Phantom Lover

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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 Broken System Will Not a Broken Woman Make

For the first time since I started this endeavor I am writing directly on my blog without taking the time and energy and forethought to edit and proofread and ponder over my words before putting them out for the world to read. I am too tired. Too overwhelmed. And frankly, too frustrated and mad. Mad at our system.

Don’t get me wrong. Our friends, neighbors and even strangers have reached out over the past week to offer guidance and help in many forms. I am grateful beyond imagination. They have saved us and I really, really am humbled. But ultimately, our family is still left hanging on a ledge and hoping a huge gust of wind doesn’t blow through.

Jim is home. I know you have been worried and you have been praying and you have sent me your advice. Thank you. His sisters were able to drive him to Delaware and a very special friend rode with me for the 11 hour round trip to pick him up and bring him home. We didn’t know what would happen and I am pleased to tell you the ride was fine. He is fine.

Well, he is hard to understand. He needs help with showering and shaving and getting dressed. He needs verbal cues with washing his hands after using the restroom. He is confused many times and still insists he had to “beat the shit out of two guys”. But he is calm and his usual passive self. Obviously, I cannot leave him alone. Which is why I had to have a friend come stay with him the short time I needed to leave to go visit my counselor. Who listened and then stared at me, momentarily speechless (I don’t think this is a good sign).

I am going to try to do a quick overview of the past week and why I am mad and frustrated and feeling our system is broken. While Jim sat, many hours away, in a psychiatric unit, I called and begged for a way to get him safely home. At the time I started this process, we weren’t sure him riding in the car would be possible and an airplane ride was definitely out. Insurance would not cover a medical transport. So, he had to stay much longer than he should have. And I am ashamed to say I had very little time or mental capacity to really focus on him, how he was and where he was and think of him emotionally. I was too busy being focused on the paperwork and the problem of figuring out what to do. If he had had a stroke or a heart attack, I would have been able to rush to him, focus on his care, his recovery and not think twice about what to do about care when he was back in Virginia. There is nothing I could ever put in writing that will evoke for you that guilt of knowing I was more worried about other stuff than about him. I didn’t rush to be by his side because I had to think about what to do when he came home. This will haunt me for a very long time.

Once I realized I would have to get him home with no financial help, I had to decide what to do with him when he returned. Would he be ok at home? Would he get violent again? Is this the time to put him in a home, making it an easier transition? There were endless questions constantly running through my mind. All the while, our 11 year old son sat idly by waiting for me to get off the phone or off the computer so we could spend some of the quality time I had promised him weeks ago. Time that unfortunately didn’t really happen. Again, the guilt and the sadness cannot be conveyed.

Knowing Jim is retired Air Force, many have suggested the Veteran’s Administration. Jim unfortunately thought that too. It was always his understanding that if he put his 23 years in, he would be taken care of later. Granted, he always thought it would be when he was much older, but he always told me when he got too old and cranky for me to take care of to just stick him in a VA home. How I wish this was so easy to do. Jim does not qualify at this time (that I can find) for ANY VA help. His disability is not service related. He is not over 65 years old. He did not serve in Vietnam. He is not a Gulf War Veteran. Our family makes over $26,000 a year. I checked, re-checked and then checked again. If anyone knows anything different, please feel free to share the magic pass code. I could really use it about right now.

I also applied for Medicaid. Although I haven’t gotten the official word back yet, our chances of getting approved are pretty slim due to our income. Please don’t think we are living high on the hog. We are a paycheck to paycheck family. We own one car. One 1,600 square foot home. One TV. Yep, I splurge sometimes and get Starbucks and I have an iPhone that I bought for my job at the time almost 5 years ago and we’ve taken some nice vacations over the past couple of years. Trust me….this does not mean we can afford care for Jim. Unless we take EVERY SINGLE PENNY that we have coming in each month (I’m not even sure that will eventually be enough), then we could afford his care. Of course, at that point, there would be nothing for myself or the kids. And by the way, I will also have to spend almost all of the retirement and savings we have. So that whole rule about having 6 months salary in savings in case of an emergency? Gone.  Then we could have the state pay for our healthcare, our home, our food, our heat and even our children’s braces. And, I will not have money saved for my own retirement therefore I will also need assistance when I am older. So, to keep from using the government to help with Jim’s care in one program, our family will be reduced to using multiple government programs to stay alive. Then I see that our government is trying to cut disability payments next year by 20%? Really? And I am supposed to stay calm, cool and collected?

I cannot possibly explain the amount of frustration this causes me. I do not feel we are a family who is trying to take advantage of the system. We are in a unique situation, but because of rules, regulations, guidelines and black and white protocols, we are stuck right in the middle. We don’t make enough to pay for care, yet we make too much to receive aid. The programs currently in place are for retired people who can sell their homes and use up savings and retirement to pay for care, or they will then qualify for government assistance. It is not set up for middle aged families who may need that retirement later and who have young children at home and cannot sell their home to pay for care. As a disclaimer: Medicaid does allow us to keep the home and the car. The previous statement is in reference to who the people had in mind when they wrote all of the guidelines for the program.

Let me give you an example of a conversation I had this week. It will hopefully show you how much I feel like I have been a hamster in a wheel…..

