And the Grief Goes On

IMG_5144

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)

Nap Time

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 11.33.22 PMI have nothing. Nothing to say. Nothing to feel. Nothing to do. I am numb. I am going through motions and I am doing the obligatory foot in front of another, but the reality is I am dazed, confused and paralyzed.

I went to visit Jim two weeks ago. He got agitated, which I quickly learned meant he needed to go to the bathroom. So, I took him to the restroom and he pulled down his pants and WHAM!! Adult diapers. On. My. Husband.

The next week, I stopped by to visit. I couldn’t find him so I asked the two people working his unit where he was. They said he was just there. So, they start looking room by room. After a few minutes, Jim is found. In a room with the door closed, with a person in their bed and Jim in that persons shorts and one sock and nothing else. Jim’s clothes and shoes and socks were on the floor. And the shorts were wet. And Jim had no clue he was in the wrong room or wasn’t dressed.

So, I got nothing. No words of wisdom. No fancy antidotes or metaphors. I have a new me. Being a shocked wife. Being a mom of two children, taking them to visit their father in a home with people 20 – 30 years older and him not showing much emotion or interest. And them laughing at the residents stealing walkers from each other and repeating themselves and seeing a world that none of their peers witness. There isn’t an ounce of perspective that has prepared me to become the judge, jury, executor, pardoner, appeals attorney and bailiff. I have nothing, yet I am everything. To Jim. To our kids. And to myself. There is no person to keep me straight. To help with my parenting decisions, my financial decisions, my daily decisions and my personal decisions. It is all on me. I have nothing to help with the loneliness. The isolation. Really. I am my own island, mostly deserted, and I am afraid that I am slowly getting used to it.

Not really what I signed up for but nothing a nap can’t help.

I am ashamed. Ashamed that I have taken more naps in the past two months than I have in the past 10 years. I am ashamed that my paint is peeling off my house. I am ashamed that I pretty much didn’t wear make up through the entire summer and because I didn’t, I chose to hibernate.I am ashamed I have missed countless birthday and reasons to celebrate or support others. I am ashamed I have not been able to master the clutter in my home for months now. I am ashamed my children have had to fix their own meals many times throughout the past several months.  I am ashamed that I have realized only too late that there is no more time to take the videos or pictures or have conversations with Jim that should have been done. I thought I had but there will never be enough to overcome the new memories that are taking over. Memories of the new Jim.

He is moving on. Without me. He is progressing and losing his ability to speak, write or communicate. I have lost him while he is living. I am alone in our bedroom. I am alone late at night. I am alone in my thoughts and feelings and emotions. I am alone at social gatherings and dinner parties and ball games. I miss him so and at the same time I want nothing more than to move on. I want to leave the pain and agony behind. What an awful spouse I am to even think this. I long for him and all he was even as I wish I could just move away to a new place and start over, leaving the hurt and worry behind. I can’t. I can’t leave him, our kids or the friends who have surrounded us with love.

Maybe I will go away for a week and call it even. Maybe I will wait until the kids are out of the house and I will disappear into the sunset. Maybe I will just stay where I am and dream for a different ending. Maybe I will do a lot of things but certainly not while I am taking a ridiculous amount of naps.

Jim and I never had the perfect marriage. But we always had each other and the knowledge that we were in this for the long haul. We knew that we wouldn’t leave. I am not leaving, but I am not with him either. He is five minutes away and I am struggling to understand what has happened, where I am going, what I am doing and what I should be doing. Nothing about this situation is traversable with ease, yet I must navigate carefully, so I don’t one day look back and regret any decisions, impact the kids negatively, cause stress or harm to Jim, and most of all, cause unforeseen and irrevocable damage.

I am constantly wondering and second guessing….  should I make the kids go see Jim? Let them decided? Bring him home for a visit? Leave him be? Bring him to our favorite places? How much should I try to keep in his world while he is moving on to another place without us? I struggle each day and when I can’t move past whatever it is I am fretting over I usually decide to take a nap. And when I awake, I realize I haven’t gotten the myriad of tasks done that I should have, now I am an hour behind on whatever it is I could have been doing and I berate myself for not doing what needed to be done. But naps are sooooo good. They let me forget my problems, even if only for 30 minutes.

My new self  isn’t much different from my old self: Worrying about the kids, about Jim, about the future, the past mistakes, the present mistakes, and how to keep from making futures mistakes. But now I tend to shut down. Take a nap and come back to it another day. Now I can add in where I  worry about all the stuff I am not doing because I am taking a nap.

I am better than this. Jim and the kids deserve better than this. I will be a stronger. One 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 (19)

Alone

Frances, me and Brad getting ready to leave family camp. Aug 2015.

Frances, me and Brad getting ready to leave family camp. Aug 2015.

