Today was the Alzheimer’s Association Greater-Michigan Chapter annual fundraising event, The Chocolate Jubilee.  Apparently, this event is in its 23rd year.  I’ve never heard of it but, then again, I barely knew what “Alzheimer’s” was until 6 months ago.

Mom and Dad learned about The Chocolate Jubilee during the 7-week couples’ support group they attended this fall via the Alzheimer’s Association.  We went as a family to the luncheon, including my Mom’s sister (Aunt Kathy) and her daughters who are my close cousins (Katie and Karrie).  I’m not sure what we all expected from the event, except that we were very interested in hearing from the Keynote Speaker, Dr. Richard Taylor, a retired organizational psychologist whom has been living with an early-onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis for six years now.

Dr. Taylor was remarkable.  He started off saying he got nervous when he couldn’t find his speech notes a little while ago.  🙂  He flew to the event with the help of his wife, his permanent traveling companion now; apparently, he can’t travel alone anymore because he can’t keep track of his itinerary or maneuver confusing airports, etc.  Something we have to look forward to with Dad, I’m sure.

He read some excerpts from his book, Alzheimer’s from the Inside Out.  It’s a collection of diary entries/articles he wrote privately for his own peace of mind, but discovered upon sharing them once that they had value beyond his own two eyes.  I am very anxious and excited to read the book!  This is one piece of research information I haven’t come across yet which I think will be invaluable!  To get inside the mind of someone living with Alzheimer’s, to get a glimpse of what they see, feel how they feel…  I want desperately to understand my dad’s (ever-shifting?) point of view as much as humanly possible so that I connect with him stronger and communicate with him better – on his level.  I AM SO EXCITED THIS BOOK EXISTS!!!  🙂

Even though Dad is now retired, Mom still goes into the family business 3-5 days a week.  She is ultimately preparing the company and its books for her retirement in a few months so that she can be with Dad fulltime.  His Alzheimer’s diagnosis and ensuing retirement just came too quickly for her to exit the company at the same time. 

So, as usual, Mom went to work today.  But she received a shocking phone call at her desk in the early afternoon.  It was our family doctor.  Surprised to hear his voice, she said, “What are YOU doing calling ME?”  He said that my dad had called the doctor’s office in a bad state asking for him specifically.  When he took the phone call, my dad was crying hard and said he needed help.  Dr. Wayne informed my mom that he had called in a prescription for the antidepressant Lexipro and that she needed to go home immediately. 

Mom raced home.  And then it all came out.  Dad is doing horribly.  He tries to appear upbeat but he is struggling.  Struggling with having no remaining purpose in life, no desire to do anything, feeling every morning and every day like there is no point to living.  He is lost, lethargic, upset, confused, and feels all alone and helpless. He is dying – and he knows it.

I am just angry and shocked to find out that he’s doing this bad!  Quite frankly, I assumed Dad had gone on antidepressants directly after my suggestion at our family meeting a full month ago.  My bad, I guess I should’ve followed up on that with my mom.  Let’s face it, everyone’s struggling and sometimes details get passed by.  Two minds are definitely better than one on this.

My poor, poor, Daddy-O…

Mom and Dad are home and I rushed over today to see them!  When I got there, Mom and Dad were nostalgically flipping through a photo album on the living room couch.  We hugged, I love you’d, and gabbed about their trip.  After a while, Mom excused herself to go into the office to check emails and I continued to flip through the album with Dad.

We got to a picture of our family at Xmas maybe 6 years ago.  Dad asked with a scrunched brow, “Who’s this?”  I said lightheartedly, “That’s us, Daddy – you, Mom, Frank, Todd and me!”  He looked at the photo for quite some time.  Then I turned the page.  But he stopped me, turned the page back, pointed to the picture and said, “But who’s THAT?”

OMG, my dad didn’t even recognize me!!!

Given – I do have black hair now.  I grew up blonde, was blonde in that Xmas picture,  and Dad knew me most of my life (and his) as a blonde.  But I’ve been black for probably five years now. 

OMG, is my dad going to start NOT recognizing me??  Does it really start THIS fast?  You’ve got to be frickin’ kidding.

Crap.  Maybe I should go back blonde to help him out.  Maybe I should wait until me as a brunette is really unrecognizable to him and THEN go back blonde.  If I go blonde right now, maybe THAT would confuse him even more???  Geez, I don’t know how to sort this out…

Mom and Dad are due back from Greece tonight!!  I can’t even properly describe the elation, relief and anticipation I have in the matter! 

I feel as if I’ve been whirling around and slowly drowning inside an emotional vacuum since they broke the news and left.  I have such HOPE upon their return!  It’s like I can almost breathe again.  I feel like once I can actually see them with my very own eyes it’ll be like they are once again real and alive and by my side.  I’ve felt such dark aloneness in their absence.  I realize I’m losing Dad but I just experienced an earth-shattering view of what life would be like without them BOTH!  My god, I’ve been so lucky having them around – 37 years of their support and involvement in my life.  How blessed my life has been because of them, how enriched it’s become with them helping weave the fabric of my life.

