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.

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…

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?