While at the VA hospital, meeting with a Veteran’s Representative, I was asked for a letter from when Jim retired. It was his disability rating letter. I didn’t have it. The very kind gentleman told me I would need a Power of Attorney in order to get a copy. I pulled out my copy and tried to hand it to him. “No, you need a VA Power of Attorney,” he says to me. I look down at my copy and in bold, capital letters at the top of the very first paragraph it says MILITARY POWER OF ATTORNEY. So, I try handing it to him again and tell him it was done on a military installation and is a military POA. “No. It has to be a VA Power of Attorney. That one won’t work.”   Are you kidding me? This, while Jim sat in Connecticut, waiting for me to figure out something to help him. After all the years he served and thought he would be ok and not a burden to his family or anyone else. After I sat and cried for a moment, I asked the same kind man how I could raise my family on the $26,000 a year they expected in order to quality for Aid and Attendance? He very quickly told me that combat war veterans were coming back and living on $8,300 a year.

And what could I say to that?

Now I am just treading. Keeping my head barely above the surface and hoping all of the red tape, regulations and bureaucracy doesn’t pull me under. How am I expected to take care of two children and Jim with no help? If I was independently wealthy, no problem. But I am not. We are a middle class family trying to find a needle in a haystack.

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)

Help your Caregiving Friends.

Jim carrying the tree to our vehicle at the tree farm. Dec. 2006.

Jim carrying the tree to our vehicle at the tree farm. Dec. 2006.

It’s that time again. You either love it or hate it. Few and far between are the ones with no opinion. The Christmas season brings back so many wonderful memories, it is hard to not become sentimental at the first notes of a favorite carol or feel as if something is missing without eggnog in the fridge or white candles in the windows. While all of this is remarkably picturesque and the stuff movies are made of, there is a lot of pressure and stress that tags along for the merriment.

So, I have decided to try to help all of the friends and family for caregivers of dementia patients. I am sure this list could have quite a few more things added, but this is what I have right now. As soon as I hit “publish” I will think of ten more things.

First of all, if you are taking the time to read this, you care and you are commended for being a supportive and concerned friend. But, (there’s always a but, right?) as much as you want to help and as much as you want to be there for your friend, it is as impossible for you to entirely understand what they are going through as it was for you to do so before you had children (or grandchildren). There is just no way to convey the enormous emotional and mental overload that comes with both. So be patient and let them seem forgetful and let them be late without glancing at your watch and let them forget to thank you for the wonderful dish you dropped off. They are grateful, but they think at the wrong times to mention it. And to those reading this who have “disappeared”…..don’t worry. You will be welcomed back with open arms. Don’t be embarrassed by the amount of time that has gone by; for most caregivers, days run into weeks that run into months and they aren’t really 100% sure how long it has been since you two last chatted anyway.

So here are the beginnings of some tips for friends and neighbors of caregivers. Please feel free to add your own in the comments section.

What a wonderful surprise this holiday decoration was when my friend dropped by to hang it on our front porch. That is the Christmas spirit….

What a wonderful surprise this holiday decoration was when my friend dropped by to hang it on our front porch. Words don’t convey how special this simple item now is to me.