In the middle of the night I reached out, my legs stretching to a cooler feel of sheets only to find an empty bed. An empty space that was once filled by a warmth, comfort and security that will not be there again. And that is a sobering thought. How can my Jim, so handsome, so healthy, so capable not be around to make me feel whole again?

There is an empty space that seems to grow larger each day. Not just because I must now navigate everything solo…I was already doing this. The yard, the bills, meals, laundry, schedules, rides, chores, discipline, everything was already on my shoulders. Yet, there was something about him being here. Something about his smile, his aura. I am broken and I honestly know without a doubt I will never be fixed or whole again. There is not a possible way to fill the hole Jim has drilled into my soul. I must learn to accept my fate, but can I accept this fate for him or our children? It is a pain that is indescribable to sit idly by as he forgets our childrens’ names or doesn’t show interest in them, their activities or anything happening in the world around us. He does show me love…he kisses me when I leave him and he lights up when I visit. Our love story is still solid in his mind and for this I am grateful.

I am living a life that is actually on hold, swirling in a tornado, yet moving forward for those that need it. I believe I am stagnant in my mind, my emotions and my ability to be. Be me. Be a friend. Be an employee. Be a neighbor. Be an advocate. Be anything. I am lost. I am in a swirl that at times seems to stop, but ultimately I am thrust into a world that I am unable to master. For someone with the personality I have, this is very difficult.

Jim is happy. He is in a much better place. No smells. Lots of activities. Clean. Close to home. Home. Our Home. What is his HOME?

Where is my rescue? I know….I don’t have one. It is me. Me. It is my responsibility. But I must admit, I have never thought of owning a house ALONE. Or being a parent ALONE. Or planning vacations ALONE. Or dinners, lunches, breakfasts ALONE. Yep, movies, concerts, everything that I always took for granted Jim would be there  in a way that was easy and assuming is gone. Recent invites to parties, dinner gatherings, are for one. For me. I am now the plus one.

When Frances, Brad and I were at family camp this summer, there was a closing ceremony and a children’s group award ceremony. Who did I sit with? Remember….family camp. Husbands and wives. That was us. Yet now I sat alone. Alone in our bed. Alone in our van. Alone at our table. Alone. Yes, we have two awesome and amazing children, but they have plans and friends and activities. I am alone. And Jim is 5 minutes away, alone with his new friends. We are alone in our respective worlds, somehow missing who we once were yet unable to recapture it. Ever. And that makes me so sad. So very sad.

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

What do YOU really think?

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 12.24.28 AMHow many drive the car they drive to impress others? Or wear certain clothes to attract attention? Or cut their hair just to entice a mate? Who in this world bases each action or decision on the reaction or perceived reaction from others?

And here I am, under an unimaginable amount of stress, grief and pressure to figure out what to do with Jim and unfortunately worrying about what others will think. Not just strangers, but people who mean the most to me…Frances and Brad. Their current thoughts on the subject and my worry about their thoughts years from now weigh heavily on my mind.

Home care? Institution? Just me and the kids?

I am inclined one way but then I envision having to live with that decision. So I start pulling toward the other solution. Not long after, I think of the original plan. It never, ever ends. Ultimately, my decision really won’t be my decision and I will probably laugh at all of the time and energy I have put into this. The decision will strictly be a financial one not a practical one. And that is really out of my hands.

I find myself justifying so many things with almost each conversation I have.

Earlier this week I chatted with a neighbor. I caught myself justifying. Not long after, I spoke with a casual friend who asked about Jim. Again, I was almost embarrassed as I heard myself repeating the same justifications.

Right now Jim is in a 30 day respite program we have been granted through the Veterans Administration. Wow! What a difference in our home. What a change in me and in the kids. Yet, I have felt the need to justify this welcome reprieve.

But to tell the story of relief is to tell of the burden and the stress and the unhappiness of having Jim at home. Who would ever want to acknowledge that life is better without their loved one with them? Certainly not me and not our kids. But it is what it is. And as I write this, my lungs almost collapse in shock and sadness. What kind of monster am I for feeling this way? How can I be a good wife, a good caregiver, a good person for thinking this, let alone saying it out loud? Me. I am. And I am tired of worrying what others think. Unless you have been taking care of a person with YOUNGER ONSET Alzheimer’s Disease WITH children at home, you are not allowed to pass judgment. You are not allowed to even think that you would do this differently. You really don’t know and could never comprehend what you would do unless you are actually living this very life with the exact same decisions and circumstances. Do I sound angry? I am not. Actually, right this very moment, I am happy. For the first time in a long time, I can breathe and I can focus on being a mom and nothing else (sort of) and it has been so nice. The kids and I have had many relaxing nights, fun days and times of reflective honesty. Yes, before Jim’s disease took hold, our family would have done these things with him and we would have been complete and whole. We are broken and the kids and I need to be able to move on. It is so difficult to try to move on while Jim is still with us. Yet, I don’t really want him to not be with us. Obviously it isn’t my choice whether he is here mentally. It is almost some kind of scientific wonder how he can be “here” physically, but he is no longer “here” mentally. Sometimes he is able to be part of a conversation or have a funny input or something relevant to what we are discussing, but let’s face it, he isn’t capable of being a contributor to decisions and barely can recall what was just discussed. The day to day change one way and then another is amazing if you stop long enough to digest it all. It does not please me to acknowledge these things. He is progressing. We are progressing. Life is hard. Life is complicated.

