Monday, June 1, 2009

Death in Slow Motion

After blogging for a few years about things I enjoy, my family adventures, marathon running and exercise, financial security, and my goofy Great Dane Nova, I have found that I need to blog about another subject that unfortunately is NOT enjoyable. This blog will be focused on discussing my 66-year-old mother's decent into Alzheimer's and dementia. I can't think of anything better to call it now other than "Lost on Memory Lane".

It's hard to know where to start, because so much has happened in the last few years to get us to the point we are at now. Rather than backtracking and starting from the beginning here, I will just talk about where we are at now, today, and then backtrack little by little over the course of future posts. I thought I would start with a picture of Mom and Dad, taken last weekend when my family came to see me run my first marathon:

My mom, Linda, is 66 years old right now, and from what I can remember, has been exhibiting signs of memory loss for a few years. At this point in time, all the information I've read leads me to believe that she is about a Stage 4, going on Stage 5. It's hard to place when it all began, but it all became noticeable a few years ago when both of my grandparents (mom's parents) battled Alzheimer's and dementia for years, both in their home and ultimately in a nursing home. Mom's deterioration became REALLY noticeable last fall, and since then, it has just been getting worse and worse. Trouble is, she was "kind of" diagnosed by a Doctor she didn't know (she has a hard time sticking with Doctors), but as of yet there is no official diagnosis. Today she is meeting with a second neurologist.

But anyway, it's not like we have any question about the diagnosis, we are more trying to figure out what to do, and how to do it. See, the most troubling thing about Mom's situation is that she will not admit there is a single thing wrong with her. She is in such denial it is comical. And the fact that she won't cooperate with my Dad's effort do help her (or she fights him the whole way) make it so much harder.

I have heard Alzheimers and Dementia referred to as "death in slow motion". That is so true. We've only just begun this awful journey, and that is soooooo depressing. There is so much more grief and loss ahead. I've done a lot of thinking about this long goodbye that is ahead. Of course I wish that this did not happen to her, geeze she's only in her 60s, and her parents were in their 80s when they had to deal with this. That in itself is so scary. This has really got to be the worst way for a loved one to go. Well, the worst way for a loved one to go. That's one of the blessings, is that people who suffer from this are generally feeling good about their life, fulfilled and happy. Well, at least until the later stages. The biggest toll is on the family, the caregivers.

In this case, the caregiver is my dad, John. It is so heartbreaking to see my vibrant, active, intelligent Dad in this role, because it is so frustrating and stressful for him. My entire life he has been a role model to me. No where else on this earth is there a man who is as committed and with as much integrity as my Dad. He spent nearly 30 years in the work world, climbing the corporate ladder, all the way being honest, trustworthy, and an incredibly hard worker, devoted to his family. His success brought him a wonderful, comfortable life, with a gorgeous home, a beachfront condo in Florida, financial security, enjoyable hobbies and interests, all that stuff. Back when he retired I'll bet he had visions of a wonderful life in retirement. I can't imagine he ever thought that THIS would be his retirement.
Nowadays, his life is consumed with caring for my Mom. It's taken a toll on his health (he has a lot of stomach issues). The most stressful aspect for him is that he just can't seem to keep her happy. My Dad likes peace, and I think nothing eats away at him more than for him to know of think that someone is not happy with him, or disappointed in him. My Mom dishes this out 24-7, and it is just eating him alive. I totally understand how he feels, I have inherited his sensitive side, and like him, very often tend to take things WAY too personally.

One blessing in all of this thus far (I try hard to look for those), is that my relationship with my Dad has grown immensely. I have always had a great relationship with him throughout my life, but never as a close confidant, which is what I have become now. He is watching his best friend of nearly 50 YEARS fade away, day by day. She is/was truly his best friend. He has many acquaintances and friends, but she was his only confidant all those years. It's taking him some time to begin to trust others and confide in them. I'm just glad that I can be there to help fill the void this disease is leaving.

I am grieving very much like my Dad too, because my Mom was pretty much my closest female confidant my entire life. I have always been one to shy away from close female relationships (don't know why), and generally my closest confidant was always whatever man I happened to be dating or married to at the time. But my Mom was always my "gal pal", although in terms of interests and lifestyle we had very little in common. It's hard to not be able to pick up the phone and talk to her about something that upset me that day. Oftentimes now, I just keep it inside, or journal about it, and very occasionally try to talk to someone about it. But I just can't seem to find someone who would listen to me quite the way she would.

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