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…  

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(Real-time Entry)

My mother has been doing an INCREDIBLE amount of research this past week trying to find homes in the area equipped and willing to take Dad with his newly acquired behavioral problems.  I tell you, finding yourself through the maze of living options within the web of dementia healthcare is overwhelming, scattered and anything but black and white!  Between assisted living communities, nursing homes and private pay homes, some will take patients like Dad, but most won’t.  And it seems to only be through word of mouth that you can locate these places.  It’s a LOT of legwork!  I don’t understand how the healthcare system expects people like us to find the resources they require; it’s an insulting amount of time and effort that’s required from emotionally-distressed family members in order to find an adequate home for their loved one!  Imagine if my mother had a full-time job or kids at home… how would she have been able to take on this insurmountable project?  What about the millions of people like that who are at their breaking point and have no support??  There has to be an easier, more user-friendly way to find what you need!

Unbelievably, today is FIVE WEEKS that my father has been a Ward of the State at Botsford Hospital’s Geri-Psychiatric Ward.  They HOPE they may be able to discharge him sometime this week, but this call is so out of our hands.  He continues to lose weight at an alarming weight, is in bed sleeping during our visits lately, and is on a VERY large list of drugs.  He is still in there – but sometimes you only get small glimpses of him.  I personally think he’s doing amazing well based on the incredible circumstances and drugs that have been forced upon him.  He is definitely still my hero.  And I am starting to miss him terribly.  I have actually had a couple hearty sobs this past weekend in a newfound yearning for the “old him”, along with a realization that our amazing 2-way relationship is really more of a thing of the past…

The GOOD NEWS is that Mom has finally located a place that is willing to take Dad!  Plus, it appears that they are equipped to handle him through any difficult behavioral issues he may have, which means we wouldn’t have to relocate him to another home in the future!  Of course, it’s private pay, which Medicare doesn’t cover, so we’re lucky to be in the fortunate financial position to be able to take advantage of its services.  (I still worry about what others do in this situation when they aren’t covered by long-term care insurance?)  One bed just opened up unexpectedly – and Mom jumped at taking it!  We are paying for his room starting today regardless of when the hospital releases him.  I haven’t personally seen it yet but Mom says it feels more like a home than a hospital.  How lucky we are that my mom persevered!

So, hopefully in the very near future, Dad will be living at Courtyard Manor of Farmington Hills.  I look forward to being able to visit him again whenever I please!  🙂

We found a place… we found a place… we found a place – hallelujah!

(Real-time Entry)

Friday turned out to be an unexpected whirlwind for my mom and me after we received less than desirable news… over and over again.

It all began with a family meeting with Dad’s psychiatrist at Botsford Hospital to bring us up to speed with his treatment and prognosis after 3.5 weeks in the Geri-Psychiatric Ward.  The news wasn’t promising, as Dad hasn’t been reacting predictably to their usual regimen of meds typically used to curb aggression in Alzheimer’s patients.  Apparently, my dad appears to be somewhat of a baffling case for them…

Dad’s psychiatrist suggested that Dad may have another complication in ADDITION to Alzheimer’s!  He introduced us to the concept of Frontotemporal Dementia – otherwise known as FTD or Pick’s Disease.  He explained that a brain affected by Alzheimer’s dies in its entirety yet very slowly, whereas, Frontotemporal Dementia attacks just the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain but kills that part of the brain very aggressively and quickly.  He said that Dad’s newfound aggression, physical violence and inappropriate social behavior could easily be explained by FTD, including the shocking rate at which he seems to be in decline.  The doctor pointed out that within the 3 weeks Dad has been at Botsford they have noticed a drastic reduction in his abilities and recognition; they’ve even noticed a drastic decline in just the past 5-7 days!  He said that 3 weeks ago Dad would eat if he was hungry and food was placed in front of him; he says that now Dad just stares at the food and can’t process what to do with it.  This change has happened within 1-3 weeks!  He pointed out that Alzheimer’s absolutely does NOT act this quickly and that an Alzheimer’s diagnosis alone doesn’t explain the last 5 months of severe decline we’ve astonishingly witnessed.

I suppose the good news is (assuming that this suggested FTD diagnosis is correct) that perhaps Dad’s suffering won’t be prolonged.  At the rate they are witnessing his degeneration, it was loosely suggested that Dad may not live out the year.  Six months was even thrown out when I pressed.  Of course, as usual, “no one can say for sure…”

Well, I say, Halleluiah! – please just take him home!  He is tired and restless and has been preparing spiritually for this part of his trip for a very long time.  He is ready, and he deserves peace.