  • Just be there. As their loved one progresses, it is lonely anytime of year. But during festivities and social events and times of sentimentality, life can be bittersweet. Just having a friend to be present is a huge gift. It could be just hanging out together, or it could be watching a tv show or calling or sending an e-mail or dropping by to check in or…..ok, you get the picture. Let them know you are thinking of them. It helps. A lot.
  • Help with decorations. We just went and cut our tree at the same tree farm we have been going to for 6 or 7 years. Love this tradition. It is our tradition. I can’t change that. I don’t want to change that. But this year, I had to come inside, get the scissors, (I had asked Jim to, but he brought them to the backyard first and then brought them back inside because he didn’t see me out there) cut the twine holding the tree to the roof of our van, put on the gloves and lift that tree and carry it to the bucket I got out and filled with water and I set it up and…ok, you get this picture too. Right? You know what? I don’t mind doing all of this. But I did it with Jim standing by watching and I knew it hurt him because he knew he should be doing it and it hurt me because I felt the same way. It was not a moment of triumph but a moment of inner-sadness. While I was trying to hang some lights out front, to keep that tradition alive as well, a wonderful friend popped by with a surprise; a decoration for our front porch. Not only did she bring it by, she hung it up and asked if she could help me hang the lights and garland.
  • If there are children in the home, ask if you can take them shopping for the caregiver. Or, better yet, ask the caregiver if you can borrow their loved one for a short time and take the patient to shop for the caregiver. If they are in a home, could you grab a little something the next time you are at the store, wrap it and drop it by the nursing home with a note it is from “Jim”? Can you imagine the wonderful feeling that would bring and the change in a day and a change in an attitude that could bring?  I no longer really care about opening presents Christmas morning. Yes, it is nice to a have something to unwrap and be surprised about, but really and truly, I know it would mean so much to Jim to do this for me, without me being the one to take him and to help him pick out something. A friend took Jim last year to pick out something for Frances and for Brad. My parents took the kids to pick out something for me. It doesn’t have to be the same person doing everything. Just do what you can to help in a way you are comfortable with. You might have to get creative, there are so many scenarios a family could have, but if you are able, please try to bring some Christmas spirit to the situation.
  • Help them help themselves. I want so badly to bake cookies, decorate, send out cards, visit friends, wrap gifts, sing carols and watch night after night of old holiday classics….but I just can’t seem to be able to figure out what I am doing. I’m not saying bake the cookies for them, but maybe see if you can stop by and help them. Or help them with cards (I am ashamed to admit we haven’t sent any out in years and now we only receive a handful) or ask them if they can sit with you and watch A Christmas Story (trust me, they need a good laugh). Just setting aside the time and making the effort and commitment to do these things will pay off because they will be so glad they did. And having your help will make it even more special.
  • Please do not stop inviting them to your annual party. They know you are still having it. They know they used to go. They know the only reason you haven’ t mentioned anything is because you have no idea what to do. Invite them anyway. Let them tell you “no” or let them find someone to stay with their loved one so they can join the fun. That is how much it means to them….they will pay someone and work hard to find someone to “sit” for them so they can attend. Better yet, be the friend who doesn’t care about going to said party and offer to sit for them so they can go catch up with friends and neighbors. This type of socialization and fun can be the difference between depression and happiness. Can you find a way to include them in your fun? If you are going to view holiday lights, can they tag along?
  • On that note, offer anytime to just come sit with their charge so they can do some holiday cheer. Whether it be dropping off gifts to friends or going to a movie or dinner or out for some holiday shopping ALONE, that is a gift to them all upon itself.
  • Don’t forget, when the New Year comes, think of them and invite them over or out or come by to help ring in 2015. And while you are at it, tell them how much you have missed them in 2014 but that you understand. Make a resolution (and stick to it) to visit them or contact them more regularly because your friendship means so much to you. It means as much to them, but they are just too overwhelmed to share that with you. Honestly, that is the best gift you could give. It doesn’t matter if you are ashamed because you fell off the face of the earth when they became engrossed in caregiving. It is never too late to come around and admit your selfishness and inconsideration and to make amends. They probably feel guilty for not calling you more or trying to reach out to you too. Relationships work two ways, but at some point there is always a person who gives more and a person who takes more. I have learned I am in the stage of taking more and it is a hard, hard, hard thing to admit and to do day after day. If you were previously the one who was usually a giver, you know what I mean. If you are a friend who usually takes, it’s your turn. You have to believe me, they miss your friendship and will most likely welcome you back with open arms. They didn’t stop coming round because they wanted to and it had nothing to do with not wanting to be your friend.
    Jim lifting Frances up for topping off the tree in 2010.

    Jim lifting Frances up for topping off the tree in 2010.

    Just give them a hug and be grateful for another day, another holiday season and another year together!

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Uncategorized,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (3)

Better Them Than Me

 

Clowning around in 1998. Who knew what would be lurking ahead for us?

Clowning around in 1998. Who knew what would be lurking ahead for us?

Today there was another school shooting. As I listened to the information about what happened on the radio, Frances told me about the lockdown practices they have had at her middle school. I couldn’t help but think back to when I was in school….there was never a drill for a shooter or a thought about someone possibly coming into the school to harm us. Then I thought about the parents who worried about their children when they heard about the shooting and the parents who were unlucky enough to get the call that their child did not survive. Or worse, their child was the shooter. My heartfelt condolences to those families.

Then my mind drifted as I drove and I thought about what it would be like if that happened to us. Don’t we all normally do that? We try to put ourselves into the shoes of others….whether it is a tragedy or winning the lottery…we try to imagine what we would do.

Yet, I wonder, where do we stop imagining ourselves in someone else’s shoes and start thinking it will never happen to us? Isn’t that why people still smoke? Still ride in vehicles without seatbelts? Still drink and drive? Still mix alcohol and drugs? In typical human fashion, we all tend to gravitate to the “I am so sorry that happened to them, but it won’t happen to me” scenario.

I think every single one of us is guilty of this in some shape or form. We have empathy for others going through a horrible crisis, but we stop short of becoming petrified we will also fall victim to whatever atrocity lurks around us. Probably some form of self preservation at its rawest form.

Then, before you have any idea what is going on, you become immersed smack dab in the middle of some awful thing that is ruining your life and the lives of your family members. In my case it is Younger Onset Alzheimer’s. And it sucks. Big time. As I have mentioned many times, I have friends and family that are helping out and doing whatever they can to make this tough road a little smoother. But no matter what they do, they can’t REALLY help. They can’t cure Jim. They can’t stop the progression. They can’t save our children from losing their Dad. They can’t change the fact Frances’ and Brads’ childhoods will be encased in Alzheimer’s, Alzheimer’s, Alzheimer’s. They watch, they listen, they do. Then they go home and get on with their lives with their healthy families. They see us and are grateful they aren’t us. They know it could happen to them, but think it won’t.

I am not here to be a “Debbie Downer” but let me point out something to each of you: as you get older, the chance that either you or someone you love (parent, spouse, sibling, friend) will succumb to the horrors of a dementia is unbelievably high. Unless a cure, a vaccine or some type of treatment is found, we are all going to feel the excruciating pain and agony of dementia. And the financial burden. Which, in all honesty becomes so consuming you find yourself unable to focus on the person you care so deeply about because you are just trying to survive. And when your loved one is diagnosed, it will be too late to pour in money and try to have your voice heard. If you want to save them or possibly yourself, the time is NOW to do something.

