GOOD  NEWS!! 
 
A room has become available for Frank at Sunrise of Northville, across the street from me.  Now I will have to travel 2 minutes instead of 25 minutes each way!
 
Move in day is scheduled for Monday.
 
I’ll let everyone know how he’s doing. 
 
Thank you all for your prayers and support.
 
LY, Fran
 
Advertisements

(BACK-STORY)

Since Mom and Dad are now both retired, they decided to take advantage of the situation and the quality time that remains between them.  They planned a 2-month trip and called it their Retirement Vacation.

The social butterflies that they are, with friends from coast to coast, they worked their way by car down to Florida.  The next phase of their Retirement Vacation was to rent our old family home in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.  I was VERY much looking forward to meeting them in Hilton Head with my brothers, sleeping in my old bedroom, drifting off to sleep with the waves crashing…

But then Mom suggested I fly to Florida to meet her and Dad there instead.  They apparently thought that a couple weeks of quiet, quality time – just the 3 of us! – would be just what the doctor ordered for me.  However, it was only on the plane today, as Michigan got smaller and smaller in my window, that I realized just HOW much this was the most BRILLIANT idea ever!!

It was such a heartwarming relief when their car pulled up at the airport and they got out in shorts and smiles to welcome me.  I started melting in relaxation right then and there in the backseat of their car… then in my room at their condo… and then by the pool in their backyard. I started to feel a calming sensation, something totally new to me, and I happily surrendered in my lounge chair in the sun…

We were at the pool perhaps 20 minutes when Dad decided that he needed a hat to shade his head from the sun.  Charming as always, he asked if we needed anything and then he walked inside.  Ten minutes later, he was back, happily eating licorice, carrying Diet Cokes for us, a newspaper under his arm – but no hat.  Mom asked, “Didn’t you want a hat?” to which he exclaimed, “Oh, that’s a great idea!” and off he went again.  After a few minutes she suggested I go in and help.

He was grabbing a book off the counter, and I suggested, “Hey, Dad, why don’t you grab yourself a hat for the pool?” to which he agreed and walked into the bedroom.  He walked out satisfied, no hat in hand, and said, “Ready?”  I said, “You know what, I’m just gonna grab you a hat so your head doesn’t get sunburned,” to which he said that was probably a great idea.

The rest of the wonderful day, I had a persistent awareness of me and Mom jumping up a lot to help Dad find things.  At one point late in the evening, he was wandering around from room to room looking for something and I whispered to her whether we should help.  She said that sometimes she just lets him look for a while by himself.  And then she admitted that it actually gave him something to do and allowed her a short break.  She added that sometimes he actually finds the item he’s looking for and she doesn’t have to get up after all!  🙂

Me happy to see Mom and Dad at the airport!

Me and Dad chillin' poolside - with his hat!

Today Mom retired.  It was unceremonious, unnoticed by most, yet one of the most significant days of her life.  She followed her heart and took the road home to her husband. 

No longer will he have to sit alone all day trying to fill the hours; she will be by his side and can hoist him onto her wing so that he can enjoy the ride she provides.  I know that the last six months have been hard for her, knowing that she had to finish her duty at work so that the family company could survive, yet wanting to be with her lifelong mate who was suffering at home.  Now, they are free to be together again through thick and thin.

Painfully, this isn’t the retirement she dreamt of her whole life.  Successful at what they did including putting money away, their retirement was expected to be one filled with travel and adventure and love and more tomorrows; not staying at home to help occupy his time while they wait for his final day and inevitably watch every connection they have between them slowly ripped away.  This is a twist of fate for which none was prepared.  Then again, how could one possibly prepare for the treacherous experience of having one’s heart and soul torn into tiny bits?

She is a brave, humble and righteous wife.  She loves her husband at a depth few couples can comprehend.  It kills her to think that one day she will have to let go of his hand.

They are each other’s True Love.

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…

At last night’s family meeting, Mom mentioned a limited release movie about Alzheimer’s that’s playing at a local theater.  She highly suggested that we all try to see it in the next two weeks before it’s gone. 