The obstacle now though is where will he live out his remaining days?  (watch video below)

(Real-time Entry)

The experience at the psychiatric ward has gotten worse before getting better.

Following a positive and energized week for me last week, I then visited Dad over this past weekend and was throttled by what I saw.  The hospital had him so drugged (in their ongoing effort to subdue his violent outbursts and reduce his hallucinations) that all he could do was mumble unintelligently while strapped into a wheelchair bent over at the waist unable to hold himself up and drooling. My God, how could there be such a horrific change in just 5 days??  I began struggling with what they’re doing to him, I became very angry at the medical and legal systems for thinking this was the best way to treat a sick person, and I began that oh familiar spiral downward…

Saturday’s visit was the worst one so far, partially because I was so unprepared for what I was going to find. Sunday Dad was still unable to use most muscles in his body but he was no longer drooling and was able to utter partial phrases, which I tried to understand by putting my ear to his lips.  At one point, he said I should call my cousin Debbie.  I said, Sure, Dad, I’ll call Debbie.  And why don’t I call cousin Karrie as well?  She sent you a big hug today and I could tell her you sent her a hug back! He said, Just… call all the girls… and tell them. I asked, What do you want me to tell all the girl cousins? He said, Uncle Frank… is dying. Tears welled up in my eyes and my Mom’s.  We were grateful his eyes were closed so he couldn’t see us.  I said softly to Dad, Is that what you think is going on here, Dad? That you’re dying?? He said, Pretty much… that’s what I see… going on. And he fell asleep and we silently cried.

I experienced a couple horrible days following those visits with a lot of tears and an unmotivated heavy heart.  I only started perking back up after Mom reported last night, Wednesday, that when she walked in for her visit, she found Dad walking around with the help of a nurse and he had been talking about the love of his life, Fran, and then he said, And there she is! The doctor had just changed Dad’s antipsychotic medication from Zyprexa to Risperdal (I believe with the other 5 meds remaining the same) and the results seemed nearly instantaneous and unbelievable! (NOTE: It is believed that by altering communication among nerves in the brain and by altering communication through neurotransmitters, this class of atypical antipsychotic drugs can alter irritability, resistant depression and the psychotic state.)

I have to admit, I woke up this morning a LOT easier and faster!  It does seem that when Dad’s having a good day, I have a good day; and when he’s not, it’s very bad news for me.  Interestingly, I am undoubtedly the only family member who is this affected by it all.  I’m also the most emotional person in my immediate family, besides my father.  And I do spend a lot of time and energy mulling over everything so that I can report back on it for my movie and website.

Does this sensation of me being so empathetic to his situation simply make me a dedicated and loving daughter and a good storyteller as a result of our close relationship? Or is it a detrimental effect that is harming me and my health and my life? My God, do I unconsciously believe that I need to suffer along with him?? I need to figure this one out so that I can support him without being dragged down by the awful set of circumstances that is undoubtedly going to continue to be in our lives.  As they say, I need to get a grip.

P.S. Today the 2 in-home care workers who stole from us went before a judge at The Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit (home of the Wayne County Circuit Court) and pleaded GUILTY to ALL counts!!!  Their trial and sentencing is set for March 19, 2010.  That news, on top of Dad’s turn around, was the perfect platform for my mother to board a plane today for Florida for some much needed rest, relaxation and decompression.  I hope she finds what she needs.

P.P.S. I wrote this blog this morning.  Below is video following my afternoon visit today with Dad.

(Real-time entry)

Anti-depressants: Day 30.  OMG, the results are A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.  I feel like my old self again!!!  I can’t tell you what a RELIEF that is and how great it feels.  I have been so weighted down for so long that I was really starting to wonder if I was still the same person inside.  I’ve actually been concerned that maybe the sparkly, fun, energetic “me” had left for good.  And, man, I really liked that girl.

However, in the past 3 days I’m suddenly getting out of bed faster, my energy is higher, I once again feel empowered to attack projects, and I desire social interaction.  Basically, I feel re-inspired to get my life under control and I am oh so excited to re-meet myself!!