Yes, we all feel like the bad stuff is horrific when it is happening to someone else and we are saddened, yet we are confident it won’t happen to us. What are you going to do when it does?

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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)

Sink or Swim Time

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Yep. I am still in a bit of a funk. I am fully aware of my melancholy, yet I just can’t seem to pull myself into a brighter mood. There always seems to be something going wrong or something getting broken, misplaced or needing to be done (house painted, porch replaced, etc.). I swear, sometimes I think there really is a dark cloud that lives over me. I could really use a ray of sunshine. Not just for a moment, but for an extended period.  It is a never ending cycle and I just need a break. A break from decisions, from work, from being a “single” parent, from worrying about Jim and his future. While I say this, a tiny voice is on repeat: BREAK? WHY SHOULD YOU GET A BREAK? YOU HAVENT EVEN GOTTEN TO THE REALLY HARD PART YET!

Yep, I know what is headed our way and I sometimes wonder if that makes everything personified. Even so, I am desperate to raise the children in a positive environment. Yet, I am not sure there is a lot of positive vibes floating around when I am such a grump. I know there are some people who follow our story who have lost loved ones to something other than Alzheimer’s. I think when you lose a loved one, it is a universal understanding and bond that is formed with others that have gone through the same pain. But there is something about Alzheimer’s Disease that seems to be a little crueler. I do not, in any way, mean to disrespect those that have lost someone to cancer or any other sickness. It all hurts. It all makes you lonely and sad and the loss itself is the same. But I think the costs associated with the long term care, the frustrations of “babysitting” your spouse or your parent (or sibling) for such an extended period of time, the pure hopelessness felt every time you visit the doctor and there is no treatment plan therefore no hope, the mourning that is done day in and day out and then the overwhelming lack of time to mourn as you are embedded in the routine of worry, exasperation and financial struggles that can ruin your family forever. I realized just a few days ago that part of my problem was the fact I need time to let go of Jim and to lament the loss of our marriage, our family, our dreams, our relationship and come up with a plan to help the children do the same. But I don’t have time. I am not allowed or able to take the breather that usually comes with the loss of a spouse. Because I haven’t actually lost him. He is right here. Playing tennis. Eating dinner. Walking the dog. But he isn’t. He is so not here. And I am so not able to truly allow myself to let him go. So here I am, treading water, wondering how long I can keep it up.

I need help. Help fighting this war. I need to know that there is something better coming. My husband is dying from a disease that has no cure and no real treatments. It runs in his family. I am asking EVERYONE to help us. What can you do? You can write your Congressperson. Don’t ask them for more money for Alzheimer’s research, DEMAND it. Demand they listen.  Here is a link to a previous post about why you should help us advocate. Please ask them to support the Alzheimer’s Accountability Act. For more information click here. Then follow up with them and let them know you are paying attention!

When I follow the news and listen or read about proposed spending on things that I just don’t feel are as important as finding a cure for a disease that has been around over a hundred years and yet we are no closer to keeping someone afflicted alive longer or providing a way to cure it or prevent it all together, I just want to scream. Not only are we not providing what is needed for the patients, we are doing huge injustices each and every day to caregivers. Caregivers are getting worn out, used up and kicked to the curb over and over again. Each person who is responsible for an Alzheimer’s patient, must not only figure out finances for care and lost wages, actual care to be provided, often times losing their own jobs, and they must try to navigate through mounds of paperwork and technical terminology to make sure every “i” is doted and “t” crossed so they MIGHT get some sort of help. It is a disgrace how much burden is added to people who are struggling to come to terms with the fact that someone they love so dearly is dying.  Then, to add salt to the wound,  they are forced to prove they can’t pay for care or told they did something wrong and must re-submit the same paperwork they have already submitted 2 times or they must spend down the retirement they need to survive themselves in order to get help with care for their loved one. IT IS INSANE HOW THIS SYSTEM IS SO MESSED UP!!! None of this process makes any sense and yet, here we are, The United States, the leader of the free world…..definitely NOT a leader in the fight against Alzheimer’s Disease. Why? Can someone please explain to me why this isn’t more of an urgency and why we are having to fight so hard to be heard? Maybe then I can relax and I can have faith that things will be better for Frances and Brad.

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)

A Day in the Life

 

Frances and I  April 2002.

Frances and I
April 2002.

“Um…. I…. Um.…Did you….What am I….. Uh… I….uh.”

“Yes, Jim. Go ahead.”

“Uh, the front. Uh…. do you want me to….ummm….the front.”

“The front yard?”

“Yes.”

“What?”

“Uh, the uh part like a fur collar….Uh. Mmmm. By the flag. Like a collar. Uhhh…fur collar around.”
“The boxwood hedge?”

“No.”

“The liriope?”

“No.”

“The part,….uh, the part….fur. Fur collar. Um….Around……Around the uh, around the front tree.”

“The liriope is around the tree. That must be what you are talking about. The stuff that looks like long grass?”

“Yes.”

“That is liriope.”

“Do you want me to trim it?”

“No. You do that in the winter. You did it in Feb.”

“Oh. Ok.”

Another conversation that shows Jims’ decline. Another heartbreak. Another slip into a future that I am not looking forward to and don’t really want to live through.

Another frustrating situation for both of us. He is frustrated trying to explain himself and I am frustrated trying to understand him. The kids are frustrated. We joke that it is a game of charades, but you can only laugh so much at the fact your father cannot explain a simple thought to you.

