Dropping the Ball….Again.

Brad and Jim working on a puzzle. Jan 2016

Brad and Jim working on a puzzle. Jan 2016

The one part of being submerged in the Alzheimer’s world I never get used to is the amount of time I seem to waste on the phone or searching for answers online.

When Jim was first getting tested and diagnosed, I did research online because the doctor didn’t tell us much other than he had Mild Cognitive Impairment with the probability of advancing to Alzheimer’s Disease. I had no idea what that really meant.

Then when I asked during a follow up visit about support groups and the doctor recommended a group sponsored through his hospital for head trauma victims, I went back online and found The Alzheimer’s Association and their support groups. And I found a new neurologist.

I turned to the internet to read up on the latest treatments and research. Then I stayed up countless nights searching in vain for a clinical trial for Jim to participate in (he was too young and ended up being part of a diagnostic study).

Throughout the years, there have been times where I needed to understand so much more than I felt capable of without any help from a more knowledgeable source. I still feel this way; inadequate and dimwitted.

Filing for Social Security Disability for Jim took hours. Applying for Medicaid took hours. Filling out the Aid and Attendance paperwork, meeting with attorneys, social workers, government and veteran organizations….hours and hours and hours.

This past summer, I spent Jim’s last months at home on the phone probing for answers that never appeared. I made call after call, desperate for help with his care, assistance transporting him back from Connecticut, dealing with the VA, looking for a new home for him and trying to get some answers about what all of our options are (or in reality aren’t).

Now, I find myself back at my desk, searching online and making calls. This time to fulfill Jim’s wish to continue helping find a cure. He wants to donate his brain/body to research when he passes away. Sounds simple enough. I am sure there are many options and I can just tell his doctor and they can set it up. Wrong again.

In order to donate your brain tissue for research, you must be participating in a study before you die. You need to go to that location, have them evaluate you and become enrolled in the research program. If you wait until you can no longer travel, it is too late. The ironic part of this is of course that for many years Jim was too young to participate in trials. Even though he is the perfect research specimen, having no other medical issues other than Younger Onset Alzheimer’s and he was willing and able to participate,  possibly assisting a researcher somewhere to understand something that could change the course of this horrific disease, no one mentioned donation after death. No one asked if he would participate later. No one told me the timeframe and what needed to be done.  I didn’t ask.  And now I have failed him. There are only a limited number of brain banks around the country. Most are not even close to us, which is another problem. Several places would not take him because he is too far away. One study needs another family member to be involved in their program. One study, in New York, needs him to come in person to be evaluated. Maybe if he was having a good day, we had a private plane and the stars aligned just right.… It is so difficult to just accept “not possible” as an answer.

So, I tell you all of this to educate. If you or your loved one wants to donate brain tissue, start working the process now. It is not as simple as making a quick call. I am feeling like I have not fulfilled Jim’s wishes and wasting what his atrophied brain could teach. By not doing this last year, when Jim was capable of traveling and verbalizing his desire to participate, I have let him down and I have let down many others, including our children. Again.failure-is-success-if-we-learn-from-it

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (16)

Call to Action

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Recently, I was honored to be nominated as one of Healthine’s top health blogs of 2015. Whoa. Me? Missing Jim? That is pretty amazing stuff considering all of the informative and well done blogs out there.

As of the moment I am typing this,  Missing Jim is in third place. Which isn’t too shabby. Guess what? The blog in second place is also discussing Alzheimer’s Disease. So currently 2 out of the top 3 blogs are dealing with this Hellish Disease. So, either way, it is a win for us all. I encourage you to take a look at some of the other blogs. There are amazing writers sharing lots of information dealing with a wide range of health topics. If something is ailing you, this is a one stop shop to find some support.

That being said, I need your help. Please click here Healthline Blog Contest and vote for Missing Jim. You can vote once every 24 hours, once through Face Book and once through Twitter. (So technically, you could vote twice a day) The contest ends on January 21. Eight days.

There is even a prize…. $1,000 to the top dog and $500 to the two runner ups. Should I be fortunate enough to place in the top 3, the prize money will go to The Garner Foundationwhich helps dementia caregivers. 

The kids have been keeping track and remind me daily to vote and ask how we are doing. We are a competitive family….