So here I am at home having revolutionary, life changing results from one lone prescription, this little magical pill…

…And there my dad is in a psychiatric ward with a current combination of SIX drugs coursing through his veins: Depakote for seizures… Lexapro for depession/anxiety… Xanax for anxiety/panic… Desyrel for panic attacks… Zyprexa for psychotic conditions… with a side dose of Ativan for anxiety/depression (as needed by injection – along with a padded cell!)!!!

Seriously?? And somehow the medical and legal communities think that THAT is MORE humane than allowing a patient with a death sentence the legal and morale right to choose their own exit strategy, which may include just ONE pill?  I don’t get this part.  I really don’t.  I don’t get why we think it’s humane to put down our pets when they’re failing and in pain, but yet we don’t allow our fellow humankind that same decency.  Shouldn’t that be everyone’s personal right to choose for themselves?  Wouldn’t it be much more peaceful if a proven-to-be-dying person was to take their last breath in comfort surrounded by their loved ones in a controlled setting?

My dad clearly expressed wanting out before the end.  I believe what stopped him is that he didn’t want to die alone.  A highly social person who thrives on camaraderie and love, I don’t believe he wanted to exit alone after such a beautiful lifetime of family and friends around him.  …And so he stayed longer… which means he eventually lost perspective of time and perspective of his limited window of opportunity for that exit plan… and here we are.  He’s lashing out, harming himself and others.  He’s in pain.  He’s suffering.  He still regularly refers to one-liners about wanting to be dead, wishing he had a gun, wanting it to be over.  But it’s now too late for him to do anything about it, and I think he’s mad.  Mad at the world for not helping him end his misery… and mad at himself for ending up exactly where he never wanted to be, helpless, alone and afraid with no end in sight.

Honestly, as a race, what are we doing to ourselves?

Forgive me if I sound a bit automated with this written recap.  The accompanying video clip will tell you the additional information you need to know.

Unbelievably, it was nearly a week ago that my father was transported by ambulance from Sunrise Assisted Living to Botsford Hospital’s Geriatric Psychiatric Ward for Involuntary Admittance by the State after repeated bouts of aggression and physical violence at the nursing home.  Apparently, this is a new stage he’s at in which you never know when the aggression is going to rear its ugly head.  Our family and friends have never personally witnessed one of these full-blown outbursts.

Dad was initially transported to Botsford last Tuesday afternoon and he wasn’t allowed visitors until Thursday evening when Mom and Frank Jr. went.  Mom then went back on Friday, only to be told that Dad was tranquilized and in isolation and that it had taken 3 security guards to hold him down for the tranquilizer shot.  The next day, I visited Dad at the Psychiatric Ward for my first time and I left with a heavy heart.

The few positive things I can tell you about this experience is that, first and foremost, the point of the hospital admittance is so that Dad can be strictly observed while his meds are tweaked until we discover the magical combination of drugs to return him to a calmer, happier, more peaceful state of mind.  Also, when we visit and explain to him why he is there, he agrees he should be there, he shows a heroic willingness to want to “get better”, and he can’t stand the thought that he might harm anyone (isn’t that SO much more like him?).  Lastly, I had a loving, heartfelt visit with Dad on Sunday – Valentine’s Day.  I will never forget that visit with him.  It melted my heart with love and helped make up for the sadder visit the day before.

However, it is touch and go and today Dad was in isolation again when visiting hours began. Mom and Frank Jr. were there and were allowed to help Dad out of the isolation room, but I am told that it required a wheelchair and that it took nearly half an hour until he was conscious or aware enough to look them in the eye or  respond to them in any way.  Before leaving, Mom gave Dad his first shave in a week while Frank Jr. held him up in a chair.  Mom says she is getting used to all the drama that seems to endlessly come our way… but I somehow just can’t believe it.  Sometimes I can’t believe any of this.

(Real time entry)

Okay, I have a pound of material to post but have been putting it off for weeks trying to take a break from the topic of Alzheimer’s to focus on me and my needs. However, after being sick yet AGAIN this week (for the 3rd time this month), I figure I’ll just jump online real fast to update everyone on a bunch of stuff all at once so I can get it off my chest and then everyone will be in the know.

COURT. The case of the “alleged” thieves has been transferred from Plymouth to Wayne County. The boys are still in jail awaiting a Feb 17th date with the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice to hear what the consequences will be if they choose to plead guilty. At least they’re still in jail and have had a very long month.