I am in a constant state of despair. I just don’t have any answers and I don’t have an easy way out. I don’t see anything that will make this plight an easy one. An uneasiness seems to haunt me. Finances. The house. The yard. The kids. My job. Jim. His decline is on a more steady course than in past years. It is noticeable. It is impossible to ignore. There is a feeling that stays with me now; it is unshakable. A feeling of being in trouble. Like when I was a teenager and I knew I had done something wrong and it was only a matter of time before my parents found out and I would soon be in trouble. No matter what I am doing, who I am with or where I am, a sense of imminent doom looms overhead.

Brad and I  April 2008

Brad and I April 2008 Thank you Patti Brown for this perfect photo.

What have I done? What can I do different? How can I get out of this and save us from the terrible future ahead? What am I doing wrong? Should I have gone back to work sooner? Should I have saved every penny we ever made? How am I going to take care of me and the kids? How am I going to take care of Jim and work full time? What kind of person will I be when all of this is over? Will it ever be over? What kind of person am I for thinking this? I am horrible. I should not be thinking about me and my future. I should only be thinking of Jim and the kids. But, what am I going to do about the kids? What if the kids get this one day? Oh God. No. Please. Please don’t let my babies get this. I couldn’t take it. I would rather die than watch them succumb to Alzheimer’s. I might as well quit right now. I have to do something. What can I do?

Talk Karen. That is about all you are good at these days. Talk.  Get everyone you know to write their Congressmen. March up to D.C. again and don’t leave until they have a cure. Move to D.C.  Start a war like they have never seen. Wait. I can’t do that. I have to take care of Jim and work and take the kids to practice. Ok, then get everyone else to do that too. Will they? Will others care that my kids, my life, will possibly be taken from me when they are older? If they were getting this now, when they were young, people would care. But they will still be my little ones even when they are grown. They will be all I have left. Why can’t everyone see that? Why can’t everyone in the world stop and listen and care? Why can’t some really rich billionaire who spends thousands of dollars on a single dinner just give a few million to this? Wouldn’t they do that if it was their own children at risk?

What do I have to do? I can’t let them get this. I can’t not do something. What am I going to do for dinner tonight? I don’t think we have anything in the fridge and I don’t have time to go by the store. I could ask Jim to run to the store. Oh. That’s right. He isn’t driving anymore. I wonder if I took his license too soon. No, I did the right thing. I wonder if the kids have gotten their stuff done.I wonder if Brad read and if Frances cleaned her room.  I should call the house. Oh, I can’t. I have to call back Mr. Jones for work. I am tired. I wish I could just go home and take a nap. I wish we had a screened in porch so I could sit and take a nap in it. Uggh. I still need to sort a load of laundry and pay those bills that came in last week. Wait. Wasn’t it Jen’s birthday? Did I call her? Yes. I think I did. No. I might not have. Did I call back Melissa? Didn’t she call me and leave a message? I think that was a couple of days ago. Oh my God. My memory is getting as bad as Jim’s. What will I do if the kids get this one day and I do too? Who will take care of them if I am sick? What if I get in a wreck? Who will take them if I die now? What if Mom and Dad die right after I die? I need to make another appointment with the attorney and get that settled. Who should I make guardians? What would happen to Jim? Would the kids know I loved them more than anything? I should write them both letters. I don’t think Jim ever wrote those letters to the kids like I asked him to. What if I get cancer?  Who would take care of me and the kids at the same time? Mom and Dad would, but that would be a lot on them. What would I do with Jim? I can’t get sick. What if I do die though?

Who would pick up the fight if I am not here to do this? I wonder if any of my friends would? I wonder if the kids would? I need to do something. Maybe I should go jogging when I get home. I can’t. I have to start dinner and I need to work on those pictures from Alaska and I need to straighten up my desk and I have the book I am trying to read and I would really like to sit on the couch and watch a movie. Yes. A movie and a cold beer would be nice.I haven’t sat and watched TV in a long time. I think it has been a few weeks. What was the last thing I watched? I can’t remember. Maybe I will do that. I deserve it. Wait.  We don’t have any beer. I need to go to the store anyway. I wonder what I can fix for dinner tonight?

Frances and Brad. Vancouver. July 2014.

Frances and Brad. Vancouver. July 2014.

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)

No! You can’t.

Redskins game, Dec. 2012.

Redskins game, Dec. 2012.

If Alzheimer’s was contagious, there would be millions of people running around scared and demanding that a cure be found. There would be such a great demand for more answers and better care that change would happen. Quickly.

But it isn’t contagious, so we must fight for every single penny that is given towards finding a remedy.

I sometimes wonder if each of the people who would be diagnosed at some point in their life knew they would be the one out of every 3 seniors who would die from dementia would they quickly take up the cause?  What if their beloved children were more susceptible and more likely to inherit this death sentence? Would they stroke a check? Would they march in the streets? Would they scream and yell and curse and fight like their life depended on it?

October 2006. Brad was 2.

October 2006. Brad was 2.

What if you were told EACH of your children has a 50/50 chance of developing the first signs while you will be alive to witness their decline? And when you search the doctor for answers, begging with your tone, body language and questions for a way to keep the inevitable from happening, you are simply told there is nothing you can do. You can keep them from football, boxing and soccer. That is it.