Thank you. I appreciate you taking the time and making the effort to vote. Please share as well. I am sure you have friends who would be willing to vote too.  As always, thank you for your continued support of our family.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have No Comments

Used to be Mine

While listening to this song by Sara Bareilles (I am a musical emotional hostage on many occasions) I realized something: I am scared. Really scared.
Most people who know me would never think of me as a person afraid of anything (except snakes): I am strong. I am outspoken. I am opinionated, I am tough and emotionless. But the reality is:  I am not. Any of these things. I am alone in a big world that can be scary. Sometimes a little terrifying. I found a man who saw me for me and loved me anyway. I found a man songs are recorded about and love stories are written about. He loved me with all of my faults, my weaknesses and my inconsistencies. Despite everything, he loved me. And he still does. And it hurts. It hurts to have had that kind of love, the kind that some never have, that people long for and dream of, and to watch it slip away and realize that it will never be again….it is not just scary, it is crushing. There is nothing I can do to save him therefore saving us. I can’t apologize for something done. I can’t take back something said. There is no “fixing” this. There is no making up or forgiving and working it out.  I am not an easy person to love. I don’t just go along with things. I question. I wonder. I dream. I am passionate to the point of annoyance. And Jim saw this in me and liked it. He liked me and wanted me. He chose me. I chose him. And something else bigger than both of us chose him to leave first. How? How could anyone think he should leave first? He was such a great Dad. And a great husband. And a great man. On all accounts. Jim gave. Jim was good. Jim was kind.

Alzheimer's Disease, frustrations,

Jim and I at the Grand Illumination in Colonial Williamsburg, Dec. 2011.

Jim made this world a better place because he was a hard worker, a giving man, a forgiving person and an accepting human. Just what we all need. And yet he is being put through an unfathomable demise. How cruel. How unfair. How awful for everyone involved.
I no longer know who I am. I question each conversation I have. Sometimes I can’t even recall what I said or who I said it to. I am not just lost; I am not even searching. I used to think I was…searching for something I won’t find and not a clue what I am looking for. I am searching for the man who loved me, who made me ok with me. I know I am supposed to be a woman who doesn’t need a man to love herself or who needs a man for anything and I don’t….but the truth is…Jim completed me. He made me better. He made me like myself. He made me a better mom, a better friend, employee, citizen. A better everything. And without him, who am I? Am I still deserving? Am I still likable? Am I still a good person? He was head and shoulders above me in so many categories and without his companionship and guidance I am on shaky ground. How can I live up to his standards without him showing me the way? His strength and unwavering belief in me is a lot to live up to.The trust he has shown me not only throughout our marriage, but especially as he has succumbed to this disease…unquestionable trust. It is almost suffocating. The decisions I have made on his behalf and his lack of argument are to be commended and should be held in the highest regard. Even while this disease ravages his brain, he trusts me to always do what is in his best interest. Amazingly so.  He brought out the best in me and it is now up to me to find my own strength, my own North Star, my inner GPS system. No one to remind me when I fail that I will be ok and that I will some day succeed. That I am capable. That I am beautiful despite the wrinkles and gray hair. That I am still interesting and wanted.
Without getting angry, without making excuses, without Jim…I move forward. Not at the pace I would normally. Not with the same spirit and drive. Without my partner…without my biggest fan…without the comfort of knowing no matter what mess I have made, no matter how terribly I have failed, I will have someone who still thinks I am awesome and competent. Someone who will wrap his arms around me and make the world disappear………no more. I am alone with my own failings and my trials and tribulations. I can only reach deep to a place I have never thought I could or would have to go and forge ahead. Without Jim’s inspiration and acceptance. Without his smile. Without his wisdom. Without all of the many things he brought to us all through his quiet example. I love you Jim and I miss you so very much. Thank you for being you and allowing me to be your wife for 18 years.

Brad, Jim and Frances. Nov 2015.

Brad, Jim and Frances. Nov 2015.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (10)

It’s a Jolly Time of the Year

Frances and Brad playing a Christmas tune for Jim. December 2015.

Frances and Brad playing a Christmas tune for Jim. December 2015.

I am late packing and loading the car. I am always late these days. And it’s ok. There are worse things in life. I am learning to be all right with my new shortcomings and appreciate my new strengths and recognize my contributions that enhance this world. It is a process that will probably last my lifetime, but one I am steadfastly enjoying being cognizant of.  Life is good. Really. It is.

I know there are many parts of my life that just suck. There is no other word to use (not one I will publish anyway). There are times I am severely depressed. I cry. I sleep. I become a sloth. Again, it is ok. It is a process.

There is another part of my life that is the best it has ever been. The love. The support. The care. The new friendships and re-connecting with old friends as well. The opportunities that have arisen and the feeling of contribution. I am constantly being thankful for something positive happening in our lives, either for myself, our children or for Jim.

This week funding for Alzheimer’s research reached an all time high. Hillary Clinton became the first presidential candidate to make Alzheimer’s research a priority and suggested doubling the amount just passed. That is what we have been fighting for. Surely other candidates will follow.

Our Christmas has already been a wonderful one. The spirit of the season has been sprinkled throughout our home and our lives. We have had much to be happy about. Jim had his two best Air Force buddies come for a visit and he was amazing. He didn’t drool. He wasn’t hunched over. He showed lots of expressions and laughed. You could understand him most of the time. It was like a Christmas miracle. They had such a nice visit. It was good for all of us.