DAD. I’ve been visiting Dad 1-2 times a week – a combination of trying to step back a bit and simultaneously being sick. From what I can see, I would say that he has good hours and bad hours, no longer consistently good and bad DAYS. I’m not sure there is any method to the madness over there.

After yet another aggressive outburst today from my dad toward another resident (he was calling a woman derogatory names and trying to push her off a couch), the Sunrise Assisted Living psychiatrist made the professional call to send Dad to Botsford Hospital’s Geriatric Psychiatric Ward for 5-7 days of strict observation, monitoring and prescription tweaking. A bed wasn’t scheduled to be open at Botsford until tomorrow, but after yet another outburst this afternoon, the police were summoned to Sunrise. After Dad responded disrespectfully to them, an ambulance transported Dad earlier than planned to Botsford for what is called Involuntary Admittance by the State. Last I heard, he was going to be kept in the ER until a bed opened in the ward.

I can’t even IMAGINE what he is going through. When he was in the hospital for seizures 1.5 years ago he was overwhelmed, scared and utterly confused. My poor, poor Dad…

Of course, Mom and I were horrified to hear this news today and then distraught when we were informed that Dad will only be able to have very limited visitors for ONE hour a day. God help him. He is going to be all alone on this journey.

The upside to all of this is that apparently this course of action happens to approximately 30% of Sunrise’s Alzheimer’s patients (based on the 3rd party information I received today) and there can be amazingly positive results that emerge from the ultimate experience. Hopefully, Dad will emerge transformed, calm and peaceful. This is at least what we pray for him everyday. It seems to be the only thing we can really do.

My dad had a bad night last night (Friday).  He got upset in the middle of the night and started knocking over tables and throwing glasses in the center of the nursing home.  Sunrise called 911 and the police came.  When my dad saw the uniformed police he settled down as he recognized and respected their uniforms and authority.  (I was told today that he said something like he thought he was in a militay / war zone and was defending himself).  In the meantime, my mom was called at 2:30am and she arrived as the police were leaving.  My dad was calm and sitting down when she got there.  She took him to his bedroom and they laid down together.  He was restless, but they both fell asleep around 4:30 am.  When my mom awoke in the morning, my dad was still sleeping so she let him sleep and went home.

Amy, Frankie, Ashton and I got to the center today around 3:30pm.  My cousin Danny Firek was there and said my dad had been doing okay since he had been there visiting.  My dad was in a good mood but seemed tired, and was even less rational than normal.  He was “seeing” a lot more things that weren’t there than normal.  Like when he got on the floor to look at my shoes and said “It’s not fair that this guy (my left shoe) has 3 pillows and this guy (my right shoe) only has one”.  So we agreed that we would have to work that out with them.

We stayed the afternoon and all had dinner together.  After dinner my dad was falling asleep in his chair in his room so I suggested that he get ready for bed and he agreed.  I gave him his toothbrush with toothpaste on it and let him brush his teeth.  When I went back in to check on him he had the toilet seat up and looked like he was going to rinse his toothbrush in the toilet.  I quickly took it from him and rinsed it in the sink.  I then helped him get undressed for bed.  We took off his fleece sweatshirt and underneath he had on 2 undershirts.  We took off his jeans, then a pair of boxer shorts, then a pair of boxer briefs, and we left on his jockey shorts.  (FYI, my dad doesn’t own any boxers or boxer briefs!  Residents “borrow” from one another’s closets unknowingly).  I then put his pajamas on and put him to bed.  He went right out.  As we were packing up to leave he woke up and we all gave him hugs and kisses and wished him a good night.  By the time we left his room he was snoring.

I sure hope he has a restful night tonight!

(Real-time Entry)

Two better days in a row now for my dad – plus last night he was given a sleeping pill which seems to have allowed him to finally get some much-needed rest!  Thank God.

You know, this disease is so interesting in that you’re never sure what you’re going to find when you walk into the room with him.  Just two months ago in November, Dad was starting to have trouble with some immediate family members’ names and faces.  The bottom of the pit was when we introduced himself to my mother twice.  And he had begun calling me by my brother Todd’s name on occasion.  Sometimes he’d even ask me in mid-conversation, Where’d that girl go that was just sitting here? The one with the black hair?  Where’s your sister?  Tell me when she gets back because I have something important to tell her…

But magically sometime in December prior to Christmas, he snapped back a few notches and – even despite the confusion and trauma he’s gone through at the nursing home this past week – he still continues to know WITHOUT A DOUBT who I am, my mother, and my brothers!  It’s a miracle and a gift! – albeit a temporary one, I know. Regardless, we’ll TAKE it!  🙂  It’s so exciting for me that Dad is currently funneling through ALL of the different nicknames he has for me, referring to me just last night as “Shmoe” (aka Joe the Shmoe).  When I left the table for a few minutes, I was told that he turned to my cousin and asked, Where’d Shmoe go?  It’s so cute and playful and I am so bloody thankful every single time he does it! 

