold as it should.  With that, I opened my eyes, the case unfolded, and they were held over for trial with a nice sized bond!  Walking out of the courthouse, a small piece of justice seemed to glitter through the gray morning skies.

Part of me is excited that we’re going to trial!  And, without a doubt, part of me is relieved that this was not yet another lesson for ME after the long three-year pile of lessons I’ve waded through.  I’m tired, I’ve changed for the better, I’m clear, I get it.  Let’s move on.  Let’s let ME move on.  It’s time.

With my dad proverbially locked up and now these boys in jail, it leaves me out here FREE and feeling that there is SO MUCH ahead for me to accomplish!  Making my movie, making a difference in people’s lives, making a difference in the world, meeting new friends, reconnecting with old ones, falling in love, discovering new beginnings and – oh, yes – that sensation of adventure and true happiness blended together as one!  Ahhhhh… I can’t wait to have THAT weightless feeling again.

NOTE: Because WDIV-Channel 4-Detroit covered our robbery story exclusively on December 17, 2009, they posted an article update today on their site.  However, because the WDIV website is constantly updated, this story may move again which will make this link invalid:

http://www.clickondetroit.com/news/21998097/detail.html

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It’s been two weeks since I have stepped foot in my own house as I have been staying at my mom’s since January 31st (when it was still my mom and dad’s).  What a long, emotional two weeks it has been.  But I finally packed up my things and returned home two days ago on Sunday night to try to get back to my “normal” life.  I had plans the next day to forego a visit with my dad for the first time since he’s been at the nursing home.  I thought these were things I needed to do.  But the transition wasn’t as flawless as I had anticipated.

Home less than an hour, I went to bed early not feeling so great.  My stomach was upset and I just felt crummy in general.  Throughout the night things got progressively worse and I started to think that perhaps I had food poisoning coming on.  I would get hot, then cold, and I was sweating but had no fever.  I became intensely dizzy and, in my coma state of sleep with an over-the-counter sleep aide, I’m not sure if I kept falling back asleep or if I kept passing out.  At one point upon waking up, my hands and arms were tingling and I actually took the time to write my symptoms on a notepad in the dark on my night stand in case someone found me there unconscious.  I considered calling an ambulance, but I was too much in an unfit state of mind to make a rational decision.  I thought I had awoken my roommate and asked her to drive me to the hospital (she had refused, telling me it wasn’t that serious if I didn’t have a fever), but I now realize that I either dreamt or hallucinated that event.  I woke up after noon the next day and, at that point, I could assess with a clearer head that something was still wrong. My vision was wobbly and when it intensified I would get severely dizzy and begin sweating.  I had just decided to somehow get myself to the hospital when my mother called me from out of the blue and then came to my rescue.

She and I spent four hours in the emergency room waiting for a verdict.  After an EKG, blood work and a physical exam, it was determined that I am having a stress-induced anxiety attack with vertigo-like symptoms.  The news made me cry with relief – and then with distress as I realized how everything has gotten the best of me despite my best efforts.  The most ironic part is that they put me on the same anti-anxiety pill that my father is now on at the nursing home to calm his nerves and emotions!  Wow, and I thought I was doing so well! 

It’s funny.  I thought I was dealing with this as best as possible: I’ve been analyzing my emotions instead of locking them away; seeking therapeutic measures to understand the process I am going through as I’m going through it; and documenting my experience as a promise to both myself and my dad in order to help others going through a similar experience.  That last part has even helped give purpose to the tragic events, making me feel like some good can come out of this all.

However, I guess the danger is that much of what I do in my spare time and for work (which lately has been mostly my blog/website and documentary movie in-the-making) is all based on Alzheimer’s – which doesn’t allow me much of a break from the topic of my personal life.  And because I’ve decided to make this personal experience open to the public, I haven’t saved many undisturbed places for myself to go when I need respite.  Between editing my dad’s autobiography for half a year recently, shooting my experiential movie for nearly three years, plus living through this emotional rollercoaster daily, I guess I’m just on overload.  When your eyesight gets wobbly, you start seeing the world through a wormhole and you’re have trouble breathing, I guess it’s time to assess your life.