Today, we stopped by his home and he was not quite the same. He was hunched a little and not as aware of what was happening around him. But the staff had decided they wanted to help Jim do what he always does best: Give to others. So, they got the kids and I cards and gift cards and got me a new watch that were from Jim. It was heartwarming to see his smile and feel his hug and his kiss as I thanked him for his wonderful gifts. And the staff. Wow. How thoughtful. How generous. How, how….how do you convey the depths of gratitude? Not only do they take great care of Jim so I can take care of the kids, but they also find a way to give back to us through the material that transfer into emotional.

Our world seems to be full of hate and turmoil and so many events that challenge our belief in our neighbors. Our family is blessed to be reminded each day of the good that is surrounding us even while there is much to be horrified about. I challenge each person to commit to making our world a place that reminds us all of the good we can be and should be. It doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. It can be a small gesture or a grand one. It can be whatever you can do at that moment. Imagine if each of us took the time to hold the door open for others, or paid for someone else’s coffee, or picked up that piece of trash someone else threw down or refused to get angry at the person who cuts us off while driving down the road. People make mistakes. Forgive. Know that we each are fighting our own battles. Make the world the place we want to live in and we want our children to live in. There is enough ugliness without adding any extra. I am just as guilty as the next person of not always being the most patient or most thoughtful, but I will continue to improve. Will you?

I was asked today what I wanted for Christmas. Without trying to sound cheesy or like a Miss America wannabe…my true and real answer (besides a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease) is for everyone to be treated the way our family has been for the past year. I wish for everyone to feel the love and receive the help that our family has been blessed with. Life is a rough journey and if we all stick together, the path can be a smoother one. So, my Christmas wish is for all of us to be a little kinder, a little more patient and understanding and little more generous with our time and our love.

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posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (9)

Denied Again

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I have taken the drastic measure of scanning and sharing this most recent Aid and Attendance denial from the Department of Veterans Affairs because many don’t believe the VA would not help us. Here it is my friends, in black and white. Please note the list of forms I submitted under the evidence considered on the second page.

Yes, I can file an appeal. But I am not sure the time, energy and effort will be worth it to just be denied again. I have so little energy and time at this point in my life, I am not sure I can. I am sure I will look back and scorn myself for not doing so. Maybe after the holidays….

I know many who have written to tell me their grandfather, father, brother, neighbor, friends uncle and so forth are receiving Aid and Attendance and therefore we should too. I agree. But we are not. I have filled out paperwork, re-submitted paperwork, spent hours on research and information needed, spent hours on the phone and meeting with various experts and I am tired. I already regret the amount of time I spent this summer trying to get help. Instead of enjoying and cherishing Jim’s last months and days in our family home, I worked until exhaustion and emotional craziness,  day after day, making calls, sending emails, doing research and repeating our story, over and over again in front of Jim. He just sat and listened to me beg for help repeatedly. I wish I could go back just those few months and instead sit with him, walk with him, hold his hand and know that we will be ok. Not because the government will help us, but because our friends, our neighbors and even strangers would eventually save us. I am not mad or bitter, ok, maybe just a little, but only because I can look back and realize the precious time I lost with him that should have been our family time to have together. We couldn’t have known the short timeframe for his decline. And I will never know how he was impacted listening to my pleas and knowing he was the cause of so much stress in my life. Jim has the kindest soul and he would never want to be the person causing hardship. He always is the first to offer help.

At the home he is living in, they have an angel tree for all of the residents. When Jim was asked what he wanted for Christmas his reply was a true epitome of his selfless nature. He wanted a watch for his wife.   That was it. Nothing for him. Just me. Even now, he is still wanting to take care of me and the children. Which, in many ways just makes me sadder. I am warmed by his generosity and love but there is a personal loss felt in each and every moment of my day. Even when I am at my happiest time now, it is shared with a subconscious nudging that I am no longer capable of complete and utter happiness. There is something missing.  In the past several years, there has only been one moment I have felt all my cares leave and I could laugh and feel stress free….walking on the beach recently with a friend. We were able to be free of our worries, our guilt, our minds were open to laughing and sharing stories and it was a needed break.

I have been and still am loved by a wonderful man and a kind and giving husband. How lucky am I to have felt such reverence from my partner? Which is why I find it so hard to be completely happy. I know what I am missing.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (7)

Sorrows Under the Mistletoe

Brad putting on the angel. Dec. 2015.

Brad putting on the angel. Dec. 2015.

My heart is heavy. My mind is scrambled. My energy wanes day to day. My world is spinning out of control with a speed and slowness that are confusing and indecipherable.

