Archive for January, 2015

I love my kids

Frances and Brad, Sept. 2006

Frances and Brad, Sept. 2006

I am like 99.9% of the parents in this world….I LOVE my kids. I love watching them play sports and participate in school activities and I love hanging out with them (most of the time). I love the chats we have and I love the laughs at the dinner table. I love that they make me a better person. I love teaching them about the world and I love it even more when they teach me a thing or two. They are actually pretty good behavioral wise and both of them show me love and gratitude on a daily basis. I recognize how rare this can be with a 14 year old and a 10 year old and I am very, very grateful. I suck it up and savor every moment. Sometimes to the point of being a little too emotional and a little too sappy. I realize it won’t always be this way and appreciate what I have right now. They are by no means perfect, but I am proud and I recognize how seriously lucky I am to have them in my life.

There are moments I get really hard on them for not wanting to be with Jim more or for getting frustrated with him; just like I do. I don’t praise them enough for when they do show patience and when they are participating in his care. As with most of life’s moments, we see them clearer when they are firmly behind us. It is important to me to learn from these lessons and to keep trying to become a better mom, a better wife, a better person. The end result will save me from my self -destructive ways and from wallowing into a mass of self pity. It is difficult to feel sorry for yourself if you are constantly critical within your own decisions and behaviors. Some say I am too hard on myself, but when I consider the alternative of accepting my situation and letting myself fall to pieces over and over or become less of a person than I should or can be, I am not thrilled with what that person looks like. I would fall into a deeper hole because I would be so disgusted by looking into the mirror and not liking what I saw. I suppose without Jim to keep me in check, I am forced to do it myself and this is the way I can. I sometimes rely on friends and family, but they try to be too delicate with me for fear of making things worse or just because they want to protect me more than hurt me. Yes, it would hurt to hear something awful about myself, but in the end game, it would be better for me, Jim and the kids.

I often forget how different their childhood is from mine. I remember growing up being terrified for a while that my parents would die; either from cancer, a car wreck or something that would take them away from me. I can vividly remember asking them when they were going to die and begging them to never leave me. I still feel that way. I think most kids go through this phase at some point. Fortunately, those fears were never realized and I am blessed to still have my parents in my life, helping me as much now as they did when I was living in their home.

On the contrary: Frances and Brad have basically always known that their Dad will not be around forever. They don’t complain about it. Actually, they never mention it. I suppose it is just their “normal”. When we started realizing something was terribly wrong with Jim, Brad was just 5. He doesn’t remember anything different. He doesn’t have a carefree life without the burden of Alzheimer’s Disease. Ever. It is as engrained in him as eating fruits and vegetables or washing your hands before a meal. That is all he has known. Although I live in this family with them, their perspectives and thoughts are so different from mine. Their expectations differ and their reality is now including a disease that not only took their grandmother and uncle from them, but is taking their father too. And they are both fully aware, it could possibly take them or their sibling.They are extremely close for children this age and I am sometimes just awestruck at this. Frances has been gone during the week recently and Brad asked the first week she was gone if we could pick her up early, telling me “it just isn’t as much fun when she isn’t around.” And when I picked her up and brought her home, the first thing she wanted to do was see Brad.  I think part of the reason they are so in tune to each other is their common woe of Alzheimer’s Disease and losing their father in this manner.   What must that be like? How would I feel? I know how I feel with it being my husband and possibly one day my child, but what is it really like to grow up with this horrible mess surrounding you constantly? Is it like living in a war torn country? You just get used to it and learn to adapt?

Frances remembers Jim from before he was showing signs, but her personality allows her to be very practical and compartmentalize on a regular basis. I worry one day, when she is older, she will look back and have regrets. I worry I am not doing enough for either of them now to make it easier and more bearable later. I strive to give them as normal a childhood as possible: no favors from teachers or coaches, no special treatment from schools or organizations they are applying to. There are two rules that I will not budge on: not taking advantage of Jim and not manipulating our situation to their advantage. I feel strongly that it will only hurt them in the long run if they rely on his impending death to get away with things most kids their age try or if they are treated with kid gloves.

There are moments I think way too much about all of this, and I want/need someone to talk to….my husband would be my first logical choice, but as you know, it isn’t a choice that is available. So I sit, by myself, trying to single handily determine the best way to parent two children who are not only losing their father a fraction at a time, but who might eventually sit across from a doctor listening to the same horrible diagnosis.

I am sometimes so completely stunned, I am not able to function at my normal capacity. It just can’t happen. I can’t think straight and I can’t decide what to do about anything. I can’t figure out what to fix for dinner or where some papers should go or how to plan our lives financially. The stress and the burden of trying to stay “normal” through a very, very long illness and subsequential grieving process can make a person not only change their personality, it changes priorities, desires, rationality and common sense.

My first and most important goal is to raise two, healthy, children who are not completely scarred by a childhood overshadowed by death. If I can fulfill this objective, I will have been a good mom. I won’t know until years from now. All I can do in the meantime is the best I can, when I can. And then I need to accept I won’t always be my best. I will still be me, but I will just be a lesser version for a time.

