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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!!!!!!!!  🙂

 

The famous words of my best friend, Jacquelyn Pierce, 4 long years ago.  Sobbing on her couch, reeling from my dad’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, overly consumed by the disease destroying our family, she literally SCREAMED me into action!

It took a few days, but once her words sank in, I started rolling a (borrowed) camera.  I had no idea what exactly would come of it all, but since I “speak” video, I started shooting what was happening to my family and what was going on inside of me.

Fast forward 4 years and 300+ hours of footage later…

…Ladies and Gentlemen, I proudly yet humbly present to you a movie trailer of my documentary in-the-making which I hope will help change the world of Alzheimer’s…

[CLICK VIDEO FRAME BELOW TO PLAY MOVIE TRAILER]

The other amazing thing is this: I’m blogging from Washington DC!!  I’ve brought my trailer, my vision and my passion to the national Alzheimer’s Association Advocacy Forum where I hope to network, get my completion funding, and take this all to the next level…

Daddy-O would be proud!  😉

I think this is the first month-anniversary of Dad passing during which I haven’t cried.  And considering it’s 11:36pm, I think odds are good I’ll make it through the whole day with dry eyes!  😉

Two months ago, I think I would’ve felt guilty about that.  But I don’t feel guilty.  Nor do I feel cold inside. I just feel like I’m adjusting to the new world around me which no longer physically holds my beloved Daddy-O.

This month, I’m definitely experiencing more smiles and warm feelings vs. emptiness and fear.  Dad’s departure song, Barbara Ann by The Beach Boys, has come on at unexpected moments during this past week of the full moon, and every time I hear it I sing and dance and invite him to join in.  All this week, the moon sends me to bed and follows me to work and I find comfort in that.  I feel like Dad is playing a game with me and I love it!  If he can’t move Sparky anymore, leave it to him to take to the sky!  🙂

[CLICK ON THUMBNAIL BELOW TO WATCH VIDEO]

Today is the 3-month anniversary of my dad passing away.  I knew it before it even arrived, as the full moon winked playfully at me the past 2 nights – just like it beckons me every month at this time.  I believe it’s my dad talking to me, the moon in general.  It’s surprising how often I’ve noticed the bright moon out during the day these past few months.  Especially at poignant times… when I’m already thinking of my dad… feeling his void… I look up… and… there’s the moon!  It feels like my dad is watching me and is still sharing in the moment.

Lake Superior moon

The moon… and sunsets!  FULL-BLOWN red and orange BLAZING-sky sunsets!  They always make me stop and notice and appreciate the beauty of this life.  Sometimes they make me cry.  I vividly remember telling my dad in his last few weeks on earth to just let go, relax, fly away to heaven and become an extraordinary sunset for all to see.  So now every time I see a sunset, I feel like he’s letting me know he’s still around, as extraordinary as always.

Sparky’s still my faithful companion.  I’m very aware of the fact that, without my dad, neither he nor I would exist.  Dad gave us both life and an invisible bond you can only see with magic.  Dad always was an amazing magician capable of producing remarkable things!

Sparky’s been my co-pilot on many a traveling adventure these past few months: in 10 weeks I’ve been to Nevada, Texas, Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma, and camping deep in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  And only ONE of those trips was actually planned ahead of time!  Oh, and I spontaneously bought a new sports coupe!!  I’m not sure if this travel bug and restlessness is a result of suddenly being an unburdened caregiver who’s enjoying newfound freedom or if I’ve been running and changing scenery so rapidly in order to help me deal with my loss and fill the void.  Either way, I’ve had many adventures along the way, one thrill after another in between the tears, and it’s reminded me that there is still such much for me to do and see in this life!  I’m living in the moment and know it’s something Daddy-O helped teach me.