Jim is still progressing. Of course he is. He has a disease with no survivors. This day and this hurt was promised to us years ago. But to be a front row spectator to his absence while being present is perfect torture. I would prefer to be waterboarded while having my eyelashes plucked out one at a time.

He no longer stands up straight. His posture is that of a 95 year old with extremely poor mien, including the shuffling, the humped shoulders and the constant stare at the floor or something no one else can see.

He drools. A lot. Sometimes.

He mumbles. He says a word. He mumbles more. He is silent.

He feeds himself. He needs help being fed.

He is down to 160 pounds.

He has had 4 Urinary Tract Infections in just over two months. He has had a catheter in for that same amount of time.

He smiles. He picks up invisible things off the floor and puts them in his pocket or hands them to me.

He walks away.

He falls asleep while sitting in a chair or carrying on a “conversation”.

He can’t read. He can’t write.

He has had a few days of not knowing who I am.

He often doesn’t know the children’s names, but does usually recognize them.

He loves company but walks away a few minutes after you arrive.

He doesn’t watch TV.

He will still kick a ball or try to shoot some baskets. On the right day.

He cannot go to the bathroom by himself.

He cannot tell us if something is hurting.

He cannot get dressed by himself.

He still hugs me and kisses me. He still lights up when I arrive to visit him. And then sometimes he doesn’t.

He lives each day in his own world and I try to visit and understand but I only end up crying in the car on the way home or late at night when I search through old photos trying to put together a photo album for him.

I show up to my life half heartedly because the other half of my heart and my life has left me stranded midway and so part of my chest remains empty.

There are times I look at him and wish he would die. I see him so unlike the Jim who took so much pride in himself with his straight back, quick wit, and ironed and clean clothes. He would never walk around with pants on inside out or food spilled down his shirt or drool falling down his chin onto the floor. He would never stand for someone else wiping him clean. Then I think about him actually dying and I don’t want that either. I want another conversation. I want another date night. I want him to play in the backyard with the kids or to cheer them on at a game. I want him to walk through the front door, turning the key himself, walking in with the smile I have loved for many years.  I want him to not be where he is or who he is now, but I can’t have the original back either. It is a waiting game. We know the ending, but not the timeframe or exactly how bad it will get. Every time I think we are at a place so much harder than before, it gets even worse.

Each time I visit him, I am exhausted, depressed, lonely, sad and relieved he is at a place that takes care of him so much better than I ever could.

I am trying to keep our regular traditions up for the kids and I suppose for my own sanity. Moving forward. We got our tree at the same tree farm. But instead of the typical lights, the three of us wanted different things: Frances wanted white lights, Brad wanted multi-colored and I liked the ones we have had the past couple of years with red, green and white. So, I did what any stable Mom would do, I said “screw it” or something along those lines and put one strand of each on the tree. I can pretty much guarantee you there isn’t another tree lit like ours and I can also guarantee it won’t win any “best” awards. But I really don’t care. I actually kind of like it. Sort of a symbol of the way I feel: discombobulated and completely unorthodox.

While the kids and I were listening to Christmas music and putting ornaments on our unique tree, Brad stopped, sat on the couch, and just looked at the tree. When I asked him if he was ok, his reply: “We should have brought Dad home to help with the tree. He should be here.”  And he was right. He should be here. He should be helping with the decorations and sipping eggnog and sitting with me after the kids go to bed, silently leaning into each other as we lay together on the couch in the glow of the lights. He should be running to the store for last minute ingredients and attending band concerts and helping with homework and sneaking around to hide the mistletoe so I will end up standing under it so he could grab a kiss. He should be watching A Christmas Story with us for the 100th time and laughing out loud in that way he did, where he almost couldn’t stop.  He should be here, with us, but that will never be again and it hurts. Like Hell. But I can’t wallow in this immeasurable grief because I have to get up, do the laundry, fix some dinner, go grocery shopping, visit Jim, follow up with doctor appointments, put up the decorations, get all the kids gifts together (plus others on our lists) and somewhere in there get a shower and act like I’m ok so my kids can have a decent holiday since their summer and fall have pretty much revolved around one medical emergency after another with their Dad. After all, this isn’t about me. This is about a man who is leaving his children when he desperately doesn’t want to. It is about two amazing kids losing their father. It is about moving ahead while searching for the right way to let go of the past and hold on to it at the same time.

Jim opening a gift from my parents. Dec 2015.

Jim opening a gift from my parents. Dec 2015.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (26)

Thanks GIVING

36dfba9dcad5628e38b77a18f3a8456cI don’t want to write a typical Thanksgiving list of things to be thankful for. There is a lot of awful things that transpire in our world every day and I think it takes a lot of strength to look past hatred, anger, violence, hurt, bitterness and selfishness to see all the good that also happens on a daily basis.

