Years ago, when pondering names for this blog, I chose the tagline “An Alzheimer’s Journey and Beyond.” The tagline stems from the life-altering nature of the Alzheimer’s experience and the fact that a new kind of life exploration continues long after Alzheimer’s ends. This post falls into the “and beyond” category.
As I sit ruminating on 2017, I would have to say I’m happy to put it in the past and begin anew. I can’t find the words to describe the past year in simple, straightforward prose and I suppose that’s appropriate as it wasn’t a simple year in terms of emotional turmoil.
February was the beginning of a steep decline in my dad’s health. He had suffered from heart problems for 25+ years, but what we were seeing was notably different. His CHF was becoming increasingly problematic and between February and June, he was hospitalized at least four times.
Dad’s determination to remain independent until the end made long-distance caregiving exceedingly difficult. Aside from twice-to-thrice weekly visiting nurses ordered by his long-time cardiologist and daily Meals on Wheels (which he loathed and barely ate), he refused any sort of help. And the fact was, he needed assistance.
I made the 7-hr round-trip drive 2-3 weekends per month, but it wasn’t enough to manage all that needed to be done. I loved my dad dearly, but he wasn’t easy to handle – he was depressed, angry, stubborn as a mule, and no doubt frightened as well; all of that combined could bring out a mean streak that was unpleasant at best. He often lost sight of the fact that I was simply trying to help.
In my heart of hearts, I think he knew the time was coming when he would need full-time care, and rather than face the prospect of leaving the house he loved, he gave up. He suffered a neurologic event of some sort at the end of May and never came out of that. By the time we arrived, I barely recognized him. Thankfully, he was able to hear and understand us that day, responding with a blink, squeeze of a hand, gesture, or a few hard to understand words, but he never opened his eyes.
After consulting with the most wonderful palliative care doc, we agreed to call in hospice. Dad was transferred to a beautiful hospice facility, where we sat at his side for nine days. He passed away peacefully on June 3. He would have been 84 on June 12. I still find it hard to believe that he’s gone, and it’s such an odd feeling to realize you have no living parents.
Between June and November, there was estate paperwork, cleaning out the house I’d grown up in, hiring contractors, and ultimately selling the property. We closed in early November and I brought home the last boxes of Dad’s belongings the week before Thanksgiving. Over a month later, the boxes are still sitting in my living room untouched.
I’m still working through grief and regrets. Those days in hospice with Dad also brought back vivid memories of my mom’s final days. If I learned anything from my her passing, it was that grieving is complicated. It takes time, it can’t be forced, and it sneaks up on you when you least expect it.
So, all of that, combined with residual grief from some things that occurred in 2016, a demanding, high-stress year at work, and the general state of the world, has left me feeling adrift. I seem to have lost my passion and I miss it, but I’m not sure how to get it back. I’m hoping time is the answer. My life is rich with blessings and I know that this, too, shall pass.
Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life. ~Anne Roiphe
The thought of a new year brings hope. This will be the first year, since age 19, that I haven’t been a caregiver in some capacity. Now, at 52, with a family history of both Alzheimer’s and heart disease, it’s time to develop some healthy habits. I want to focus on improved diet, yoga, and meditation, along with making a sincere effort to reduce work-related stress. In short, during 2018, I hope to find a place of balance along with the passion that has slipped away over the past 12 months.
May the coming year bring you a bounty of blessings, and may it bring researchers that much closer to finding the key to unlock the mystery of Alzheimer’s. I’m grateful for you and I thank you for continuing to follow The Long and Winding Road.