After recently returning home from my last trip, I feel a little more grounded and am thinking I may stick around for a little while this time.  My spirits are typically high, my productivity is slowly returning, and my zest for life is strong.  I just have to get my focus back.  Absent-mindedness is a common symptom during the grieving process – and I’ve been flakey beyond belief!  These past few months, I double- and triple-book events, I forget entire conversations, one evening upon announcing I was leaving my best friend’s house, I was incredulously reminded that the whole purpose for our gathering was the dinner we hadn’t yet eaten!  Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself, give yourself permission to be where you are, and believe that your friends and family love you and get it.

(NOTE from Joleen: Today, on the 2-week anniversary of my dad’s funeral and the 3-week anniversary of his death, it seems fitting to remind us all what Frank Firek meant to us and some of the great lessons he taught along the way.  Take it away, Karrie…)

As you all know, Uncle Frank was magic… so I must be honest and tell you that late last night, I found myself saying a little prayer… asking him for just one more magic trick… because it will be nothing short of magic if I can describe to you this amazing man in seven minutes or less without crying to the point of speechlessness… so please, F.A., just one more trick!

My uncle, My Godfather, my father’s best friend: Frank Firek, my F.A., was all of these… to Aunt Fran, he was Prince Charming.  To Frank Jr., Todd and Joleen, he was Dad.  To Frankie and Ashton, he was Grandpa.  To many, he was boss, to others he was Coach, or Mentor.  To some, he was “Mr. Magic.”  To countless people, he was friend.  And to all of us, he was a teacher.

During the days of our long goodbye, I pondered what I would miss most.  Would it be his smile?  His laugh?  The excitement in his voice when he greeted me with a resounding, “FA – I said it first!”  (FA, short for Fat Albert, being a nick name that we had shared for as long as I can remember.)  I found myself questioning why he had been such an important part of my life, and suddenly the answer was clear.  What I will miss most about my FA, will be the lessons that he was forever teaching me.  Because honestly, I didn’t learn everything I needed to know in kindergarten.  Everything I ever needed to know about being a good human being, I learned from my Uncle Frank.

From FA I learned that heroes do exist, that fairy tales sometimes come true, and that the Beatles weren’t lying when they said “all you need is love.”  Uncle Frank taught me that persistence pays off, that a promise is something worth keeping, and that magic IS present in every fleeting moment of this rare and precious life we’ve been given.  By watching him interact with others, I learned that kindness is the key to happiness, that diversity is the spice of life, and that living a life which abounds with childlike wonder will bring joy to everyone you meet.  But perhaps the most important lesson he taught all of us is that there is no greater power on this Earth than love.

Aunt Fran and Uncle Frank proved to the world that soul mates do exist and that love is ALL you need.  From a small house in Redford with carpet samples covering the floor… to a life of worldwide travel and a penthouse on the Hilton Head beach… their epic love was the driving force and the crazy glue that made this fairy tale possible.  Regardless of the challenges that life laid before them, their fortress of love was unwavering.  I grew up watching them love each other.  Watching them play backgammon together at the kitchen table and dance across the kitchen floor, watching them hold hands at every possible chance, watching Uncle Frank massaging her feet while they watched TV… and knowing that when I grew up, I wanted a love like theirs.