I am a believer in the fact that in life we always have peaks and valleys. It seems some people have higher peaks and some have lower valleys. But we all have both. Sometimes your position depends more on your attitude than on actual external factors.

For the past few years it has seemed as if we couldn’t catch a break. It was more than Jim’s diagnosis with Younger Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. There were little and big things that added up to a feeling of not only being in a valley, but having a dark cloud overhead as well.

Sometimes, all it takes to get out of that gorge is one person. A friend to pull you out of your miserable depths and to set you on a different course. Sometimes it takes an army.

I now feel as if I have an army pulling me to higher ground. I certainly wasn’t able to get there on my own. Small things add up and big things become game changers.

I am not going to list all of the wonderful things that have happened. But there have been more in the past month than there were in the past year (so it seems). What a difference in my whole world. I can breathe. I can think a little clearer. I can start to figure out who I am.

What I really want you to take from this message isn’t about me. It is about ALL of us. We all need help. We all need that someone who will stand by us in life’s most difficult times. We each have those highs and lows. In a blink of an eye, we can fall from grace.

In this time to reflect on what we have to be thankful for, can we also reflect on what we have done so that others are thankful for us? I encourage each person to examine their contribution to our world. Not just monetary donations to your favorite charity. It is taking the time to visit. It is making sure all parties are invited (and if they aren’t for the sake of being a decent human being, please do not post photos on social media of all the fun you are having without them). It is small gestures like dropping off a bottle of wine, a dinner, a card, a gift card or even just a note to say you are thinking of them. Sometimes, it is just the fact you make an effort that can change the course of another person’s day (or week).

I encourage us all to stop being selfish with our time. Can you spare five minutes to call a friend you care about? Can you take the time and money to purchase a card and write a quick note? Are you in the neighborhood, or even within a mile or two, and can pop by to see if they need help with something?

I can tell you I had a wonderful friend who stopped by one day recently. She knew I was struggling. She text me and told me she was on my front porch. And she was, just sitting with her young daughter on my swing. And she knew I was in bed when I should have been up being productive. And she ignored my mess (me and my home) and she just visited me and loved me and reminded me several times throughout our visit how great I am. She made a difference.

There is another friend who knew I was probably not going to make it to a social gathering taking place close by. She knocked on my door, drink in hand and told me to get ready.

There is the couple who invites me over each month for conversation and drinks.

There are the friends from out of state who send e-mails and texts out of the blue asking how I am.

There is the understanding boss.

There are neighbors who come together to work on my house and provide our family with a place to be without worry of repairs.

There are strangers who have donated financially to help with Jim’s care.

There is the newspaper reporter who tells our story.

There are the very caring friends who help fill the huge gap left by Jim with the kids.

There is the occasional movie date and the lunch or coffee rendezvous.

There is forgiveness at my inadequacies. There is effort without expectations. There is love and support and it all combines to save me. Saving me and therefore saving my children.

I would never know how to repay each and every person who has changed our status from a valley to a rising hill. I am working towards that peak. All while Jim fights to remember us and him and how to be himself.

There is a huge contrast to our struggles, but we both are searching for the answer of who we are. Fortunately, we both are surrounded with many reasons to be thankful.

I am thankful for so much. In the midst of the worst time in my entire life, I am thankful. I encourage each person to search for that which they can be thankful, but also for how they can be the cause for someone else’s thankfulness.

 

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (2)

And the Grief Goes On

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Visiting Jim at his new home. October 2015.

There is a time in everyone’s life where you learn who you are and transform into the person you were always meant to be. Welcome to my time.

I am struggling. It has snuck up on me during a period I assumed would be easier and I would be stronger and more prepared. It seems I am never sufficiently equipped anymore. Jim is no longer living in our home which means I am besieged with new emotions I didn’t see coming. There is a new level of grief. When Jim first moved out, there was relief. The kids and I felt like we could breathe and relax a little. But over the course of the two and a half months Jim has been gone, I have started grieving his absence. As with each loss of him over the past few years, I grieve all over again. Although we no longer have to worry about constantly watching him or finding the things he put in strange places or something taken apart to never be put back together again, there is an absence that is felt and is suffocating.   He is gone from our daily lives. There is no Jim with us unless we visit him. We cannot call or text. Even the dog is missing him and the many walks they had daily. Yes, Jim is still “alive” as far as a living and breathing person, but he is not alive in our home. He is alive in my heart, but even that hurts because it is not the same love or the same relationship it once was. I grieve, but it is a grief that will continue without any closure for an undisclosed amount of time. Stop and re-read that sentence.