I often am forced to think back to conversations Jim and I had as he was in the process of getting diagnosed. We had many heart to hearts and he was always very adamant about the kids coming first. I know he had no clue the financial strain this would all have, but he was very clear on what he expected from me: taking care of Frances and Brad.

At this point, I just want to be able to be a Mom. Being a friend, a worker, a neighbor, a wife…all pale. I don’t have it in me to do all of the above as usual. I can only focus on a single point at any given time. Right now it is taking care of Frances and Brad as best I can under these circumstances. Then it is working on care for Jim. Wow. The paperwork and stress is indescribable.

I see Jim. He is happy in the respite. He is getting attention and has activities. He doesn’t have a lot of commotion. He hasn’t asked to come home. He hasn’t said he doesn’t belong there. Bittersweet. I am happy he is happy but his contentedness is a reminder of how far along he has progressed with this disease and it makes me so very sad.

Every time I see someone and tell them about Jim being in respite and trying to decide what is best for him, I find myself trying to justify and explain and to make sure they understand. Really? Why should I care? None of them are going through this. So do I really need to explain myself and what I feel is best for our children? Isn’t it apparent that everything I do is to make sure the kids are ok? Don’t they know that Jim and I had this conversation many moons ago and it is also his wish to put the kids first? Isn’t it obvious?

No, no. I feel the constant need to justify and explain to people who could not possibly comprehend the decisions and the magnitude of those decisions on the future of our family.

Yet, with all of my resolve to be strong and stick to my decisions from so long ago in dark, intimate times with Jim, leaving his care to someone else causes great stress and guilt. How could I ever be without him willingly? What kind of selfish heathen am I? How can I leave him to the trust of others to make sure he is clean and brushes his teeth and puts on clean clothes and stays active? Do they watch to make sure he doesn’t take the tooth brush and tries to clean the sink? Are they making sure he is washing his hair? Do they check to see if he is washing everything correctly?

The torture I feel is immeasurable. There will come a day that I will sit by myself and reflect, gazing at a beautiful scene and wonder how I did all I have done. But in the meantime, I struggle to find a foothold on what the correct choice is.  I struggle because I wonder how it will be for me and the kids or because of what others will think? Or because I will lose everything financially? Do I need a retirement? Do I need savings? Isn’t it better for me to have a stable, happy home for my children? But, isn’t it better for them to participate in the care of their father? Won’t that just grow character for them?  What if he gets violent again? Won’t it be my fault since I knew this was a possibility? Love hurts and love cuts to the very core.

Frances and Brad rock jumping at Belle Isle VA. August 2015

Frances and Brad rock jumping at Belle Isle VA. August 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 (18)

A world without Jim?

 

Visiting Monticello,  July 2015.

Visiting Monticello,
July 2015.

Please, please, make all of this go away. The pain. The worry. The decisions. The agony of watching Jim slide away as we try to cling to him. As he tries to cling to himself.

It hurts. So bad. And I can’t stop it. From hurting me, him or the kids. The kids. As a parent, all I ever want to do is protect them and keep them from hurting but this hideous disease blocks me from protecting them. It is taking their father from them and they are front row witnesses. All I can do is stand helplessly by as their pain grows, his death grows closer and I frantically work at picking up pieces as they fall faster and faster until I can no longer keep up. They see me struggling to find a solution. They watch as he tries to speak and they can barely manage to put together his mumbles into a clear thought. They help him with so many daily activities during the day they can’t ignore his plight. They are entrenched, as we all are. I feel as if I am failing them while I am failing him. I can’t help him. Can I help them?

I see him look to me for help, I see him struggle to speak, to get dressed, to brush his teeth, to bathe and shave, to help around the house…..he deserves so much more, so much better. How dare this happen to such a wonderful person? How dare I fail him? Fail the kids? Fail myself?