So, you do the one thing the doctor has told you. You break your athletic sons’ heart and forbid him from participating in soccer, even though he really wants to. You forbid him the pleasure of holding a pigskin in his clutches and running for dear life towards the goal line . Even though he has told you time and time again how much he loves playing football and soccer, you hold steadfast, with your belief that this is the one only thing you can do at this stage of the game to possibly make a difference.

Brad having some fun in Dec. 2009.

Brad having some fun in Dec. 2009.

 

Two years ago we were able to attend a Washington Redskins game. They were playing the Baltimore Ravens so it was a big game. I had gotten tickets because Brad loves watching football. He was so excited to attend a NFL game. The fans. The chants. The chill in the air. It was a great family memory making event for us. During the game, Brad struck up a lively conversation with some gentlemen sitting behind him. One of them coached youth football in Maryland. He was impressed with the excitement and knowledge of the game Brad displayed. He asked him if he played.

“No.”

“Why not? I bet you would be good.”

“My Mom won’t let me.”

“Momma, you need to let this boy play some ball. Let him come up here and play for me. I will teach him how to play.”

Yes, this perfect stranger, meaning no harm, still stings my heart and soul with his innocent remarks. Even recently,  a father of a teammate on Brads’ baseball team, whose son also plays football, he told me I should let Brad play. He educated me on how well made the helmets are now and how safe it is. It took all of my self control to remain calm and collected when I really just wanted to ask him how he would feel if the only thing he had been told by the doctor to help stave off a disease that is killing his father would be to prevent him from participating in the very thing he was demanding I let my son do? How dare them. How dare they, albeit with no ill intent, call me out as a bad Mom for not letting Brad play a sport? How dare they tell me what I should do for my son? How do you fight a society that doesn’t listen? Doesn’t look too far down the road? If this disease afflicted children or even teens, would we not have our funds for research?

Brad playing soccer before Jim was diagnosed and I was told not to let him play. Sept. 2010.

Brad playing soccer before Jim was diagnosed and I was told not to let him play. Sept. 2010.

Let me be clear here; I LOVE football. I used to love playing it in the backyard with my brother and his friends and I loved watching it. Jim and I would sit each Sunday and watch game after game. (Before kids) But as his disease has progressed and news reports have surfaced linking the sport to dementia, I have lost the thrill. I now cannot see the excitement in a great tackle but I can only envision the damage being done. I can picture the brain rattling in the helmet and wonder if it is worth it. Then I will turn to look at Jim and see the dimness in his eyes and lack of expression on his face and I know it isn’t. It isn’t worth the pain and suffering for either the player or the people who love them.

I know what it feels like to love a game . When I think back to my days playing basketball, I can still feel the thrill of running up and down the court with my teammates. I can recall how exciting it was to hear the fans, make a play and to be part of the game. It is exhilarating. It is challenging. Being a member of the team is a feeling of security and family that you don’t get anywhere else. Whether it be basketball, football, baseball, or soccer, being part of the squad is a great privilege and teaches life lessons on teamwork and hard work. Who am I to deny my precious son this opportunity? Yes, he gets to play baseball and basketball. We all know, though, that the thing you want the most is the thing you can’t have. So, while he is a great joy to watch on the diamond and the court, he longs to run the gridiron and the field.

I will stay strong in my steadfast denial of his joy, but it will continue to break my spirit one comment at a time.

Brad at the Duke/Carolina football game, Nov. 2013

Brad at the Duke/Carolina football game, Nov. 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)

Fire in the Hole

 

Our group from Virginia meeting with Congressman Scott Rigell

Our group from Virginia meeting with Congressman Scott Rigell

Jim had a great birthday. He turned 52. Hmmm. At one point in my life, that seemed really, really old. Now, it seems young. Not really young, but young. Much too young to have Alzheimer’s Disease.

Sometimes it is almost comical to meet someone new and through the course of the new relationship and conversations explain to them that Jim has this disease. Nearly every single person is taken back. They are a little shocked. You can watch for it, wait about 10 seconds after you tell them and BAMM. You see the complete confusion and then a bit of sympathy and then, if we make them comfortable, calmness and acceptance. All in less than a minute. How I wish our journey through this were so easy to see and work through.

Our visit this past week to D.C. was a quick one. We were able to learn a lot and visit with advocates we have met through the years and re-connect and commiserate together. There are some really awesome and amazing families that are dealing with the same thing Jim and I are, they just don’t have a blog. They have the same pain and suffering and the same desire to help. They have the same needs and the same worries. There are so many of us, it is really scary.

We were able to relax a small bit and we were able to be part of the solution. Jim was awesome. He was full of life and vigor, much more so than I have seen in him in months. It was great to see. I still had to help him with some minor things that last year I didn’t, but overall, I could see his spirits, his demeanor and his thought process had gotten a jolt. He was ALIVE again. Not that he isn’t normally, but in D.C., Jim was witty and chatty and really happy. I loved seeing him this way. He didn’t shave to meet with our elected officials. I didn’t say anything and it didn’t matter. He didn’t put on a tie. It didn’t matter. He couldn’t remember everyone’s name or who we met with or how old he just turned. It didn’t matter. He was still smiling and happy and we had a good time. Again, I was reminded how much more patience I have with him when the kids aren’t around. A few days later I spent 2 days with them without Jim and also had plenty of patience. I somehow need to expand my bubble of patience to deal with all 3 at a time…..a work in progress but one I will not stop striving towards.