Over the course of the past two weeks Jim has been to the ER three times and to the urologist 3 times. Three days ago, he was admitted to the hospital for a two night stay while they fed him an intravenous antibiotic. It seems UTI’s are very common when you have a catheter put in and taken out and then put back in. He is unable to tell us what is wrong, so we must constantly guess. Finally, with a high temp, it was time to head back to the hospital. But I wasn’t able to go when they were taking him. I was working and then I had commitments that could not be changed. For the first time, I did not drop everything and run to be with him. I did not sit with him in the ER. I was not there to explain to him what was going on and tell him where he was. I made a decision and cut the cord. Guilt isn’t really the correct word. Sadness at recognizing this life is becoming so commonplace for us the kids weren’t even surprised when I told them he was in the hospital. I told few people. It seems after you do this a few times, it becomes redundant and is there really a reason to let everyone you know in on the latest medical crisis when so many more seem to be headed our way?

Yep. I’m depressed. My house is a mess. My engine light came on and I have yet to be able to take it by to figure out what is wrong. Hopefully I get it by the shop before I end up by the side of the road.  I have a stack of paperwork to sort through that may or may not get done in the next few days. I have 3 Halloween decorations up and no costume for Brad let alone a pumpkin to carve. But I do have candy. And I do have a plethora of friends who love us and care about us and if I should come to my senses and ask them for help they will do whatever they can. That is a most difficult thing to do. But, when you are in the depths of grieving a person who is still alive, nothing makes sense and you don’t always do the thing that should be done. Sometimes you can’t put enough energy into a full congruous thought process to know what you need or when you need it. So you just do the best you can at that very moment. There is no extra space in my emotional realm to plan ahead or be a good friend right now. I am struggling to be a decent Mom and a rational, thoughtful caregiver from a separate space. A separate mindset.

I think I am halfway ok. I think recognizing I am not doing so hot is a huge sign of a healthy mind. I think knowing I am down and knowing I have a valid reason for being down is also part of this healing process. I think learning to live in the exact moment I am living in takes a strength and maturity I haven’t possessed before. I am not the “I can do it all” person anymore. Maybe one day I will be again but for now, I must learn to accept my shortcomings in comparison to my previous self. It’s ok to celebrate accomplishing something as simple as fixing dinner AND doing a load of laundry in the same day. It’s a bonus if I also put away the laundry or possibly pay a bill. I cannot even fathom being the multi-tasker, over-achiever I once was. I cannot expect to live a life as if nothing catastrophic is happening. I am losing my spouse. I have lost my spouse. My children are losing their father. An AMAZING father. They have lost their father. I am a single parent. I am morphing and changing and it takes time and understanding.

Understanding. I used to worry about my friends disappearing. I still do but I also can’t take someone being my friend for the wrong reasons. If they are tired of our constant tragedy, it’s ok to walk away. I get it. I am tired too. Don’t stay to save face. I have come to realize I actually only want and need those who truly are able to be present for this heartbreaking journey. The others can do the best they can with whatever situation they have going on and it’s all right. I understand. We all have a story and sometimes we can deal with one better than another. Right at this juncture in my life, I must re-direct myself to whittle down my priorities.

It has been a long time coming but I think I have gotten out my big girl panties and have at least thought about putting them on. It isn’t easy, but I am starting to be good to myself and love myself. I haven’t for a long time and that is where I must begin. I am going to plan a break, a time away, by myself, to re-cover and rejuvenate my mind and my spirit. And then I will come back and continue on with the hurt and the heartache and the daily dilemmas. I will get through this awfulness, only with the help of so many wonderful friends and my parents. They are my saving grace….the smallest gestures quickly add up to a net that catches me and throws me back on my feet.  I won’t like it but I will keep moving forward, albeit slowly and without as much pizazz. And one day I will look back and be amazed at the love and support our family was given and wonder how I ever survived.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (13)

Phantom Lover

the-worst-feeling-isnt-being-lonely-but-being-forgotten-by-someone-you-cant-forget-quote-1

I’m in love with a man who cannot love me back. I think of him all day, every day of every week of every month. From my first moments lying in bed in the morning until my last tired thoughts trying to fall asleep late in the evening.

I long to call him with each new idea, thought and life event that transpires. I want to share each amazing feat Frances and Brad conquer. I want to call and ask him what he wants for dinner or if he can sneak away and grab some lunch. I want to hear about his day and carry on a conversation sharing our thoughts and desires. I want to laugh together at something funny on TV or sit in the darkness of a movie theater, jumping at the scene on the screen or wiping away tears as our hearts are tugged by the story unfolding before our eyes. I want to feel the excitement of catching up on episodes missed or planning an evening without the kids. I want to know he is thinking of me, as I think of him. But he is not mine. He is in a different place, with another life and is not interested in my fantasy world that includes him because his world does not include me.