I thought the grieving process would get easier but the truth is the grieving process is only subliminal for a while and then it re-emerges stronger than ever. Just when I think I have a handle on letting him go and moving on, becoming a single parent, making all of the decisions, being Mom and Dad, figuring out finances and facing my loneliness head-on and accepting this fate….I look at him, see is frailness, his desire to stay with his children enabling him to watch them grow up, his failure to manage the most simplest task and the disappointment on his face….what am I doing wrong? What can I change? What can I stop and divert?

The world keeps spinning around us. But my world has stopped. Friends have disappeared. But in truth, not only do I understand, it is ok because he is constantly within ear shot and I can’t have a private conversation anyway. My world is selectively smaller these days and yes, it hurts, but there is nothing surprising going on. Friends have called and I have not answered because I can’t really talk. It would be a superficial conversation and I am not up for that. I am barely up for a real conversation, but putting on a front has never been my style and at this point it is impossible. I feel as if I am in a prison, trapped and controlled by something no one is regulating.

I now wake earlier to assist him in the mornings. One morning recently, I got him in the shower, helped him, got him drying off and went across the hall to wake Brad up. I spent a few precious moments caressing his sweet face and hair and just having a private morning moment with my son. When I went back to the bathroom, Jim had found a razor and “shaved”, cutting his chin and leaving large portions completely untouched. And that is where we are.

I constantly feel pulled between taking care of him correctly and taking care of the kids correctly. They both need me and deserve better. But it is impossible. I am torn at all times and I know the answer. While I fail them both, I fall further and further. Jim and I discussed this several years ago when he was first diagnosed. The kids come first. But it is harder to do now, when it is actually upon us. I want to do right by him but I want to be the parent our children need as they lose their father.

It is just so sad to watch him. He is a ghost of his former self. It doesn’t have anything to do with my recent burdens. It is seeing him struggle to try to do a simple task and not be able to and to know at one point he had so much pride and was capable. Not that it would be easier any other way….I am just hurting.

Yes, I am depressed. Friends have suggested medication. My therapist has recently started mentioning it as well. But I feel like I have a right to be depressed. I am in a depressing situation. And I need to feel the hurt and the pain before I can move on, if I ever am able to move on. Right now I can’t fathom ever moving on past this pain. But I know that being medicated is going to numb some of the pain and I need to try to hold off as long as possible. I am not opposed to it, I will probably eventually take something to help me, but for now, I want to try to stay off anything that will deter me from understanding the pain my children will feel, are feeling and have felt. It is ok for me to hurt, I don’t need something to ease that pain, but I have no doubt that at some point it will be time to get some assistance pulling myself out of this funk.

This is a most agonizing journey and I am hopeful that at the end of the road I will be a better person and somehow survive strong enough to continue to help others. I am amazed at the number of people coping with this same plight and hurting and struggling as we are. How is our country able to stand strong without helping the weakest? My friends, there is a fight brewing, and I hope you will all be with me. It isn’t about money and it isn’t about class or race. It is about doing the right thing and about common sense. It is hard to imagine this is an issue, but it is. It is also hard to imagine a world without Jim in it.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (23)

There is a Solution, I just haven’t found it yet

quote-about-figuring-things-out-and-moving-forwardI am exhausted. Mentally more than physically. The paperwork. The worry. The constant watch. The pure, unadulterated sadness. It is beyond overwhelming, it has changed my thought process, my soul and my inner-sanctum.

Watching a person die is horrible. Watching someone you love die is worse. Watching someone you love die a slow, tortuous death is beyond comprehensible. The guilt, the helplessness, the frustrations, the anger, the heartache, the wish for it all to end…. There are times I wish Jim was afflicted with something simple like cancer or heart disease. Not only would there be hope for him (and therefore us) but there would be more support and understanding from the world around us. And most importantly, HE would still be with us.

The endless paperwork, processes and lack of understanding from any system that can help us is completely unbelievable. If someone else in my situation was telling me this story, I would immediately think that there must be something they have missed, there must be a solution and obviously they haven’t tried hard enough. Well, I am here to tell you….I have tried.

Many readers have been so, so kind and reached out with suggestions and ideas and just thoughts of love. Thank you. I want to address the following to you:

Jim is retired Air Force. He is currently on Medicare because he has been on Social Security Disability for over 3 years. Once a person who has Tricare Health Insurance collects SSDI for over two years, they are automatically switched to Medicare. There is no option.

We have applied for Medicaid and have been told our case should be reviewed and a checklist should be sent out sometime during the first part of August. In the meantime, I just wait to find out what paperwork they will need. I have done some research and so far have gotten together most of what I think they will want….every bank account, every insurance account (they want to know if life insurance policies have a cash value), every investment account and our mortgage statement. It took me several days to get all of this together. Obviously the person(s) who decided this whole process have never in their life been in a predicament like we are currently facing. The application, the turning in of said application, the conversations on the phone, the gathering of information, the waiting for an answer….it is almost as if they are trying to just wear people down so they don’t finish the process so they don’t have to help them. How do others get through this??