In some sudden burst of need and panic, I found myself in that dark, nearly-empty theater this afternoon, watching Memories of Tomorrow all alone.  I was sort of driving by the theater doing errands and felt instantly like I was being pulled into the theater, like I just HAD to see the movie right this instant, I had to KNOW!  It was a very weird experience.  My breathing was erratic.  It felt like my life absolutely depended on it.  My car practically steered itself into the parking lot.

The movie was powerful.  AMAZING.  I had to adjust to subtitles (the movie is Japanese and uses English subtitles) but once I made that transition I was enthralled.  The movie was about a business executive forced into early retirement because of early-onset Alzheimer’s and how he and his family dealt with their life from that moment on.  IT SO RESEMBLED OUR LIFE!  I totally related to the story and it exposed me to some shocking things that can happen.  With raw emotions, I walked out of the theater stunned yet enlightened.  Enlightened to negative consequences of the disease, horrible things that my family might have to endure along the way, things like physical violence.  It’s hard to digest but I strongly believe in forcing myself to be educated on the topic and knowing what to expect.  Or knowing really what MAY happen, as all cases differ.

I instantly called my husband from the parking lot and told him he HAD to come see the movie with me tonight.  He needed to know the truth about this disease as well.  He must have heard the irrational urgency in my voice because he agreed to go with me that very night.

All I remember now is he and I sitting on the bench in the lobby waiting for the previous showing to let out so we could be let into the theater.  Then, the show was letting out and masses were silently walking by us.  Then, two pairs of shoes stopped in front of us.  I looked up.  It was my mother and father – WHITE AS GHOSTS!  They literally were in shock.  We had a very short correspondence and then they said they had to go and they curtly walked away in silence.  It was horrifying.  It was like watching the living dead.

In my mind, my brother Todd and I have been riding out the storm together and with Mom and Dad since diagnosis.  But my brother Frank Jr. has appeared a bit more checked-out.  There has been palpable tension as everyone has been dealing with the diagnosis at their own pace and style. 

Tonight we had a family meeting.  Mom and Dad called it.  They wanted us all to watch the movie, The Notebook, together and then talk.  The Notebook is about an older couple dealing with the Alzheimer’s experience.  We watched the movie.  And then Frank broke down.  Finally.

Now, all seemingly on the same page, Mom and Dad shared with us their thoughts and concerns about the ride ahead.  Undoubtedly, Dad is extremely depressed.  He gave us examples of how lethargic he’s become: going for a run and stopping shortly in mid-stride and slowly walking home; sleeping while Mom’s at work because he has no job to go to anymore and nothing meaningful to pass the time.  He personally shared with us thoughts he has been having about possibly ending his life early.  He says he realizes that it is an option.  He says there is nothing positive about the long path ahead, this long goodbye.  He says he doesn’t want to put us all through that.  He admits that eventually, for him, at some point it won’t matter anymore – he won’t be aware of what’s going on – but we will all be suffering watching him deteriorate.  He wants to shield us from that pain (my god, always the considerate gentleman!).  And he wants to be remembered as a man of dignity, not as a fading aimless man.

I get where he’s coming from.  I think we all do.  But we also all made it very clear that under NO circumstance should he consider this serious act simply to appease US.  It is HIS life and he has to ride it out as HE sees fit.  We will respect his wishes, no matter what they are.  But HE has to make the decision (and, quite frankly, silently on his own if he’s truly to shield us from harm’s way).  I also pointed out that we need to get Dad on antidepressants immediately and that both he and Mom need to begin some sort of support counseling.  They mentioned that they went to a support group together just yesterday and will be going back.

But the plain simple thought of him choosing either path just makes me sob.  It was an excruciating conversation. 

And now I’m concerned about WHEN this (might) happen.  Again, like the open-endedness of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, this possible alternate ending has left me waiting, worrying and on edge…

Great.  Not only am I freaking out that my dad’s dying.  Now, I’m fat too.

I just saw pictures from my dad’s retirement party and OMG I am SO embarrassed.  I am SO FAT.  Seeing myself in print just really HIT ME how not-okay I’m doing!  Sh*t.  How is THIS the way I’m coping?  I hear all the time that people LOSE weight when they’re stressed.  Great, but I go this way.  So now I’m REALLY feeling crappy about my life!

