Goodbye 2017: Onward and Upward

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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.

June 2016

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.

With gratitude,
Ann

 

 

 

 

Mom Day 2017

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Five years ago, today, my mom became whole again. She found peace after a long, valiant battle against Alzheimer’s. She gained her angel wings. December 15, 2012.

I try to take this day off every year. I prefer to spend it quietly, alone or with my daughter, allowing my mind to go where it will. If tears come, let them come; I really don’t want to be distracted by the minutia of the outside world, nor do I want to hide my emotions whatever they may be.

I started the day with a cup of hot coffee enhanced with a generous pour of Bailey’s – one of my mom’s favorite things!  I planned to spend the day baking as I often have on this day over the past five years. Some of my best, happiest (and earliest) memories are of December days spent baking Christmas cookies.

Mom loved to bake and when I was a child, the variety of beautiful cookies on her holiday trays was something to behold. Her cookies were part of the magic of Christmas. My love of baking is no doubt a result of those fond memories and of course, her influence. For years I’ve enjoyed recreating many of the recipes that have been handed down for generations, as well as adding some new ones.

I didn’t rush today. I didn’t get as much done as I had planned, but I really enjoyed the day. I listened to Christmas music, wrapped some presents, had lunch with Jess (sharing some laughs as we always do), and spent a good bit of time simply sitting with my thoughts. I cried and I smiled, thinking of years gone by, and tonight, I poured a glass of wine in her memory.

Another year has passed, and this year, I lost my dad as well. This will be my sixth Christmas without Mom and first without Dad. I’m sad, but there are also moments of peace in knowing they are with their beloved parents and others who have gone before them – the ones they loved so much. Most importantly, they are free of pain. And today, I felt both of them with me…

When It’s Time to Say Goodbye

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This is a piece I wrote back in 2011. It isn’t specifically about Alzheimer’s, but it is about life, a topic I’ve spent a significant amount of time ruminating on this year.

Tomorrow marks the 5th anniversary of my mom’s passing, and Christmas will mark the 6th anniversary of my dear friend’s mother’s passing. I saw “G” tonight, which is what prompted me to go back and pull this from the archives so I could re-read it.

I hope Evey’s story touches your heart….

December 28, 2011

Tonight I went to calling hours.  Our dear family friends of 20+ years lost their mother/grandmother on Christmas Day.  She had finally succumbed to cancer after a long, valiant battle.

I’m 46 years old, and I still never know what to say at times like this.  Nothing sounds right. Nothing. I guess all you can do is hope that the presence of friends helps to ease the pain, if just a tiny bit.

After talking to my friend tonight at the church, I found myself feeling oddly inspired. As she described their last trip to Florida this fall, she told me that her mother had completed everything on her bucket list.  Every.single.thing.  I wonder how many people can say that.

The last thing on the list was the celebration of her 62nd wedding anniversary, and she made it.  She marked that milestone and celebrated with her loving husband just a week before she left this earth.  She was well enough for them to go out to dinner and enjoy a lovely date night, which I imagine will remain one of his most treasured memories of her.

I have to say, I’m not much of a believer in happily ever afters when it comes to marriage, but G’s parents definitely seemed to defy the odds and find true, everlasting love.  Their entire family will be in my prayers, but particularly G’s dad who is now faced with adjusting to life alone after so many years with his soul mate.  I’m sure, though, that she won’t be far – watching over him day and night until they meet again.

In the end, Evey did what we should all strive to do.  One by one, she crossed every single item off of her bucket list.  When she finished, she was ready to take the next journey, having done everything she was meant to do here on earth…

What’s on your bucket list?  Have you thought about it?  Have you said the things you need to say and done the things you need to do?  Tomorrow isn’t promised.  We all need to get busy, don’t we?  Thank you, beautiful Evey, for the inspiring reminder…