The Veteran’s Administration. Oh boy. Where do I start? Should I tell you about the gentleman who was supposed to be helping us with our intake questionnaire but instead  WAS WATCHING COLLEGE BASKETBALL on his computer? Let’s be honest….it isn’t college basketball season which means it was a re-run which means he already knew who won anyway! Ok, I am moving on….Jim scored a 9 on his MMSE. Some of you who have travelled this road know that means he tested in the severe range. How unbelievably awful it was to sit, as the psychiatrist, who obviously has no Alzheimer’s Disease training or background, tried to ask Jim about his recent psychotic break. Then tried to carry on a conversation with him. Then asked him simple questions he could not answer, as I sat and watched, tears streaming down my face. Awful. Just awful. But at least the kind doctor said he would try to help us and would try to find a way to get Jim care. Again, his disability isn’t service related. He isn’t a Vietnam Vet or Gulf War Vet and he is not 65. We make over $26,000 a year. We are the middle class and we have nothing.

I sat at my desk the other day just dumbfounded by this whole mess. How am I expected to take care of Jim the way he deserves AND take care of two children the way they deserve? And somehow keep sane? Actually I am not sure I am at this point!  $6000 a month is the starting point for Memory Care. I sat and figured out where I went wrong…If we had saved $500 a month for each of the 18 years we have been married, we could cover 18 months of care. But, we didn’t. Please let this be a lesson for all of you. In other locales around the country, the costs are double. So start saving my friends.

Jim is still home. He is doing very well. He is happy in a childlike way. He now needs assistance with getting dressed, with shaving, showering and unfortunately parts of the bathroom routine. He takes it all in stride, not getting angry or embarrassed. Well, occasionally he snaps, “I can do it” and there have been a few moments the kids were scared because he seemed to be getting agitated and we are all on eggshells knowing what happened in Connecticut,  but overall he is easy going. I feel bad because he can’t figure out things to do without constant urging and help. He will sit and color at the table, but needs some direction. I, unfortunately, am at this point either making phone calls, trying to fill out paperwork or collect needed paperwork or fixing dinner, or starting a load of laundry or  trying to make sure I focus some attention on the kids to remind them I love them and I do want to hear about their day and their thoughts.

I have not left Jim alone since he returned and I now feel like a prisoner in my own home. He has returned to the wonderful respite program he attended before a couple of times a week but otherwise I have a shadow.  No quick runs to the store, or walks with friends or private conversations (he is always lurking within 10 feet of me) or ALONE time. None. On one hand, it is so sweet that he loves me and needs me so much he cannot possibly be out of sight of me. On the other hand, I am reminded of crazy stalker people and no one wants to feel as if they are constantly being watched and followed. It is creepy and unnerving.

I need $72,000+ a year on top of the income needed to take care of myself and the kids to now take care of Jim in a facility that will keep him safe, occupied, clean and happy. I hate that money has become such a huge issue in his care, in our story, in the eventual way he is taken care of. I believe all that should be at issue is making him feel safe and loved as he dies. Helping our children lose their father with the least amount of long term affects.  I struggle every day to figure out a solution. I am college educated, strong, smart and capable. There must be an answer and I must not be good enough to figure it out. After all, it just doesn’t make any sense to  not have a solution. Wonderful suggestions have been made: Go Fund Me pages, ads on my blog, selling the rights to our story, divorce, spending it all down and using our savings because I am young enough to build it back up again, in home care, re-doing our walk up attic for him and a caregiver, etc. How is it that so many others have dealt with this situation and yet we are still not able to call the right person, hear a few viable options and pick the one that best fits our family? Lots and lots of ideas have been floated our way and it’s just hard to know what the right answer is. I suppose I will never know what the right answer is. I will be forced to make the decision I can make and then I will keep moving forward because that is what we do. Humans keep moving forward. Through grief. Through pain. Through hard times and even through good times. We all move towards some unseen light and hope that along the way we are consistent with our happiness, our love and our contributions to others.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (17)

Survival of the Fittest

Jim, Frances and Brad enjoying skipping stones on the Maury River in Virginia. June 2015.

Jim, Frances and Brad enjoying skipping stones on the Maury River in Virginia. June 2015.

It has been 6 long years since we first started figuring out something was “wrong” with Jim. To some, this will seem a very minuscule amount of time. For us lucky ones, living and enduring the torture, it will seem an endless amount of time.

When a person loses a loved one, they are forgiven their lapses of judgement. If they forget to say “thank you” or don’t have their home kept up or they don’t seem themselves…it is forgiven and they are encouraged to keep moving forward. If they get too drunk too often, they are forgiven. If they seem short-tempered or completely out of it…they are forgiven.