It’s the same old question: people lose their parents every day – so why am I not coping better?  Why does my whole world seem like it’s caving in on me?!?  I mean, it REALLY FEELS like I’m losing everything…  I don’t feel safe anywhere.  I cry at work.  I cry at home.  My insomnia is a bad as ever. 

Man, I don’t even sleep properly – of course, I’m not coping well!  I’m just in TOTAL panic ALL the time… unless I have something to preoccupy me, like planning the Memory Walk or Dad’s Retirement Party.  Those have been great distractions and have made me feel like I’m actually DOING something (something useful and meaningful!) vs. just sitting by completely helpless.  Now… how do I perpetuate a state of staying there…?

Dad, me and our lil' buddy Sparky at Dad's Surprise Retirement Party

Dad, me and our lil' buddy Sparky at Dad's Surprise Retirement Party

My dad’s Surprise Retirement Party was today and it was PERFECT!!!  🙂  I have been working long and hard planning all the details: picking the location, designing the theme, orchestrating graphics, choosing decorations, printing posters, ordering food, printing invitations, hiring musicians, buying gifts… 

I had the unique opportunity to produce the party of a lifetime for my beloved father, and it was my absolute pleasure.  I am SO PROUD to call him my father.  I love him SO MUCH.  It was touching to witness the large amount of people who poured into the room… to pay homage to him and to all the good things he’s produced: friends, family, companies, memories to last us all our lifetimes.  He has truly touched MANY lives in a very positive way.  Frank changes lives.  I don’t know how he became such a good man but I feel the need to follow in his footsteps and not waste any of the lessons and skills he’s taught me.

I played the song “Kind and Generous” by Natalie Merchant for my father as our family of five stood in front of the room and honored him.  We gave him a framed collection of all of his career business cards, and we had all of the party guests sign the back.  My brothers and I gave him 3D wall art that looks like steel tubing that spells the word MAGIC in cursive for his Magic Room.  The gift perfectly represents the melding of his past steel tube manufacturing career and his future volunteer work as a magician.  A lifelong magician hobbyist, he now plans to focus in retirement on magic shows for kids.

I can’t describe the amount of joy and satisfaction I received from throwing my dad this party!  My father truly deserved a grandiose send-off.  He deserves everything I can give.  And I can’t ignore the fact that his retirement party had a deeper meaning because it was so succinctly timed with his Alzheimer’s diagnosis just four months ago.  This party was filled with both spoken and undercurrent messages of congratulations, thank you and goodbye from all of us.

The official party poster

The official party poster

Dad's initial reaction upon walking into his surprise party with Mom!

Dad's initial reaction upon walking into his surprise party with Mom!

Part of the reason Dad went back in for retesting this spring is because there were so many problems at work.  He has owned and operated numerous successful businesses in his lifetime.  The latest venture involves him and my oldest brother, Frank Jr.  (That’s right, Frank and Frank.  Plus, my mom, Fran, runs Accounting and Human Resources!)  Dad switched his President status with Frank Jr.’s VP status a few summers ago, and now the younger President just has too many complaints about his father’s performance.  Dad, who always memorized a roomful of strangers’ names at every party, now couldn’t remember having received an email, where he had filed it, or what his To Do List was following a staff meeting.  It was becoming a big problem.

So now with the Alzheimer’s diagnosis as proof, he is being coerced into early retirement.  He has been asked to leave his own company for the good of the company.  He has been abandoned by his baby – literally.

Noted, Dad’s long-term disability insurance benefits were also a consideration in the matter.  Before age 65, he was eligible for 30 month’s salary after diagnosis.  Having been diagnosed at age 64, six months before his 65th birthday, he is now eligible for maximum coverage.  But that’s the rational decision.

Today was his last day of work forever.  There was no big party, no big fanfare.  There was no time to prepare; it had all happened too fast.  He just kind of said goodbye to his coworkers at 5:00, shook hands, hugged, and casually said goodbye.  I think that must have been horribly sad for him.  After all, where was he walking to?