I think my job now is to focus on some non-Alzheimer’s topics and figure out how to continue on with my life – which of course entails figuring out what “the rest of my life” truly means to me.  That’s a wide open sea, which the rational side of me knows means lots of opportunities, but the emotional side of me sighs and wonders where I’m going to go from here.  An income-producing job and dating probably land somewhere on that list, but there are still a lot of unknowns as I am forced to redefine my life and figure out what paths to take from here.  And there is such an emotional fine line for me to figure out regarding how often to visit my dad and how much to let go. 

Like I’ve said before, you never know how you’re going to react to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in your life.  It affects everyone differently in different ways and at a different pace.  This is apparently my current route to travel in order to get to the other side.

NOTE: In order to allow myself the necessary space to recoup so that I can come back clear-headed and healthy, I am inviting GUEST BLOGGERS to participate on this website for the next week.  If you’d like to share your thoughts, experiences, visits with Dad, or any other wisdom on this topic, please feel free to post something.  As I have to officially assign Guest Bloggers, I have only given access to a few people at this point.  If you’re interested, let me know or else simply type your thoughts using COMMENT under someone’s blog entry and it’ll show up on the site as a conversation thread.  Thanks for reading, caring and for participating!  ~Joleen

(Real-time Entry)

As if on a mission, I drove back to the nursing home and explained to Dad (like I had promised myself) that he isn’t crazy, he’s right, he isn’t at home, that it’s understandable he’s confused, that he’s safe, and that he isn’t alone.  This conversation took place just before his bedtime and so he wasn’t able to comprehend it all, probably somewhat based on the Alzheimer’s itself and somewhat based on the fact that nighttime is when his brain power is the lowest. 

My brother Todd was with me and together we lovingly explained to him, Just like you’ve had LOTS of homes in your lifetime (we listed 8-10 childhood homes, Air Force bases and marital homes), now this is your NEW home! (delivered with lots of smiles and excitement!)  He said softly, It is?  He asked why.  I explained to him that he has a disease called Alzheimer’s and it plays tricks on his brain and with his memories and that he needs some extra help throughout his day.  This made him cry.  He said he didn’t understand why he had to be in “this place”.  Todd and I explained that we all have jobs we have to go to during the day and, because we would NEVER leave him alone, we found some wonderful people who can take care of him while we’re at work.   He said Okay through his tears.  Brilliantly, Todd then explained to Dad that, just like a magic trick, if we weren’t here, in just a little while… you never know when… ABRACADABRA – POOF! we’ll appear!  This made Dad laugh simultaneously while crying.  I said, You know what the MOST exciting part is?!  Dad said, What?  I said, You have your VERY OWN bedroom… with a brand new bed – and a DRESSER!!!  He half-chuckled and said that was very generous.  I asked him if he wanted to see his new bed and have Todd and JoJo tuck him in it.  He said okay and followed us in the bedroom while holding our hands.

Through tears and confusion, we got him into bed, tucked him in, and I explained to him one last time, Now, Daddy, remember… when you wake up in the morning, we won’t be here.  You’ll probably get up, get showered, get dressed and maybe even have breakfast and then all of a sudden, POOF! we’ll be here!  He asked what WE were now going to do.  Todd said, Well, I’m going to go home to MY house and get into MY bed.  And Joleen is going to go to HER house and get into HER bed.  And you’re here at YOUR house and we just tucked you into YOUR bed!  🙂  I explained one more time that we wouldn’t be here when he woke up but that it would be okay and we would arrive like a magic trick really soon!  He said, And then what will we do?  And I said, We’ll PLAY A-L-L day!  We’ll spend the whole entire day together and have adventures and do anything we want, and it’ll be GREAT!  With that, we kissed him goodnight, turned out his light, wished him sweet dreams, and walked out praying for the best.

