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.

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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.)

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.

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!

(Real-time Entry)

My mother has been doing an INCREDIBLE amount of research this past week trying to find homes in the area equipped and willing to take Dad with his newly acquired behavioral problems.  I tell you, finding yourself through the maze of living options within the web of dementia healthcare is overwhelming, scattered and anything but black and white!  Between assisted living communities, nursing homes and private pay homes, some will take patients like Dad, but most won’t.  And it seems to only be through word of mouth that you can locate these places.  It’s a LOT of legwork!  I don’t understand how the healthcare system expects people like us to find the resources they require; it’s an insulting amount of time and effort that’s required from emotionally-distressed family members in order to find an adequate home for their loved one!  Imagine if my mother had a full-time job or kids at home… how would she have been able to take on this insurmountable project?  What about the millions of people like that who are at their breaking point and have no support??  There has to be an easier, more user-friendly way to find what you need!

Unbelievably, today is FIVE WEEKS that my father has been a Ward of the State at Botsford Hospital’s Geri-Psychiatric Ward.  They HOPE they may be able to discharge him sometime this week, but this call is so out of our hands.  He continues to lose weight at an alarming weight, is in bed sleeping during our visits lately, and is on a VERY large list of drugs.  He is still in there – but sometimes you only get small glimpses of him.  I personally think he’s doing amazing well based on the incredible circumstances and drugs that have been forced upon him.  He is definitely still my hero.  And I am starting to miss him terribly.  I have actually had a couple hearty sobs this past weekend in a newfound yearning for the “old him”, along with a realization that our amazing 2-way relationship is really more of a thing of the past…

The GOOD NEWS is that Mom has finally located a place that is willing to take Dad!  Plus, it appears that they are equipped to handle him through any difficult behavioral issues he may have, which means we wouldn’t have to relocate him to another home in the future!  Of course, it’s private pay, which Medicare doesn’t cover, so we’re lucky to be in the fortunate financial position to be able to take advantage of its services.  (I still worry about what others do in this situation when they aren’t covered by long-term care insurance?)  One bed just opened up unexpectedly – and Mom jumped at taking it!  We are paying for his room starting today regardless of when the hospital releases him.  I haven’t personally seen it yet but Mom says it feels more like a home than a hospital.  How lucky we are that my mom persevered!

So, hopefully in the very near future, Dad will be living at Courtyard Manor of Farmington Hills.  I look forward to being able to visit him again whenever I please!  🙂

We found a place… we found a place… we found a place – hallelujah!

Heavy in research mode looking for Dad’s next place of residence; trying to maneuver the confusing maze of choices and state regulations.  Psychologically, I’m feeling stronger…  (watch video)

(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.

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.