Jim, Frances and Brad, April 2013.

Jim, Frances and Brad, April 2013.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (4)

Trapped Alive

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Sometimes when I write this blog, I have to censor myself. I don’t do it to protect myself, but to protect my kids, my family, or Jim. Sometimes it is because the reality of this disease is so harsh, so burdensome, so outlandishly crazy with the fact that more isn’t being done to help that I have to abstain from writing what I really want. There is a novel being written in my mind that would completely shock some and others would be like, “Yeah, I could have written that years ago.”

I am going to attempt to walk a fine line and discuss where I am and where Jim is. Actually a small facet of those.

I feel trapped. Trapped like a caged animal desperate for release. Trapped in a world I have little control in. Slammed against brick walls and thrown into a dark abyss of pain, selfishness and emotional upheavals that are unbridled and uncontrollable. I am stuck with Jim. I am stuck taking care of him and worse; I am stuck watching him become someone I don’t know. I am MARRIED to a person that can no longer use a hotel key card or who doesn’t understand that you can’t put the Costco cart inside of the World Market store. I bare witness to the mumblings and the utter disregard for clean clothes. I know it is politically incorrect to say these things, but I know I am not alone. I know that there are others who have these same thoughts. It is ok. It has taken me a long time to accept this. It’s ok because I don’t ACT on the thought of feeling trapped and suffocated. I am staying. I am here, doing the best I can. This is me, being me. Even when the kids were younger, I would sometimes be waiting for Jim at the door, ready to hand over the reins so I could have an hour of “me time.” And I love being a Mom and love being with them. But I have always needed my space.

When the kids were just babies I would read article after article on how to be the perfect Mom. You have seen these in parenting magazines….How to Raise a Giving Child or What Every Mom Should Do To Prevent Tantrums. I could never live up to the examples that were set in print. Now that I am a caregiver to my husband, I sometimes fall into that same old habit of trying to be the perfect care provider all over again. But this time, I am a little more mature (just a little) and I am being forced into a corner that will either allow me to excel or set my life on an uncontrollable  spiral. But this time, there are clear repercussions if I fail. My children will suffer at my shortcomings and so will Jim. If I don’t do this “right” I could lose the most precious and wonderful things in my life: my children.  I am choosing to excel. In order to do this, I must find a way to accept my faults. To accept my faults, I must be honest. And that is where this revelation comes in.

One of the things that Jim and I did well was accept each other. Sure we each had our little things we bitched and complained about, but for the most part, he let me be me and I did the same for him. Part of my appeal to Jim was the fact I was so independent. I loved being with him, but I liked my space. And so did he. It worked well. We did stuff together and we did stuff apart. He played sports, I hung with friends. We worked around the house together and watched movies together and then we would travel separately for work and it all came together nicely. Now, not so much. He is home. All. The. Time. I am told when I am not with him, he constantly asks where I am, when I will be back, looks out the windows and front door and paces. I haven’t seen it first hand, but I know this is typical behavior for an Alzheimer’s patient. But it isn’t typical for me. Or for Jim. I don’t do well with feeling suffocated. I need my time. To do whatever. It doesn’t even have to be anything major. Just going to the store by myself or walking a trail by myself or catching up with a friend makes a huge impact on my mindset. Over the holidays, I was basically attached to Jim at the hip and without me realizing it, I was subconsciously revolting. It is who I am. How can I change this? It isn’t cool to say you want some space but I NEED my space. I need my time to do whatever I want.

I have so little time left with Jim, shouldn’t I want to be with him 24/7? Shouldn’t I want to take him in; his smile, his laugh, his eyes, his hands, his everything? Shouldn’t I want to be there for every joke he still cracks and to guide him through his day?

No. I can’t. It isn’t part of my personality and even more to the point: I DON’T WANT TO. It is too hard. I hate seeing him this way and he still has a long way to go. And this my friends is the catch 22. I want to be with Jim, but I don’t want to be with Jim. There is a constant ebb and flow of emotions….. the reality is simple: I want to be with the real Jim and right now I am settling for an impostor. He has such a great attitude and still tries so hard and gives so much of himself….but he isn’t himself and sometimes it is too much for me to see him in this state, however amazingly good it is for someone at this stage of the game. It is such a far cry from the sturdy, autonomous, handsome man I have lived with since 1996. It cuts me to the core and sometimes I am just unable to simply be ok with the  man I am currently living with.

So, here I am. Being honest. I am not going anywhere. I am staying put, but in my mind, I am sailing the islands of the Caribbean or sitting on a dock overlooking a mountainous lake while reading a book or taking in the Northern Lights (on my bucket list) or snuggling with the man who always made me feel like a million bucks until he couldn’t anymore. And now it is up to me to make sense of it all just to stay sane enough to carry on.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (19)

Please fix that chick you see in the mirror….

This is such an amazingly good photo of Jim now. I love it. Dec. 2014.