That was 3 nights ago.  Dad has told me numerous times since then how confused and afraid he is, how he doesn’t understand why he’s “here”, and he has asked me if I understand what’s going on.  I keep telling him in a very gentle voice that he has Alzheimer’s and just needs a little extra help with things, like sometimes finding the bathroom or cooking food to eat, and that here he will ALWAYS be safe and taken care of, even when we have to go to work.  He once asked what HIS job is, and I told him it is to stay here, be strong, believe in God, remember we love him, and to try to find peace.

Two days ago after trying to preoccupy him during the day with ‘50s and ‘60s songs from the jukebox, I finally suggested we take a time out and I led him to a quiet room with gauze curtains for a door, a rocking chair, soft lights and a CD player.  I put in an audio CD of Sunday’s church service which he hadn’t attended.  His last church service at his beloved Renaissance Unity Church in Warren was on Christmas Eve, a week before coming here.  In the rocking chair he closed his eyes, and I explained whose voices he was hearing on the CD while he responded softly, Yes, I know, thank you.  I recognize that.  About 5 minutes into the CD, the most amazing thing happened.  My dad opened his eyes, found me sitting next to him, looked me deeply in my eyes, and whispered softly but intensely, THANK YOU.  He closed his eyes again and I held his hand for the next 40 minutes and he went the whole time without crying.  It’s funny, everyone’s been so busy trying to distract him, amuse him, cheer him up and keep him busy, that I think we’ve all mistakenly forgotten to give him access to his faith and the quiet space to go deep into his spirituality.  I hope this is something that calms his mind every day from now on.

That night after dinner, we scrapbooked a photo shadowbox to hang outside Dad’s new bedroom.  We made it in front of him, hung it for him to see, and explained that it will help him find his room.  I told him that this new house didn’t feel like a home yet because it was missing an essential element – pictures on the walls!  He seemed to like that idea and the next day we hung over a dozen framed photos throughout his bedroom.  This way, instead of waking up afraid among four plain white walls, maybe it will seem homier and he’ll recognize some of the images and be reassured.  He awoke yesterday morning and then again yesterday from his afternoon nap and didn’t seem as afraid.  Then, Mom and I put him to bed last night and for the first it was without tears in his eyes.  It was a better day!  However, a checkup phone call at midnight informed us that he was back up, confused and sitting in front of the TV.  My poor Daddy-O is SO tired!  He has had so many sleepless nights back-to-back and yet he can’t sleep!  This must just add to his exhaustion and confusion.  Mom was put on the phone and Dad told her in a very tired, soft, dejected and defeated voice, Frances, I just don’t know what I’m doing here…  She lovingly told him that he had to get some sleep because his grandson Frankie was coming in the morning to play with him and he needed his energy.  He said okay but you could tell he hadn’t budged from that couch.  Mom then told him to go lie back in bed, close his eyes and meditate and think about God.  He said okay and hung up.  A half hour later we were told he was back in bed.

But the poor guy is living a hell on earth.  Every single time he awakes he has to figure out his surroundings all over again.  He has to understand where he is, why he’s there, who these people are, why no familiar faces are around, and sometimes he also starts wondering what he’s done to be stuck here and to deserve this treatment. It’s worse than the movies Ground Hog’s Day or Fifty First Dates.  It truly is a frightening, undignified process that I am positive Frank Firek does not deserve.  No one deserves this.

Based on some very bad advice we received, we had taken Dad OFF of his anti-depressants prior to moving him into the nursing home.  A very BIG MISTAKE we’ve learned!  He is now back on his anti-depressants, plus anti-anxiety meds twice a day, and sleeping pills will be added to the mix today.  We are hoping his tears will fade more and more by the day.  Visitors definitely help pick his spirits up and we hope for a constant flow of familiar faces for him!  Of course, he doesn’t always remember the next day that you had stopped by, but he’s in a world now where he’s forced to live in the moment and enjoyable visits definitely help make his day.