But I ask myself daily how much time and indiscretion should I be allowed? Will I be forgiven for being a louse for 20 years? When is enough enough?

Jim is not dead. Jim is not alive; not in the sense of who he was, how he once lived and his being. His great attitude and his constant desire to continue to help is amazing. His sense of humor still shows at times and takes us all by such surprise, it is a present wrapped in a perfect package. So, he lives, but as a new entity in our world. One constantly changing and now needing more and more help. I am so grateful for his fantastic way, his attitude blesses us even as his mind fails him more and more. I grieve him. I have lost him on so many levels, so many times and our children have grieved with me. Our friends have cried with me. Jim has cried. He is losing many cognitive abilities.  Almost daily something new disappears. Handwriting. Speech. Dressing. Hygiene. Emotions. I stand by helplessly beholding the changes in him, yet missing the strength I would normally steel from him. I no longer have his support, his guidance, his assistance with the kids, the house, with finances, with life….yet, I am told all of my shortcomings are understandable and I am encouraged to drink more, speak freely, be the woman who has lost someone, let myself go and suffer the pain….yet I wonder how long can I sustain this? How long am I allowed to be grieving, to be less than I should and can be?

I am better than the person I am right now, yet I cannot manage to find my path to ME. The me Jim helped me become. The me WE were. I am unable to concede I must figure out who I am alone, with him sitting by my side, while searching for and needing the me I must become without him. The way I miss him is still raw, though I have become more accustomed to being the sole “adult” in our home.

The road I travel at the moment is a most treacherous one. I can slip and become a lost soul that will somehow be forgiven. I have an excuse to be less of a mom. Less of a wife. Less of a woman. Should I succumb to the darkness the lurks each day, it will be said I was a good person, but it was all just too much for me. There will be excuses to explain my fall. But I, I, do not accept those excuses. I do not accept the opening to allow myself to be someone I know I would abhor under normal circumstances. I am fighting not to lose who I should be to hard times, difficult circumstances and a pain that could kill a weaker soul.

I face my demons and my struggles each hour of each day. I struggle to make the right decisions solitarily. I hesitate to move onward while holding the hand of the man who pushes me forward as he holds me back. The constant metaphors in my life shout out to me constantly. I never know if I am making the right decision or if I am not making a decision I should be making or if I am just failing our family, one choice at a time.

I know Jim’s disease and decline and eventual death are NOT my fault. (Although there are times I have survivors guilt, but that is a whole different chat) But the effect of everything relating to our journey lies squarely on my shoulders. There is not enough beer in this world to lesson that burden. The fact my children witness their father dying a little more each day does not slip past my view. The fact I am responsible for not only their physical wellbeing, but their current mental health and their future mental health and their daily meals and their education and the normal parental scope of dealing with life in the adolescent years and money issues and friendship issues and something as minor as what to wear and who isn’t speaking to me and who didn’t do something and I really have to clean my room and do the dishes NOW???? There are times I just want to walk away. I just want to disappear into the night. But I have nowhere to go. There is nowhere else I would rather be. I want to be here with the two people on this earth who think I matter, who they look to each and every day to love them and make them feel as if the world doesn’t completely suck. It is hard to see when immersed in the trenches, but when I am really downtrodden and at a low of the low points… somehow I am able to see the miracle of the love my children and I share. The closeness, the stories, the history and the promised future. I can see the need they have for me to be here, even if I don’t really feel like it. Even if I am hurting in my adult way of missing a spouse and partner. They are missing a Dad, a parent, a confidant. It is unacceptable for me to put my own needs ahead of theirs for too long. Yes, 6 years is starting to feel like a very, very long time. But our journey has no end. Even when Jim is no longer with us, we will still be alone, without him. We will struggle to recall his stories and keep his memory alive. The trick is to start this all while he is still living, without allowing the weirdness and the emptiness to keep us from grieving. We will mourn, and we will cry and share our stories and we will live in a holding pattern for as long as we can. At some point, we will have to let go. I don’t know when that will come. I don’t know if I can manage that long. I hope I can. This is a most difficult path and a most painful journey. I am not always sure I will outlast the fountainhead. If I don’t, my children will have learned the most valuable lesson of all…survival of the fittest.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (14)

Battles Within

Enjoying Chincoteague Island and thankful for The Refuge Inn! Mother's Day 2015.

Enjoying Chincoteague Island and thankful for The Refuge Inn! Mother’s Day 2015.

It has been time for a new post for quite a while and I have written many in my mind. But sitting down to express my thoughts and feelings hasn’t been able to happen, for many reasons.