I cannot have him. I dream of him. I yearn to call and ask if he would join me for a weekend away. Just the two of us, locked away in a cabin in the woods or lazily reading books while listening to ocean waves crash feet away.  Would I be satisfied with just a weekend or would I be left in an even larger state of isolation and frustration?  I have lost hope for a note in his handwriting, confessing how much I mean to him and how he can’t stop thinking of me. Does he? Does he think of me? Does he long for my touch as I long for his?

I am a woman with unrequited love.

There are no date nights. There is no lounging in bed too long. There are no passionate kisses and gentle touches. There are no arguments or the fun that comes with making up. There are no loving gazes, no words unspoken with just a glance. No plans for a future together or shared dreams to make come true.

Just me, recalling the way his hand touched my back as we walked through an entryway. Just me, wishing we could stroll arm in arm, chatting and feeling the warmth of friendship and love all rolled into one.  Just me, wondering how I will ever get past this loneliness and longing.

Although I ache for him, thinking of him constantly and wanting to share each detail of my day, he is not mine. He belongs to another. I am just a fleeting thought, someone to ponder about whenever I pop into his mind. Daily? Weekly? Surely when something triggers a reminder of me. There are fleeting conversations, but with each one I am left wanting more. I need more and he cannot give me more.

I instinctively pick up the phone to share something and realize the emptiness of that dial tone. When I am angry or sad I want to reach out to him and hear his voice. He calms me like no other. When something wonderful happens, it is him I want to tell first. I want him to grab me in his arms, pulling me into his chest, smelling his scent, feeling his strong arms holding me tight, taking all the anger away and reminding me I am special and loved and safe. I need him to make me feel beautiful again. I need him to make me feel smart and funny and worthy.

There are no cards. No flowers. No surprises. No late night intimate chats. No snuggles on the couch. No breakfasts in bed. Nothing but the connection I feel, the hunger I have, the dreams that will never come true.  I love someone who is a ghost.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (12)

A Day In The Life

img_5571Yesterday was just another day in the saga of our family. Saga. Our children’s childhood is a saga…

Morning started off great. Got Frances to school on time. Brad to the counselor a few minutes early. I answered some texts and e-mails. I had a counseling appointment. Work had told me I didn’t need to come in, so great, I could get a few things done around the house. Started another load of laundry. Called to make a hair appointment and there had been a cancellation.  She could fit me in at 1! Wow! That never happens. Get laundry on the line. Still need to work on a letter for The Garner Foundation and pay a couple of bills, but it is time to go. I make a mental list of the things I need to do when I get back.

While I am sitting with my hair in foils and with lots of chemicals amassed throughout my tangles, the phone rings. I don’t recognize the number so I let it go to voicemail. Then I listen.

This is the point in our movie where the background music goes from light and cheery to a slow, steady, darker melody.

Jim has been having some issues with his bladder being distended. The doctor had visited. An ultrasound had been performed. Meds ordered. The doctor believes it is a side effect from the medicine Jim is on to counteract his aggressiveness. He was barely able to walk and seemed to be in a lot of pain, although he wasn’t able to verbalize this clearly. They wanted me to come take him to the emergency room. I felt like the worst, uncaring person in the world saying I could not come right that minute, I was at the hairdresser. But as I sat there while the chemicals were rinsed out of my hair and as she cut a few inches of dead weight away, I felt my guilt lift. I was doing the best I could. I was getting my hair done and could not have known at that very moment they would call. This was a huge step for me….letting go of something I ultimately didn’t have control over. My earlier counseling appointment was coming in handy.

So, without eating lunch, I headed to see Jim. Mentally I am going through the evening schedule and deep down I know that Frances is going to miss softball practice. She missed both practices last week because she was sick. I was not looking forward to telling her she would miss again. In a surprise reaction, she was ok. I think she knew that Daddy being in the ER trumps practice. Luckily her coach understood as well. Another moment of realizing our kids are maturing and growing up. Either that or they are getting used to last minute changes to their schedule because I need to be there with Jim.

I changed him and got him to go to the bathroom. (I will purposefully leave details out in respect of his privacy) I took him to the closest ER. 3 hour minimum wait to get seen. I walk us back out to the van and start calling around. I take him to another ER and get seen in about an hour. As we sit in the waiting room, two different families are helping their children with homework. Another woman is over in the corner throwing up in a cup. I start gagging (one of the many reasons I am not a great caregiver) so I take Jim with me to the bathroom because I haven’t gone myself since I first got up many hours ago and I am tired of holding it.