Amazingly, I made it almost through the entire day yesterday without crying (except when Mom and I cleaned out Dad’s bathroom).  I hoped maybe I was on to something new, a new phase of recovery.  But this morning I awoke with dread in my heart and couldn’t drag myself out of the covers for over an hour.  Over coffee, the tears started.  I’m not sobbing today, but a constant flow of slow tears keep finding their way out into the world.  I am grieving, I am tired, and I am so incredibly sad.  Just like my dad has to re-figure out his world every day, I now have to figure out mine, too.

(Real-time Entry)

Events and emotions have swung the entire pendulum over and over again the past few days since putting Dad into a nursing home.

It started out Jan 1 with us feeling horrible and heartbroken as we drove him there and left alone.  Based on much advice we had received from dementia and nursing home professionals, we took Dad to see the “new club” but we never said goodbye when we left, we just kind of slipped out when he was happily preoccupied.  It is this fact that has been burning a hole in my heart ever since.

We left him there around 1:30p and Mom called and spoke to Dad on the phone at 4:30p to see how he was doing.  He was laughing without a concern in the world and didn’t appear to miss us or wonder where we were!  What a RELIEF!  Then, a few hours later we received a phone call at 8p from one of the nursing home directors saying that Frank Firek is the spark this place has been missing for a long time!!  He is so social and funny and kind.  He is socializing with everyone.  We are just really blessed to have him join us!  He is a beautiful spark that is shining throughout the home already.  I think he is going to be just fine.  That phone call allowed us to get to sleep that night and we considered it a true gift from God. 

However, it was another comment the director had made that woke me up crying in the middle of the night and again in the morning.  She recounted for us a conversation that she and Dad had had earlier in the day.  When she asked him if he liked the place and told him that if he did he could stay, he replied, Yeah, I’m gonna live here the rest of my life.  Surprised, she asked him if someone had told him that.  He replied with resignation, No, I just sort of figured it out on my own.  OH GOD!!!!  I feel so HORRIBLE for STRANDING HIM THERE with NO EXPLANATION!  And he STILL figured it out!?!  WHY didn’t we just TELL HIM THE TRUTH so that he didn’t have to feel so ALL ALONE once he realized the cold, hard truth??  How could we DO that to him?!?!  God, he is SO SMART – even now.  That brain is working overtime and he is figuring out some very complex stuff we were told he wouldn’t completely comprehend this far into Alzheimer’s.  He still amazes me.  He is still there.

The next afternoon, Mom and Todd and I went over to the nursing home for our first visit around 4p.  He was dancing to a live singer/guitarist while everyone else in the audience politely sat and listened.  He was doing lovely, peaceful ballet-style movements, moving all about the singer in the open floor space – he even kissed a few ladies in the front row on their hands and the tops of their heads – a total Frank Firek move!  😉  When Dad spotted Todd, he said, Oh HI buddy! and danced his way over to Todd with a smile on his face.  Todd hugged Dad while Dad danced before him and Mom and I waved and said hello to which he nodded, smiled, and peacefully danced back off toward his “stage”.  We all watched in amazement at how well he was assimilating, how peaceful yet happy he appeared, and how he was bringing such life and joy to this place.  PROUD is definitely a word that was in my head and heart as I watched my beloved Daddy-O just being himself.

