(FRANK H. FIREK, AIRMAN 1st CLASS, U.S. AIR FORCE)

Independence Day brings reflection and pride.  I think of my dad who proudly served his county (Airman 1st Class, The U.S. Air Force) and believed that it was simply part of his duty to preserve this privilege and comfort called the USA to which so many of us have become accustomed.  He loved freedom, stepping up, helping a good cause, and giving.  He believed that his military experience helped shape him into a good man, a gentleman, someone who appreciated a good challenge and learned to persevere despite all obstacles.

I fondly remember learning to make the bed as a child, fastidiously trying to create perfect “hospital corners”.  My dad wasn’t militant; he simply passed on his knowledge in a fun, creative way that made you want to learn.  Every fold was a connection to him – who he was in that moment, who he had been before I was born, who he hoped everyone would step up to be.  I yearned to be that person in his eyes.  And he was undoubtedly my hero.

I am so full of pride and thankfulness this weekend for my dad and ALL others who have served.  Their selfless and countless acts of kindness.  Their bravery while walking unknown territory.  Their perseverance to overcome what was thrown at them.  And their goal to be standing alive at the end of the battle.

I can’t help this year but compare the military experience to the Alzheimer’s experience.  They seem to me to have a lot of similarities.  Of course, there are those who have Alzheimer’s and bravely walk to the edge.  But I’m thinking more along the line of Those Who Serve Those With Alzheimer’s.  These people are true heroes in today’s society.  They don’t personally have the disease so they don’t have to take this journey – but yet somehow they choose to accompany someone else on their harrowing journey.  I believe THIS is the compassion and love and dedication that was represented in those “hospital corners”.

I have a few friends who’ve recently lost their beloved parents to Alzheimer’s.  Barry is one of them; he lost his mother ten weeks ago after being her primary caregiver.  Barry is wonderful, kind, funny and giving.  But Barry is struggling right now with some intense emotions, inexplicable thoughts and sporadic behavior.  And he’s apologizing for it.

I told Barry in a recent email:

It’s ALL part of the decompression process.  You may find yourself doing crazy things lately, and that’s just you trying to come to terms with what the *BLEEP* you just witnessed and survived… and now you’re taking stock of the rubble of your life, trying to make some sense out of it all, and needing to pick a direction to start moving in to restart your life.  Trust me, I get it.  You’ll be okay, eventually.

As I was typing these words to him, it struck me for the first time how much Caregivers really are like Veterans of War — and how important our role is to help each other re-assimilate when it’s all over.  I mean, we’ve really witnessed some harrowing things.  Through the process we’ve questioned ourselves and God, and we have had to discover what honor and duty truly mean.  And when the battle is over for each of us and there is nothing left to defend, we find ourselves standing alone in the middle of the field, blinking in disbelief, and wiping the proverbial ash off.

But the truth is, we aren’t standing alone.  We are among millions of other Caregivers who get it.  There are millions of people wanting to hug us, tell us Job well done! and welcome us back. Veterans are always the knowledgeable ones who have lived through the experience and can now help lead the way.

As I shared with my friend Barry:

You are in a complex state of grieving.  Anything goes.  Give yourself permission to be feeling whatever you’re feeling.  You need to decompress.  Just try not to displace anger.  Alzheimer’s SUCKS.  The medical system SUCKS.  We didn’t have enough support.  Curse the system!  …And then let’s use our newly-acquired knowledge to help others and change the world for the better…

Make it a point to hug a soldier, salute a flag, and to ask your fellow neighbor what you can do to help them during their battle with Alzheimer’s.  Let’s unite and become stronger as one – because there is strength in numbers and in believing you will survive.  Let’s change the world one “hospital corner” at a time.

(FRANK H. FIREK, AIRMAN 1st CLASS, U.S. AIR FORCE)

I will be forever grateful to Karen Drew, Reporter, with the local Detroit NBC affiliate, WDIV-Channel 4.  She aired an AMAZING story tonight about my personal journey with Alzheimer’s and how I’m turning it into a movie bound for submission into Sundance Film Festival!

It’s incredible for me to see this vision that was born 4 years ago actually coming to life.  Amazing things happen when you speak your dreams.  Dreams DO come true!

Daddy-O would be SO PROUD!!!!!!!!  🙂