Life is so full of challenges. We all face them. Some are much harder than others. Everyone at some point in time faces heartache and pain. It is how we deal with this pain and heartache that will determine the future from that point forward. When the pain and heartbreak are stretched out over years and years, it becomes harder to keep that perspective and stay the course.

While in D.C., we walked the hallowed marble halls of Congress. The first time we walked them I was so nervous I could have thrown up. Ok, not really thrown up, but it was really nerve-wracking. Our first year, I could feel my heartbeat in my chest with sheer nervousness. I was going to be meeting and speaking with someone much more important than me.

This year, my heart skipped beats again, but not from nervousness. I am no longer timid or shy: I have realized that in the 5 years since Jim was diagnosed, there have been no changes in treatments or any new breakthroughs that will stave off this disease. Now when I march down the Halls of Congress my heart beats with determination and I can feel my blood pumping with my resolve to be heard and with the pressure of a time bomb ticking away. When I hear my heels echoing down those spacious hallways, I think of the men and women behind those doors and how they have the power to change the course of my children’s life. They can save Frances and Brad. They can, with one fell swoop of a pen, save my children from falling victim to the same horrendous fate of their Grandmother, Uncle and Father. Now when I walk those expansive halls of Congress, I do so without fear but with shear determination and with no sympathy for excuses. We do not travel all the way there to be given pretexts and put offs. We do not make accommodations so that others will feel comfortable in their ineptness.

There is no more time. The time is now. How can anyone, with any kind of intelligence not see the necessity and urgency? It is written in black and white.

Yes, Jim had a great trip and so I had a great trip. Now we are back to the grind of everyday life.

Thank you to everyone that participated in the forum or contacted their elected official to let them know how important this conversation is. Please keep up the fight and the battle. We are making progress and we will win. We will all keep moving forward until we find a cure.

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)

The Purple Brigade are Coming to Town

 

Younger Onset Alzheimer's, Advocacy, Washington D.C.

Jim and I at the Capitol, April 2013.

When I participated in a roundtable speaking engagement recently, I was privileged to meet some wonderful caregivers. They were from all over the country. They had stories to share, just like we do. They were wonderful and I loved meeting them and listening to their frustrations, their sadness, their daily struggles. We all could commiserate together and naturally form a bond. It seems whenever I meet other caregivers, we almost instantly form a bond. It is just what we do. There is an unspoken respect, love and support that comes along with the participation in the caregiver role.

Jim and I attending the National Alzheimer's Disease Advocacy Forum in Washington D.C., April 2013

Jim and I attending the National Alzheimer’s Disease Advocacy Forum in Washington D.C., April 2013

As we shared a few laughs and heartaches, I spoke about advocacy for Alzheimer’s. I explained that Jim and I have become quite outspoken and travel to Washington D.C. and write letters and ask for help on a regular basis. The table got quiet. Something suddenly dawned on me. So I asked them, “How many of you have asked your representatives to fund more research or have even spoken with them about your story?”  Guess what? Not a single one raised their hands. I was really surprised. These people are passionate about needing help. They were willing to come and participate in the roundtable. They wholeheartedly want to help. Yet, they had never thought to contact the people that can REALLY make an impact: Their representatives. Well, you know me….I made them promise right then and there that when they got back home they would contact their representatives and ask for help.

Jim, April 2013.

Jim, April 2013.

Tomorrow, Jim will celebrate his 52nd birthday. Part of me feels like I should throw together  a huge soiree with our friends and really celebrate how awesome he is. But, it is the same time as our annual purple brigade pilgrimage to Washington D.C. to meet with (hopefully) our representatives and join others from around the country who are just as ardent supporters as we are. We have made friends with some fellow advocates that we see  each year. (this is our 3rd year)

I asked Jim before we decided to go if that was how he wanted to spend his birthday. I explained to him the date coincided with his special day. He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t flinch. He stated right away and with certainty that “yes, I want to go. That is much more important.”

So, off to D.C. we go.

I know many of you that read my words will be with us in spirit. You will be on our minds. You will be cheering for us and encouraging us. Thank you.

I ask EACH of you that read these words to help us. PLEASE. You don’t have to travel to D.C. to have your voice heard. Your representative has a local office. You can visit there. Your representative has a website and has a way to contact them through that site. Your representative has an address and will receive your letter. Your representative has an aide that will be answering the phone in their offices and you can call and leave a message. There are many ways to contact your Congressperson. There are NO excuses why you don’t.

Here is a link to a previous blog post I wrote about this subject. You will see two links ¾ of the way down. Click on these links to find out who your representatives are and how to contact them http://missingjim.com/2013/04/26/375/

Please don’t tell me you are too busy. If you have time to watch a 30 minute TV show, you have time to do this. If you have time to read a book, you have time to do this. If you have time to play Candy Crush or some other video game, you have time to do this. NOTHING is more important. Our voices need to be heard. There are millions of lives that are depending on enough money being thrown into research to either find a cure, a vaccine or a treatment that allows the disease to lie dormant in a person. If you can’t be bothered, then you aren’t allowed to complain when someone you love is afflicted and you are sitting at the doctor’s office waiting for them to tell you what medicine to take that will make them better. Unless something major happens in the research world, that scenario will NEVER happen. You will sit in the doctor’s office, in shock, waiting and hoping and leave with nothing but an appointment for 6 months later.

