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.)

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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…  

(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.

I was hanging out and shopping with my best friend, Jacquelyn, all day today.  We had arranged this eons ago.  We both had the whole day open until 4:30 when she had to get ready for a friend’s party and I had to head home to get ready for my family’s annual holiday party, The Adult Christmas Party at Meadowbrook Country Club.  Jac and I had such a fun day that I was bummed when we had to finally go our separate ways.

I went home and got busy glammin’ it up for the big annual extravaganza.  My family has been attending this holiday party at Meadowbrook the first weekend of December for as long as I’ve been an adult.  It started when I was in college and every year since then my brothers and I attend this dinner dance with my parents and a set of “Mystery Guests”.  My father, playful at heart as he is, invited an unknown guest to join us that first year and it has become an annual tradition since – trying to guess who will be the Mystery Guest this year!  It’s a semi-formal night out during which our family usually dances their butts off and finishes off the night with a pitcher of Hummers!

This year, as I walked into the club and searched for our reserved table among the sea of tables, I was delighted to discover Jacquelyn and her boyfriend sitting at our table!  SHE was the Mystery Guest!!  I never guessed it!  It was a true delight and I could see the pleasure in my dad’s eyes as I squealed and hugged everyone.

Toward the end of the night, Mom and Dad dismissed themselves earlier than usual due to Mom having back pain.  It was duly noted that Mom barely danced because of this and it broke my heart a little that her and Dad weren’t swinging hand-in-hand to every song together like usual.  I mean, how many more of these parties will we truly have together…?