So, I guess, I’m grappling with the thought of… what becomes of me once their gone???  They have always been such a rock for me, the base from which everything for me has sprouted and grown.  They are SUCH GOOD PEOPLE.  I loose my breath when I think that someday they’ll be gone.  Someday, I’ll be totally on my own. 

I mean, geez, I’m married so it’s not like I’m exactly all alone in my life.  But I derive such peace from just knowing they’re around, that I can call them up and involve them more deeply in my life at any moment.  They have taken SUCH good care of me, as a child, a ridiculous rebellious adolescent, as an unmarried adult, even now.  They always do whatever they can to ensure that I’m okay.  They are some of the best people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

So, tonight they’re back!  And I want to welcome them home with outstretched arms and a marching band in their honor!  Of course, I’ve settled for the largest bouquet of flowers I’ve ever bought (which I split the cost of with my brothers) – which I’ve secretly placed just inside their back door so it’s the first thing they’ll see when they walk in their house!  I just want them to know that I am SO GRATEFUL they’re home.  That we can resume where we left off.  That it’s not over.

I’m spinning out of control in a total panic!  I can’t stop crying.  I’m sobbing as I’m typing this.  I know I’m losing my dad, but with them dropping the “A” bomb on me and leaving town so fast and for so long, I now have this unsettling panic that I’ve lost them both!  I realize it doesn’t make any sense rationally.  But Mom and Dad are both out of touch to me – somewhere unreachable on the other side of the globe – and I just feel like they’re both never coming back. 

F***.  My entire world is crumbling!  I can’t explain what’s going on inside but I’m spiraling downward to somewhere I don’t want to go.  The entire world looks bleak.  It’s hard to breath.  I can barely get out of bed.  I cry all the time.  Even at work, I lay and cry on my desk.  I can hold it together for short periods of time, but then it all comes bubbling out, no matter where I am!  Jac has made me come over, she usually can cheer me up out of any mood, but at her house all I do is flop on her couch and cry harder.  I can’t get it together.  I know this isn’t rational.  But I can’t rationally pull myself out of these dark depths.

I tell myself I’m SO LUCKY to have had the life I have had: GREAT parents, a privileged upbringing, everything a child could long for… But then I crumble and am paralyzed with fear and emptiness that it’s all coming to an end.  Camelot is crumbling!!  THEN what do I have??  I’m tormented by some force I can’t even explain nor get my head around.  I am afraid and see myself sliding down a VERY DARK path…

I’m numb but feel that I should write something down so I remember this ominous day.

Mom and Dad leave in the morning for their long awaited 3-week vacation & cruise through Greece.  They called tonight to say bon voyage!  Or so I thought.  They called to say that they finally received a diagnosis today from Dad’s months of ongoing tests with the University of Michigan.  DAD HAS “EARLY-ONSET ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE”.

OMG.  I’m almost not even completely sure what this means – except that it’s bad.  Really bad.  Like, as bad as it could possibly be.

We’ve noticed some small – but very noticeable! – memory issues lately.  Like, when I was visiting recently, Mom and I were talking about something and five minutes later Dad interrupted us with, “I don’t know where I heard this, but someone told me recently that…”  It was what we had just TOLD HIM!  Mom and I just looked at each other blankly – and then tried to pick back up where we left off.

Problems have been arising apparently at work between Dad and Frank Jr. and the other employees for some time.  I think this is part of why Dad went back in for re-testing.  Five years ago they sent him home from testing with a very loose diagnosis that he may be developing some type of long-term dementia.  Before that, I think he was on some unproven supplements to help with memory and no mention of dementia was given.

SO, here we are.  Shit.  My parents are ascending on their long-dreamed vacation with THIS hanging over their heads??  I told Dad, “You know what, Dad, you should have a frickin’ drink already!  I think this vacation should be the time you say goodbye to healthy living and just really live it up!  Seriously, you need to have a drink.  Probably a few!”  He agreed that I might be right, that after ten years of not drinking and tending to his body in a non-fanatical way, “Look what good it’s done me.”  But he was pretty upbeat, at least in a “I’ve had a wonderful life and will take what God gives me” sort of way.  Admirable.  He’s quite a guy, my Daddy-O.

Me?  I’m pissed.  They’ve worked hard their whole life, they’re SO close to retirement, and THIS happens?  I’m scared.  I know things just changed, that somehow the end just began, but I still don’t really know what that means.  Maybe I’m just overwhelmed with a concept I just can’t yet grasp.  Maybe there’s a better word.  It’s so hard to say when I’m just this numb.