Moments later, we started getting partial updates from people around the home that last night Dad actually slept through the whole night (yes!!!).  Then, we learned that there had been some trouble prior between the positive phone call we had received and his bedtime.  The books and the professionals and the doctors prepare you for this sort of thing but we just didn’t think Dad was going to experience this side effect of Alzheimer’s.  After all, he is the most kind, loving, patient, non-violent man you’ve ever met!  And he seemed to become more of a pussy cat during his decline these past two years, making the thought of him lashing out absolutely ludicrous.  Well, lash out that night he did!  While sitting quietly at a large dining room table with other residents while winding down for bed, for no apparent reason Frank Firek stood up, lifted his chair to the ceiling screaming, seriously got in a female nurse’s face when she tried to intervene, PUNCHED a male nurse in the face!, and grabbed a second male nurse (the largest man in the room) by the testicles, squeezing and yanking as hard as he could, even ripping the man’s pants!!!  They claim they’ve never seen a resident anywhere behave in such a violent way!  Frank Firek???  You’ve got to be joking!  Todd, Mom and I all thought they were kidding us!  But by the grave looks on their faces you could tell it had been for real. During the altercation, all the residents were evacuated to their rooms and locked down for their own safety!  Dad was eventually led to a couch alone to calm down.  Someone kept briefly checking in with him every now and then and at one point when asked how he was doing he amazingly said, How’s my transition going?  The answer he received was “smooth”.  Dad said, I like smooth.  I thought you were going to kick me out of here.

It’s just amazing how much he is comprehending – WHERE he is, HOW he behaved, the potential CONSEQUENCES of his actions.  When I asked Mom through tears HOW he could of figured it out, did we say or do something in the days leading up to it?… she responded with, Joleen, your dad is a highly intelligent man.  It doesn’t surprise me at all. 

After the singer finished his performance, Dad immediately plopped into a soft wing-back chair and closed his eyes.  Todd knelt next to him, rubbed his arm and started talking softly to him.  To me, my dad seemed confused as to why he was here but so was Todd – almost like it’s supposed to be one world or the other.  I felt like he was over-processing the current experience but, being too tired to figure it out, he just kept closing his eyes.  I don’t know, maybe he was mad at us and was trying to punish us.  Todd thinks that Dad realized where he is, that he missed his chance to take his own life as he had planned, that he is stuck exactly in the middle of where he didn’t want to go, and that he is mad at himself.  That may very well be true.

The next day, on Dad’s second full day at the nursing home, he kept saying comments to my brother Frank during his visit like, I don’t want to be here; why am I here; what did I do wrong; I hate it hear – it’s quiet and there’s nothing to do and I don’t know these people; where are my friends; no one ever visits; I’ve got to find a screwdriver and break out of this place; I’ve got to find a man and hire him to pop my head off! (with a gun motion to the side of his head!).  It is such inexplicable anguish to know that my dad is miserable and that there is nothing any of us can do about it.  If the laws were different, if we could assist him in his final wish of life, we could all be around him holding his hands while he drifted off peacefully to his next stop in the manner he chooses.  I personally don’t see anything wrong with that and I don’t know why there is a law against assisted-suicide.  If we are all God’s children and He gives us free will and He loves us no matter what… then who is this law designed for??  I think everyone should be able to make their own end-of-life decisions and should be able to be surrounded by those they love in their final moments.  I think locking up confused people who will never again benefit society is a truly cruel act and I pray to God that changes will be made on this earth so that other grieving families can experience smoother transitions.

I have vowed to go back to the nursing home and tell my father that he isn’t crazy, to be honest with him finally – like we always have been, to tell him that this is his new house, that it’s okay, that even though he’s scared and can’t remember things that happen or why he’s there, that he just needs to remember ONE thing: that we love him, will always take care of him, will always make sure he’s safe, and that we will visit him every single day and will never leave him alone.  If he can remember that ONE thing, then all he needs to do with the rest is put his trust in God whom Dad has always believed in.  I have to remind Dad that God writes straight with crooked lines and that this problem is not one for us to figure out.  Daddy just has to be encouraged to find peace with his spirituality, to turn off all the noise and the thinking and to just surrender to God.  I think he’ll find the peace he’s so desperately looking for there.