The first being I have been down. DOWN. As Jim declines, I decline. At some point,  I have to pull myself out of whatever hole I am in, even if he can’t. Without his help. Without his support or his belief in me. Without any communication about such daring escapades. Without the caring gestures and the simple pleasure of knowing he cares and is by my side. Mentally AND physically alone. It is only recently I have come to realize that dealing with one part, say the mental absence, was doable for a while. But then, there is the nonexistent physical connection as well. (Not just sex, but just a simple arm around my shoulders or hand placed at the small of my back as we enter a room….) The two combined equate the ending of our marriage as we knew it, as we lived it, as we dreamed it. Without either the physical or emotional connection to sustain us, what is left?

I feel as if I am a character in an old silent movie, teetering precariously on a steel beam high above the city, with my arms flailing, trying to keep balanced as my body contorts to whatever way my instability throws me while trying desperately to keep steady enough not to fall to my impending death, far, far, below. It is a symbol of the doom I seem to carry with me, even as I try so hard to focus on all the good that surrounds us daily. I mean, let’s be honest, I have much more on the positive side than the negative side happening in my life. It just seems that one, teeny, tiny negative somehow outweighs all of the positives and makes it beyond difficult to ignore or somehow unable to focus on the good stuff enough to keep myself happy and content.

I have been busy. Busy at very specific times. There have been times I have neglected even the most mundane tasks by deciding I couldn’t do anything besides roll over and go back to sleep after the kids went to school. NOT cool. AT ALL. So, after I would do this, once I was awake and functioning, I would go into some sort of immediate guilt trip of spending way too long in bed when I have many, many important things to get done. It has been a vicious cycle and an uphill battle. I am told not to beat myself up and to let myself have this time to heal and deal. It’s just not who I want to be. But only I can fight this battle. And I am winning. Not at the pace I would like, but still, I am winning. I am aware this is textbook depression. I have started seeing a therapist. I am aware this is normal. And it may be, but for me, it is not acceptable. Under any circumstances. See the sentence above about how many more positive things I have going for me.

As previously stated numerous times: JIM IS DECLINING. Yep. He isn’t getting better, but we knew this was our trajectory years ago. Years. You would think at some point this would all become old hat. Even so, our natural human nature is to always hope for something better to come down the pike. It is hard to keep this positive outlook and positive demeanor while understanding and acknowledging Jim is not getting better which means he is sliding closer and closer to things much worse.

Jim recently told me one of his last wishes (don’t worry, he isn’t THAT far along) was to go back to Chincoteague, VA. We used to go every year for Mother’s Day. Last year we missed it. So, this year, with the very kind help of The Refuge Inn, we were able to go and enjoy Mother’s Day weekend. Taking in the beautiful scenery of Chincoteague and Assateague Islands, Jim was like a little kid. Literally. We had such a memorable and fun time together as a family.

I had been worried if he would be able to do the customary bike ride, but it was no problem for him. I was worried if he would have trouble at the beach, but again, it was no trouble. Just the opposite. He was giddy, and happy and crashing into waves like he did years ago. It was such a wonderful site to behold.

Jim riding on Assateague Island, May 2015.

Jim riding on Assateague Island, May 2015.

We had a grand time. The kids enjoyed their dad and the island and just family down time. I enjoyed it all. And Jim fell into a memory that was familiar to him.

Back to reality. The night we returned: I was starting laundry and the kids were putting out the recycling and trash bins. Jim was confused. He wanted to figure out what was going on and what to help with. This is always such a treacherous place. I asked him to go upstairs and get his shower, but he knew we were all doing “chores” and things around the house. As I sorted the laundry, I heard the front door open and close. Not too long after, Frances came in and told me, “Dad just took off.”

Of course I was alarmed and worried and stopped what I was doing. She told me Brad had taken off after him. It was dark. I was immediately uncomfortable and worried. Frances and I started searching for them and calling out their names: loudly into the neighborhood. It seemed like ages, but in reality was probably only 5 minutes before she had located them. I was torn. Angry at him for doing this to his children and relieved to have found him. And sad. For many different reasons. We walked home in silence.

Later I asked him why he ran away like that. His answer was a simple and honest one: “I don’t want to be this person, I don’t want to not be able to do things and to keep getting worse and worse.” He had tried to run from the disease.

There was nothing else to discuss. I just sat with him and silently wondered why such a good man was being tormented over and over.

This whole life with Alzheimer’s Disease is a constant battle.

Battles with Medicare and finances.

Battles with emotions.

Battles with guilt and expectations.

Battles with loneliness.

Battles with internal desires.

Battles with commitments and timing.

Battles with anticipatory grief.

Battles with science and karma and helplessness.

I know I will be ok. I have to be, right? I have to for my kids. For my parents. For Jim. For my friends. For…me? Do I really care if I’m OK? At what costs will I make it through all of this and will I be able to look back and like the person I was and who I become? Will I still be a good Mom and a good friend? Will I continue to be a good caregiver to Jim (although some days I wonder if I am at my optimal and what he deserves).

