(REAL-TIME ENTRY)

My dad is fading away now by the day.  His degradation milestones used to be quarterly, then monthly, lately weekly, but now it’s daily.  The magical sparkle in his charming blue eyes that used to light up my world is now totally gone.  I catch him looking through me sometimes when I speak to him or, worse, he doesn’t look in my direction at all. 

Any more than two people in the room talking now seems to be too much for him.  In those moments, he dips out of what’s happening in the room and gets lost in his own private world.  It’s like I can literally see and feel him floating away from us… 

In those moments of disconnect, I find myself sitting on the arm of his chair, stroking his hand, rubbing his shoulders, scratching his back, somehow lovingly touching him to try to reconnect.  When he looks into my eyes and there is some person-to-person connection, as small as it may be, I feel as if everything is going to be okay.  At least I got him back for the moment!

I am seriously trying to figure out how to measure what’s left of him.  I mean, when he looks at me, is the connection 10-percent of what I used to be able to expect from him when he was my powerful, loving, doting father?  Or is this phase really 20-percent?  Or are we down to 8?

In my desperation, I get in his line of sight and gently grab his hands, trying to have just ONE MORE moment with him, trying to coax him back to a place where we can connect one more time… 

It’s almost pathetic how you start clinging to the small percentage that’s left.  How, out of desperation, you get in his line of sight trying to have just ONE MORE moment with him, trying to coax him back to a place where you can connect one more time.  And then you find yourself actually grateful for that one smile or one more “Oh, hi, Jo!”  God almighty, this is such a cruel, nasty disease on so many levels!  I miss my buddy!  And my poor mother – when she got home yesterday and said hi to Dad, he perked up, reached out to shake her hand and said enthusiastically, “Hi, I’m Frank Firek.  It’s nice to meet you!”  You can almost hear your heart breaking.

So today was Dad’s in-home assessment by the staff of Sunrise Assisted Living.  The purpose of the visit was to determine his needs and level of cognition and to then place him properly on the appropriate floor or ward of the home.  Mom has been very worried that when they came Dad would be having a great day and they wouldn’t know the truth about how bad he really is.  Well, that’s not at ALL what happened today.

Mom said Dad was having a bad day when they arrived; he was really out of it.  When they asked him how many children he had, he didn’t know.  Mom says he didn’t even take a guess.  Next, they asked him for the names of his children.  Again… nothing.  Then they asked him for just ONE name of ONE his children… and Dad couldn’t come up with any of our names.  Mom then tried to connect with him, told him look at the family portrait on the wall and try again.  Nothing.  No one was home.  My mom was all alone.

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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.