Back to the waiting room. Jim falls asleep and starts to drool as he hunches over. They finally call us to the admittance nurse. She checks his temperature. Checks his blood pressure. Asks him how tall he is and how much he weighs. He just sits there without even registering she is talking to him. He is lethargic and cannot put an audible sentence together. I tell her (again) he has Alzheimer’s and can’t answer (always have to say these things IN FRONT of him). She asks me how to spell A-L-Z-H-E-I-M-E-R-‘-S. By now, I am over this. OVER all of it. Over the wait. Over the people in the waiting room. Over her lack of dementia knowledge while working in a medical setting. I do something I don’t do very often…post something on Facebook that isn’t the most positive. I just wasn’t mentally ready for this interruption into our schedule today. Back to the waiting room. Brad is home from school. I order him to work on his homework and take the dog for a walk. Then he is going over to a friends’ house whose Mom I left a message for. I hope someone will be home. Frances has a ride home from field hockey. I text her to call me as soon as she is home. The nurse calls us and as we get up to go to the back, my phone rings. It is Frances’ field hockey coach. Oh no. Please don’t let her be hurt. I answer, even though I am literally walking through the emergency room, guiding Jim and following and listening to the intake nurse.

“Hi. This is Frances’ coach and she is doing a great job playing field hockey and running cross country. We have been really happy about having her on the team. You know, tomorrow is a very important game for us and she was planning on running a 5k with cross country in their meet and then coming to play the field hockey game.”

“Yes, I know. I was going to give her a ride.”

“Well, I wanted to let you know I just met with her and told her she couldn’t do this. I don’t think she was very happy with my decision but with it being our biggest game, I don’t want her tired.”

We are now at the room and I am trying to comprehend what she is saying and what the nurse is asking us to do. Jim is hunched over in pain.

“Ummmm. Yes. Ahhh. Thank you for calling to tell me. I will discuss this with her tonight. Have you told the other girls who were going to do this?”

“Yes. They were fine. Frances didn’t say anything so I knew she was upset and I wanted you to hear my side of the story. If she goes to cross country, I will cut her from the team.”

They are giving me instructions to put on his gown. Did they say the opening to the front or the back? Leave his shirt on?

“Uhhh, ok. I will talk to her when I get home. Thank you again for calling.”

As we are waiting, a friend shows up with a breakfast bar (knowing me the way she does, she knows I haven’t eaten) Then my other friend calls and says Brad can come over. As I am starting to explain to her what is going on, the doctor comes in. I have to cut her off and go.

Jim needs a catheter.

So we wait a short time and they put in a catheter. 1500 cc’s of urine come out of that man. (I didn’t know it at the time: that is a lot of urine). The normal amount when you feel like you have to go is about 400.

Jim is still in pain. He is shaking and jerking and tries to get up. His coloring is pale. He listens to me and lays down without a fight. He holds my hand, and our friends’ hand, and does his best to keep us happy. He tells me he loves me. He smiles. He grimaces in pain. We ask for something to help his discomfort. They give him something.

No infection.

They change the bag to a smaller one that is taped to the inside of his leg and discharge him back to my care.

My friend has left and taken the kids to eat dinner and after I drop Jim back off, making sure he is fed and comfortable, I join them for 30 minutes, scarfing down some brisket and a beer.

Then on the way home, I call the friend who had watched Brad earlier in the day. She was concerned and relieved. She tells me Brad has a test tomorrow. Ughhh. I make a mental note to ask him some questions.

We get home and there is a load of laundry in the dryer, dishes in the sink, and phone calls and texts to return. I empty the dishwasher and fold the towels. Frances works on her homework. Brad gets his shower. I ask him those questions about European explorers and feel like I have actually done something important. Frances still needs to talk to me about the whole field hockey/cross country dilemma. I am starting to feel really tired. How do hospitals completely wipe you out, even though all you do is sit around?

Facebook has exploded. I meant to just rant about the intake nurse needing some Alzheimer’s education, but what I failed to realize is by informing everyone that Jim was at the Emergency Room, our friends stepped up. Offers of helping with the kids came pouring in and messages checking on Jim and checking on me were plentiful. I felt loved and cared for and supported. I felt that safety net underneath us. I felt like we were going to be all right, no matter what.

By now, it was way past bedtimes and Brad was making his bed. It was at that moment I realized I had forgotten to get in the sheets off the clothesline. They were wet already from the dew. So in the dryer they went and the dishes that were soaking in the sink, well, they stayed there until the morning.

But as I lay in bed, trying to fall asleep, all I could think about was going to bed with dirty dishes in the sink, the tax form I completely forgot to pick up, the conversation with Frances and her worry, thinking of Jim, hoping he didn’t pull out the catheter, remembering I needed to pay two bills I thought I would do after I had gotten my hair done and the last thing I remember is going through the numerous messages of love. I don’t know when I finally fell asleep, but at daybreak, I woke, before my alarm, which is highly unusual, and laid in bed, going back over in my mind all of the wonderful offers of help we had received the night before. I felt blessed and it was a great way to start the day.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (5)