Only time will tell. Not having been a patient person, I am learning to soak in the opportunities that come our way while recognizing it may take time before I can truly appreciate or understand the journey we have lived through.

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)

Tentacles

B1BKrDlCQAAkIBG

 

Jim has tentacles in me. Every part of my being.They are wrapped around my mind, woven throughout my body and engrained in my soul. His warm, soft tentacles encircled my heart and as they balance it precariously, they seem to harden and tighten their grip. His tentacles reach into our finances and my role as a parent. There is a tentacle in most of my friendships and in my career. There is nothing in my life that isn’t touched by him and that hasn’t been for the past 19 years. And now Alzheimer’s Disease touches each one of those things as well.

Sometimes I feel his tentacles being snatched out of me and it sears as if I have been touched by a radiating iron cane. The scars have started to form as they leave their marks. I fight it. I fight losing his love, his touch, and his help with every aspect of my life. A life now being ripped apart at the seams.

There are times I think, I can do this.

And then there are the dark moments that come out of nowhere and cause me to sink into an abyss.

I will get a bill from his hospital stay and fight with Medicare for hours on the phone to no avail as he sits quietly watching from the couch. Not long after, the kids will embark into a loud discussion and Jim again sits silent. By now I am on edge and ready to snap and all it takes is something simple…a misplaced item, something left out that should have been put away, homework not done before the TV gets turned on or rooms not picked up or dinner needing to be fixed or the trash smelling up the kitchen and I am the only one who seems to notice….. Something simple, that in the whole scheme of things doesn’t matter, will cause an enormous amount of pressure and unhappiness. When in reality it is the tentacles; the long, flexible organs that are burning me from the inside out. They are reminding me of the loss of my best friend, my co-parent, my financial advisor, my handyman, my confidante, my lover, my future and my past.

Watching Jim sit in the passenger seat during the brutally cold winter as I got out to pump each tank of gas. Seeing him in bed, unable to put the covers over his feet. Listening to him interject into a conversation with an almost unintelligible sentence that doesn’t relate to the topic at hand. Watching him fumble with his belt and unable to understand as I explain he is missing a belt loop or his pants are unbuttoned. Eyeing the unkept hedge (remember the hedge?), the edging needing to be done, the overall unkept yard Jim would never have allowed to happen.

I feel as if I am becoming androgynous. My role as mother is merging with the role of father. Taking out the trash. Mowing the yard. All of the things typically done in a household by the male. I realize this is awfully sexist, but in every marriage, each person has particular things they do. In our family, Jim did the “guy stuff”. Fixing things, taking care of the yard (except for planting the flowers), doing the dishes after I cooked, helping with homework or playing with the kids while I did my “girl stuff”.  We had our flow of expected responsibilities. It is hard to remember he used to pay all the bills or was responsible for keeping track of oil changes and inspections due. It is all me now. Plus I am accountable for his well being and care. Does he see the stress I am under? Does he see the paint peeling on the house? Does it bother him when I have to help him pick out his clothes? When he hears certain songs does it trigger a memory of special moments in our past? Does he think about me that way anymore?

This weekend is our 18th wedding anniversary. I took Jim to celebrate at a nice Italian restaurant. While driving, I made a concerted effort to hold his hand. I had to explain to him where to put his elbow and make him understand it was ok. But it wasn’t his hand I held. It was a stranger’s. It didn’t feel right in my palm. There were no callouses and the muscle tone was different and the grasp was uncomfortable. I tried to start a conversation several times to no avail. I tried to bring up our years together, only for him to get teary eyed.

I eventually just gave up and we ate in silence.

It is because we knew each other so well Jim was able to get diagnosed so early. I knew something was off and wrong extremely early in this nightmare, even as those close to us doubted me and pointed fingers my way and insisted maybe I was part of the problem. (I am still psychologically battling that one) I think he knew too because he never argued with me. I think he has tried in his own way to make this all as easy as possible on the kids and me. But there is no way to buffer the pain from his tentacles leaving me as he observes in silence, staring at something far off and unseen by those around him.  The touches are gone. The smile is gone. The lovely handwriting. Gone. Conversations. Gone. Help with the kids. No more. The pride in the yard and in his appearance. No where to be found. The connection and the emotional support. Vaporized.

The tentacles will continue to burn and leave me damaged. Ultimately I must find the place deep within me to regrow and become the person I am meant to be. It is no easy task while he is so clearly still here and needing me. I can’t move on, but I can’t afford to stay locked in the recurring torture zone. I am searching for that balance and the tools that will allow me to do both; move forward and remain steadfastly by his side.

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (11)