I also spent a fair bit of time as a child wishing that they were my parents instead of my Godparents.  I didn’t realize it then, but now I know that Uncle Frank was busy teaching me how to someday be a parent.  It was obvious that Uncle Frank was the coolest Dad in the world ~ Frank, Todd and Joleen had mopeds, parties, a pinball machine, a pool table, and a secret closet to talk on the phone in that was FILLED with sugar cereal and sweet treats!  But there was more to their dad than that…  He was the original “Hands-on-Dad!”  He was their Cub Scout leader, their coach, their cheerleader, and their mentor.  When most dads would say, “Go outside and play!”  Uncle Frank would say, “Let’s go outside to play together!”  Whether it was a game of tag that involved the whole neighborhood scaling fences, shimmying down poles and jumping off decks, or a squirt gun fight that spanned an entire condo complex soaking innocent bystanders, Uncle Frank was always the one leading the fun!  When other dads said, “Go to bed!”  Uncle Frank would say, “Stay out here until I call you” and would then proceed to set up elaborate “haunted hallway” and would scare the kids silly as they ran down the hall toward their beds.  And while other dads would be angry when their children made small mistakes, like running over the hard top to a prized ’59 Corvette, or knocking the mirror off a brand new moped… Uncle Frank would put on his angriest face, for a moment or two, before his endless smile would melt the angry face away and he would crack a joke instead of doling out a punishment.  That is not to say that he didn’t know how to strike fear in small children… because he did!  He had a mask collection to rival a Halloween store and I never knew when he was going to come around a corner wearing one of them!
Uncle Frank taught me to face my fears head on when I was still small.  Looking back, I don’t think it was a coincidence that he always needed ME to get him something from the basement.  I would stand at the top of those stairs, toes curling over the edge, trying to gather my courage for the decent into The Viking Lounge.  I’d count to three, sprint down the stairs with my little fingers bumping against the wallpaper, turn the corner, run like hell, grab the desired object, and get back to the stairs as fast as my seven-year-old legs could carry me!  I never fully outgrew the distinct feeling that one of those hairy Vikings was going to step off that wall and gobble me up whole!  As an adult, he taught me how a hero faces fear… because on a spring day, three years ago, it was FA who stood on that scary precipice, facing a most terrifying diagnosis and, in true Frank Firek style, he was determined to run, to dance, to love, to laugh, and to teach his way through it.

Determination and persistence were ever present qualities in FA’s life… You don’t successfully start a business from scratch, knowing NOTHING about the said business, without a fair amount of determination!  You don’t finish your second marathon, 20 years after your first and three minutes faster, without persistence.  And you certainly don’t decide to conquer the problems of the Detroit public school system single handedly through a one-on-one reading program without an amazing amount of both!  And so, upon his diagnosis, he set out to write the book that he had long talked about writing and through his determination and persistence, he kept his word, and made yet another dream come true.

Uncle Frank always kept his word… even to my mother’s chagrin.  When my sister, Katie, and I were young, he promised us that EVERY time he came to our house he would play with us… and so, on nights when Aunt Fran and Uncle Frank would end up back at our house, regardless of the time, he would come running into our bedroom, throw on the lights and tickle us until we were sufficiently wide awake and laughing hysterically.  He also once promised to buy me a bird for my birthday…  All I am going to say is that it took a year for the story to unfold, and by the end of it, two important lessons had been learned: 1.) Uncle Frank always keeps his promises; and 2.) The Master of Pranks will not be out done… even if it means renting an elephant!  There was certainly something magical about seeing that elephant saunter down Northville’s Main St.

Everything about Uncle Frank was magical ~ he didn’t just do magic tricks, he WAS magic!  It was as if those graceful fingers were the most powerful magic wands in the world.  He delighted friends, family and strangers with his magic shows.  He knew how to transform mundane moments into magical memories.  He taught me that there is magic in traditions; be it a pen set won in Vegas, a Christmas Eve story recited by heart, or a small red and white bear with a desire to go places!  If you knew Frank Firek, you knew that magic does, in fact, exist.  And so, I can’t say that I was surprised by his final disappearing act.  It seems only fitting that the magician would wait until the stage was perfectly set, and the music, which coursed through his veins, was just right.  With his final dance danced and his final beer drank, he had just one more lesson to remind us of before he rocked and rolled up to heaven.  In his daughter’s arms, he reminded us one last time, that LOVE is all you need.

Many years ago, Uncle Frank was asked to speak at a funeral, and during his speech he said that memory is the ability to smell a rose in December.  Thank you, FA, for all of the memories… for I shall have a bouquet of roses to enjoy when December roll around.

(Real time entry)

It’s 11am Saturday morning and Dad has been “sleeping” for 38 hours now.  He fell asleep at 9pm Thursday and we haven’t had an interaction with him since.

…But WHAT a last day we had!  J  Daddy-O just couldn’t stop dancing and giving all of his visitors one last amazing day!  How he was STILL going and able to stand (sometimes for 40 minutes at a time!!) with no food or drink for 4 days… what an amazing spirit he is!

Sparky is by his side.