We’re not sure sometimes if Dad knows every friend and family member who visits with him but it is amazing how, even on days when he doesn’t appear to know someone by name, he still knows what people are associated with that person!  For example, my cousin Karrie didn’t think Dad knew who she was last night when she visited, but Dad kept talking to her about “Bill” (her husband), recounting some real and some made up stories about his interactions with Bill.  When our family friend Joyce visited Dad at our home around Christmastime, Joyce was positive that he no longer knew who she was yet he kept talking to her about “Kathy” (my aunt and Joyce’s best friend)!  On Dad’s first full-day at the nursing home, when we visited him with my Aunt Kathy in tow, Dad called her once by her full name (which pleased her greatly!) and then proceeded to tell “Jack” stories (her husband).  He’s a very smart fellow and it is fascinating to see the brain at work and which parts still connect on some days. 

Probably because Dad’s last two days have been better and less emotional for him, my past two days have come with some emotional relief as well.  On some emotional purging expedition, I even went and cut off my hair!  I literally put my head in my hairdresser’s hands after making it VERY CLEAR that she couldn’t cut it TOO SHORT or else I might risk confusing my dad.  I want him to recognize me for as long as humanly possible…

There were a few good signs yesterday at the nursing home.  First, I think Dad barely cried.  Secondly, when my mom walked into his bedroom after he had awoken from his nap, she found him standing dressed at the foot of the bed not upset.  He said, Oh, hi, honey!  She noticed that he had removed a framed photo from the wall of her and him in Hilton Head with their favorite band, The Headliners, and it was now peacefully resting on the window sill.  I would like to think that this means that the photos I hung the other night are making a difference for him, that he’s noticing them and perhaps they’re part of what’s calming him when he awakes.  Thirdly, when I arrived last night after dinner, Dad was happily sweeping the dining room floor!!!  Sweeping was a chore he did regularly at home.  I believe this is a sign that he has begun to place pride and ownership in his new surroundings and – in perfect Frank Firek style! – he wants to help out and be of assistance.  He is amazing and it always moves my heart to see him in action like the old days!  Of course, he paused when it came time to figure out the dustpan and he was much better at the sweeping aspect itself.  But in a playful way, he purposely banged the broom against chair legs and wheelchair wheels while he was sweeping, and he jokingly said to the ladies sitting in those chairs, Oh, I’m sorry, was I bothering you??  🙂

He has made a new friend at the home.  Her name is Carmen.  The two positive attributes of Carmen is that she giggles non-stop at everything (so Dad thinks he’s pretty funny!) and that she is an opera singer with a beautiful voice.  It’s great to see her sing and Dad dancing around her!  Music and humor are still two big ways into his heart and they always lead him to his happy place!  I’ve seen Dad kiss Carmen on her hand a couple of times but, then again, which lady doesn’t he do that to?  🙂  Last night, he kissed Carmen on the hand and then he immediately turned to my mom and kissed her on her hand!  What an interesting trio!

My mom and my brother Frank Jr. met with the nursing home director yesterday afternoon, one week into Dad’s stay.  The director was describing how many people get dropped off at the home and then have very few visitors throughout their stay.  Then he commented on how incredibly close our family appears to be and how he can tell that Dad’s moods seem to be directly related to us and his interactions with us.  He is pleased that we are there nearly around the clock during Dad’s waking hours to help him with his transition.  He also suggested that Dad’s violent outburst his first night at the nursing home wasn’t as bad as it sounded and that they’ve never witnessed any behavior even close to that from him since.  Then he suggested that we might want to attempt soon to take Dad out for a day trip to someplace familiar!  So, this Sunday, Dad is going to spend the day at Frank and Amy’s playing with his grandkids!!!  We are SO excited!  A week into the transition, with his meds re-adjusted and his good mood back, maybe we’re at a turning point here.  That would be such a blessing and a relief!  There’s nothing worse than watching a loved one in pain.  I’ll take his smile over tears any day!  xo

(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.