This is a birthday gift you could give to Jim that will not only keep on giving to our family, but to millions of others as well. Help Jim celebrate by writing or calling your representative right now.

So, while Jim and I can, we will descend on the Capital of the United States, purple banner slung across our shoulders, along with hundreds of others who are able to do the same. We will speak and we will find out soon enough if our voices and our pleas are heard.

Meeting with Senator Warner and his staff. April, 2012.

Meeting with Senator Warner and his staff. April, 2012.

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)

Dear Mr. President…

TJ_Quote-01

This is a letter I recently sent to President Obama. I hope you will not only read this letter, but take 5 minutes to write your own letter to your representatives and to President Obama. Write a letter to your local newspaper editor. Write a message to USA Today. Write to your local TV stations. It is time for you to share your story. Imagine if we ALL write letters and share our stories. 1000’s of voices can no longer be ignored. The time, the momentum and the need is here. Thank you for being part of the solution. We can’t do this without you.

Dear Mr. President,

Congratulations on your successful State of the Union address.  I was glad to hear that more people will have access to jobs and higher wages. I was happy to hear that our military is getting more support. I was grateful that childhood education is important to you.

I was extremely disappointed by the lack of reference to Alzheimer’s Disease. There was no mention of helping caregivers and funding more research to possibly find a cure or at least a treatment. Are you aware that Alzheimer’s Disease is the only cause of death among the top 10 in the U.S. without a way to prevent, cure or even slow its progression?

Let me introduce myself. My name is Karen Garner and I am 44 years old and live in Newport News, VA. I have two children, ages 9 and 13. I am married to retired Air Force Senior Master Sergeant, James B. Garner. He is 51 and has Younger Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. We have been dealing with the early stages for about 4 years now. He is getting worse. He is having difficulties with his short -term memory and finding the right words to start or finish a sentence. He can no longer multi task and has trouble finishing something he starts. Please keep in mind he was a Sr. Msgt. He worked hard and was a very proud serviceman. Now, he cannot keep a schedule straight or even figure out how to hang a picture. Unfortunately we both know these symptoms are the easy ones and his progression with the disease will continue to get worse month after month and year after year until he is no longer able to write, bathe himself or swallow.

We have been advocating in Washington, D.C. for a few years now, asking for more money and help. Although the budget passed this year includes the highest amount ever given for AD research, it is far from what is necessary to realize progress. Although there was money within the $122M increase allocated for support services, there is still not enough money for support for caregivers, who are going through severe struggles each day for years and years and years. This is not a quick disease. People live with Alzheimer’s an average of 4-8 years after noticing symptoms but up to 20. This is a disease that affects the whole family and destroys them.

It is time to move this epidemic where it belongs; at the top of the list of funding and awareness. Only then will a change take place. Do you know how much money was given to Alzheimer’s research funding in 2013? 480 million. That sounds like a lot to the lay person, but I am sure you can understand that in reality this is not a large sum. Not when compared to cancer (almost 6 Billion) or HIV/AIDS (just over 3 Billion) or Cardiovascular Disease (over 2 Billion). Those all have treatments and cures. They can have survivor walks. Alzheimer’s Disease cannot. There are no survivors. When you sit in front of the doctor and finally get somewhat of a diagnosis you are given no hope. No chance of survival. No good timeline. No support. No help. None. You are simply told to come back in 6 months.

As a country, we spend over $140 BILLION a year on Medicare and Medicaid for those with Alzheimer’s. Just to help take care of them, not even taking care of the caregivers. Please also keep in mind that $140 Billion for Medicare and Medicaid does not include the unpaid caregivers that have quite their jobs or now need medical help themselves after struggling to take care of their loved one that can no longer take care of themselves. Even our 9 year old son does not understand how we can give so much money to other ailments that have cures and treatments and survivors, but so little to something that affects so many and has nothing.

I could fill this letter with lots of statistics. I have already put more in than I am comfortable with. But it needs to be said. It needs to be talked about and it needs to be addressed.

If we do not do something NOW, this epidemic will bankrupt our country.

With all due respect, I am asking how you plan to address this national health crisis?

I have a very good reason. Actually TWO very good reasons. You see, my husband has Younger Onset and his brother died from Younger Onset and his Mother died from Younger Onset. They all started showing symptoms around the same age.

Mr. President, I am writing to you as a Mom of two equally beautiful, bright and amazing children and I am begging you to stand up for the millions of citizens of this country that are affected, will be affected and have no one to turn to for help. I am begging you to save our children. I am begging you to help save the millions of caregivers that are suffering unimaginable grief for years on end.

My hope is that before you leave office, you will be able to introduce the first Alzheimer’s Disease survivor. That would be a legacy unlike any other.

Thank you for all of your hard work and dedication to this great land of ours. Thank you for taking the time to read this. Thank you in advance for listening and making Alzheimer’s Disease a priority, just as was discussed in the recent G8 Summit in London.

Sincerely,

Karen H. Garner

posted by Karen in Early Signs of Alzheimer's,Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease,Younger Onset Alzheimer's Disease and have Comments (6)