A year ago, I was feverishly writing a book in an attempt to spread the word and reveal myths about this terminal disease. I introduced my readers to a variety of people diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Their pictures were placed on the back cover of Stone Benches to illustrate these unique and wonderful individuals whose lives were being threatened. I made it painfully clear there would be no survivors. Today, I am living the reality of this horrible truth.
One short week ago, which oddly feels like an eternity now, we buried my dad. I now sit in his empty chair - one last remnant of an incredible life which impacted so many. The final week of his life, this well-loved chair became my bed as I held my father's hand, offering prayers and songs of praise. I whispered sweet assurances to my father, relaying my excitement for his impending journey to Heaven.
Unfortunately, I was familiar with loss. In late November, I watched as Ural's three daughters graciously and lovingly said goodbye to their beloved father. The amazing life he lived was highlighted at his funeral as Rex's daughter, Jane's daughter, and I listened with gratitude. How grateful we were that our parents brought us together, even under these circumstances.
We truly learned to form a family of love and support. By mid-December, we were facing the death of my husband's uncle, who lost a long fought battle with Alzheimer's disease. Christmas Eve brought yet another loss as we bid farewell to our resident Centurion. By the time the dropping ball ushered in a new year, my publisher's mother had lost her life to this disease as well.
I gladly left the grief of 2016 behind and dreamt of a brighter 2017. Dad was now in a wheelchair and needed assistance at every meal. He wasn't doing great, but we had long since grown accustomed to overcoming whatever this disease threw in our path. Ultimately, it all boils down to that one phone call we can trace back to the moment everything changed.
It was a morning like any other. I sat in my study working on an upcoming presentation, one I unavoidably missed due to my father's funeral. Inevitably, after twelve long, tumultuous, yet fleeting years, Dad's brain finally shut down the last of his organs, refusing to give them life sustaining direction. We bid farewell to our patriarch on a sunny Tuesday afternoon.
I hugged a sweet friend goodbye at Dad's graveside as we exchanged knowing looks. She cared for her Alzheimer's stricken mother, a Centurion, who had lost her battle just a short time ago. That night my friend went to sleep and never woke up. Her death was an unbearable shock to our broken hearts and highlighted a very real reality of this disease - the dangerous impact it has on the health of the caregivers.
On my way to offer a hand of support to her husband, I stopped by to visit Dad's best buddy, Rex. After a bout with pneumonia, he was recuperating in a local rehab. Yet, what I found was a man, well down the road on his journey to Heaven, without so much as packing a single bag. By that afternoon, Rex crossed over and joined my father for the most divine feast and delicious desserts they had ever shared.
Ural's daughters joined me on a trip to Rex's hometown for his services yesterday morning. It struck me as I sat on the pew choking back the tears - this never gets easier. Despite the reality of the absolute loss this disease deals us, it remains impossible to fathom. Regardless of the length of time it inhabits a life before swiftly snatching it away, it's never long enough with our loved ones.
As I attempt to wrap my mind around the enormity of the loss we have endured in just a few short weeks, my mind wanders to a precious family across town. As we made our way home from Rex's services yesterday, another beautiful woman from the back cover of Stone Benches rounded the bend. Jane is just steps away from hearing the symphonies of Heaven welcome her home.
Tomorrow there are more presentations to prepare, articles to write. Next month I will make my way to our State Capitol to join others in a plea for help. The end of March, we will climb our way out of the trenches of despair and make our way to Washington D.C. Our stories must be told; the heartbreak will be heard. Today I weep - but this disease has not seen the last of my efforts. We must not stop until a cure is found.
Posted on Wellness.com 8/17/2016
My mom’s anticipated diagnosis was followed months later with the shocking realization my father had been stricken as well. This disease forced me to grieve the mom and dad I lost seemingly overnight. Simultaneously, I learned to embrace these individuals who looked strikingly familiar, yet reacted to me in unpredictable ways.
Yesterday at dinner the main topic of conversation was this gentleman's farm and the many animals requiring great expense to feed. When the subject of crops came up, my daughter mentioned caterpillars were eating the Kale in her garden. He was quick to empathize.
Let me assure you, they kept me smiling the entire meal. It's worth noting the employee taking the picture is new - which likely sparked this trademark expression of suspicion. After all, she did have my phone!
For those of you who have read Stone Benches, you know I am "The Big Surprise". If you do not yet know this about me, that's okay. I just recently found out myself. My Mom always showered me with grand attention on my birthday - as you can see in this photograph from my 2nd birthday.
If you are experiencing this disease with a parent who no longer remembers your birthday, or a spouse who is no longer able to acknowledge an anniversary, or the relationship it represents - I offer you a hug of support. You are loved. Whether your loved one can communicate it or not.
Their love for you remains and resides within.
I put on a brave front, but my 40th birthday was crushing. The realization that my mother no longer remembered my birthday, much less my name, or the fact I was her daughter, was devastating. My beautiful Aunt June stepped in that year, inviting me to lunch and showering me with attention. Over the years, I have learned to orchestrate my own celebrations with my parents.