This is such an amazingly good photo of Jim now. I love it. Dec. 2014.

I am searching. For me. For a way to survive. For a way to thrive. For a way to find myself in the midst of sorrow and angst. I am lost in my own mind of worry and contempt. Contempt for myself. I realized over the holiday break I don’t really like myself but I haven’t quite put my finger on why. You must understand I am a realist and I am just as hard on myself as I am on anyone else. Is it because I can’t save Jim? Is it because I have thoughts of wanting it to all be over, which in reality would mean him dying sooner rather than later? Even recognizing how difficult it will be to be a single parent, I sometimes catch myself wanting this to end abruptly so the children (and myself and everyone else really) won’t have to watch Jim lose himself and all he is/was.  Is it because I lose my patience with my children when I am tired or stressed or disgusted by the fact I still need to clean off my desk, clean the bathrooms, do another load of laundry and clean my room and fix dinner? Do I find contempt for the person in the mirror because she isn’t a superwoman after all?

It’s true. I don’t like myself. I don’t like my looks and most of the time I don’t like me. I don’t like the person who needs help all the time. I am blessed by the fact we have many friends who have jumped at the chance to help us. I recognize what a wonderful support system we have and also recognize I wouldn’t survive without them. But I would be much happier being the one to help than the one constantly sucking up whatever is offered our way.

I am emotionally a mess. At any given time I could cry or fill your ears with a myriad of complaints and turn it into a tirade and then end it by feeling guilty and regretting the whole mess. I am constantly trying to get a handle on my mental status, my physical well being and organize my life, my house, my thoughts and my world. But, it is completely impossible to organize anything with a spouse with Alzheimer’s Disease. Things are misplaced. Things are broken. Things are left incomplete. I feel like a mess. I want order and all I can muster is major chaos.

Sometimes, I sit and I look at Jim. Really look at him. I no longer see the man who swept me off my feet….I see the hunched shoulders and the thin body and the timid responses. I see a shell of the man that at one time I thought could do anything and would help me conquer the world. I feel so sorry for him. I don’t want to feel sorry for my husband because I know he wouldn’t want it, but I do. I can’t help it. The contrast from a few years ago to now and I know the contrast that will take place over the next year or so….it breaks my heart. For Jim. For our children. For our friends. Jim deserves so much better. Not just because no one deserves to suffer at the hands of Alzheimer’s Disease, but because he has always been such a stand up, kind, giving and all around good guy.

There are more stories lining up than I can share….but I will share the one that stands out the most to show how I am failing my family…..

I recently had to drive just over an hour away to take Frances for a new adventure in her life. I had a choice; I could drop her off and immediately return home, or I could linger and have dinner with a friend. I chose the latter.

So, Brad was left home with Jim. Keep in mind, I promised myself a long time ago that I would never have the kids “babysit” Jim. So, I get Frances settled and I go to a leisurely, wonderful dinner with my friend. While we are eating, I have my phone on vibrate so I don’t hear or see the two messages from Brad. When I get to my vehicle I call home.

“Mom, where are you?”

“I’m leaving now. How was your day? “

“Good. You didn’t tell me you would be gone for lunch AND dinner. I didn’t know I would have to fix me and Dad dinner too. I thought it would just be lunch. “ Ouch. 

“I’m sorry honey. I just got done with dinner and will be home in about an hour. Did you get enough to eat?”

“Yes. But why aren’t you home yet?”

“I stayed to have dinner with a friend. I told you I was.”

“Ok. I will see you soon. I love you Mom.”

“I love you too.”

Less than five minutes later, I get a frantic call.

“Mom!! Dad is crying. He has his finger stuck in the dog collar.”

“What? Can you undo the clasp? How did it get stuck?”

“I don’t know. It’s not the clasp. We can’t undo it. Mom, he is in pain.”

“Brad, go next door and get Rex (not his real name).”

“Mom, I can’t. I can’t leave him.”

“Yes, you can, go now and get him and he will be able to help.”

“Ok.”

Ten minutes later, I call and find out the neighbor has indeed come over and helped. Once I am home, everything seems fine. Neither Jim nor Brad can demonstrate to me how he had his finger stuck. Jim doesn’t even seem to remember it happened at all.

The worst part comes as I am tucking Brad into bed:

“Mom, I think you need to get someone to stay with Dad. You know. All the time.”

“I know. I have been thinking about it.”

“Well, someone besides me needs to be here in case an emergency happens. Dad can’t do anything and there needs to be someone here to help him when he can’t.”

Yep. Mom of the year right here. My ten year old has more sense than I do. Hiring a caregiver at home seems so easy. But it isn’t. It isn’t just about money (although that is huge). It is finding someone. It is making that call or several calls. It is having someone in your home, in your life, ALL THE TIME;  to see your many facets and to see the clutter and the mess and the ugly side of things. It is an intimate look into your family and your life and it is a huge step to take. I know I am about to take the plunge and I am not happy about it.

Next story:  Clingy and trapped.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (18)