My mom retired with a full pension when she was 55 from teaching Special Education for 35 years with her PhD. They owned their house outright and wanted adventure. They did everything the “right” way and had a beautiful retirement cruising the world. My mother generously took me and my children on one of her world cruises. She felt like a cruise around the world was better than any education I could get. They would go on a cruise for a few months and come back to their home in The Villages for a few months. My dad was the former President of the Woodshop in The Villages, his playground. He would often come back, go to the Woodshop and carve caricature dolls of silly people. He has a childlike sense of humor. His house has stuffed animals everywhere, on the entertainment system, on his nightstand, on the shelf above the hallway to the bathroom in his bedroom. My mother fell in love with Bridge. It was a dream retirement where they could wake up every morning and decide what they wanted to do for the day. They never had to worry about money as those pension checks religiously kept coming.
My brother, Eric, worked for United Airlines so my mom, a skilled bargain hunter, got 1/2 off her cruises. About four years ago my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. This was devastating for him to know he had Alzheimer’s. If we ever talked about it he would often burst into uncontrollable tears. This was very strange for me to see as this was my father, the smartest and strongest man I knew. He was an absolute genius. He loved things like his telescope, outer space, wood carving, science, history books and art. As he would often say, “I’m a happening dude.”. He also had a wicked sense of humor. He was wittier then heck with his sassy comebacks if anyone was heckling him. He always loved a good heckle. He had a heart wrenching softness to his self deprecating humor. He would often say if you don’t want to hurt anyone but you wanted to make a joke then make one about yourself. Everyone loves a good laugh. When I was younger, I used to crawl into bed with my parents and watch tv in between them. My dad would bring out one of his favorite stuffed animals, Betsy the cow, and talk like Betsy. He had different voices for many of these prized stuffed animals. He was like a big kid.
In December 2018 my parents were medically evacuated off of their 3 month Asian cruise ship. At this point my parents have been retired for almost 15 years and spent the past 8 years going on river cruises, cruises around different continents and cruises around the world. It sounded lavish to me but my mom said it was cheaper for her to cruise than any assisted care facility. On the cruise ships, they did their laundry, made their food, cleaned their room, everything. It made it a lot easier to care for my dad on the ship. If he wondered and got lost then he couldn’t go too far. He was medically evacuated off the ship after a three month Asian cruise on their way home in Hawaii. My father was having incontinence. He started peeing in the hallways and literally dropped his drawers and pooped on the roof deck. I don’t know if he forgot where the bathrooms were or what but it happened. He would never do anything like this when he was healthy. I know my mom was cruising with his as long as she could until she couldn’t anymore. She often uses a walker and she would leave it outside her room before she would leave and he sometimes would see it and take off down the hallway. I wonder if this was another one of his jokes or if it was his disease. Either way, my mom was left there helplessly shouting for him to come back.
She said it was a nightmare trying to get home from Hawaii. She has her own illnesses with Parkinson’s, Crohn’s Disease and kidney stones. She ended up flying to Chicago to see my brother’s Brent, Eric & Kirt, she was worried this would be my father’s last trip in his hometown. Then she flew to Rochester, MN to go to Mayo Clinic. She has been going to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN for years. While in Chicago, my dad boarded an EL train by himself and ended up in a suburb on the south side an hour away. My mother had to file a missing person’s report to find him. In Minnesota he left the hospital where she was getting treated and my dad was picked up by the police. Finally she flew home and was in the middle of selling her house in The Villages. She was going to move in with my older brother, Keith and he helped her find an assisted care facility in Safety Harbor, FL where he lives. My brother started an addition on his home so that she had her own bedroom near my father’s home. In the meantime she needed a place to live and moved in with me as her house in The Villages, FL sold. While living with me, she loved the kids and she also liked that my job was more flexible and part time so she decided to stay with me. I never thought I would be living with my mother again, lol. My brother, 6 months later is still dealing with a construction project for an addition gone wrong, poor guy. He hired the wrong contractor. I told him she can stay but we needed to move my dad for two reasons. First he was being really sedated at the home where he was at. Second, I wanted her to stop driving 2 hours one way, 4 hours round trip to see him. It wasn’t safe for her to drive so far to see him in her condition.
For my older brother, Keith and I, this was the start of our journey with taking care of our parents. The roles have been shifting. We are now more the parents while my parents are more the dependents. It has been an emotional journey especially as I learn more about Alzheimer’s and that devastating side effects of the disease. It’s terrible to hear that people can suffer with it for 9+ years. When they were medically evacuated, I felt a deep sadness. My dad was my friend. I used to walk with him and talk about life. I knew, we would no longer have our talks. He used to help me with everything. He helped me paint my house, coached my softball, took me on vacations, helped me with my school work, picked me up and dropped me off so many times amongst so many things. We used to wrestle, me and my four brothers as we all used to team up in efforts to take my dad down. He would be crying with laughter on our front lawn as we flexed our kid muscles and jumped on his back. He was careful with us and we loved it. Memories come to me in flashbacks now as I am with him in the silence. His speech has been the biggest thing to go as he can no longer remember all the words that he wants to say. I can only imagine his frustration. I’m currently in the middle of his care. He is now at Crain’s Lodge in Clermont, Florida in their memory care. It has been a big adjustment for my mom to be separated from my father. She spent 47 years sleeping next to him now having to learn to sleep alone. I think for her, nights are the hardest as she misses him. I occasionally watch a girl movie with her to bond so that she isn’t so lonely. During the days she can now visit him. For now, there is peace.
I am happy that they got to travel before all this happened. Overall, I am blessed. I just graduated my 300 hour yoga teacher training and at my yoga class where we were getting our certificates, my mom knocked on the door. She surprised me by bringing my dad to see me graduate. She said, “Amy, your father would have done anything for you. He would have wanted to be there.” I was his baby girl, his only girl. Thankfully one of the students works with memory care patients and helped him find a seat while our graduation certificates were being handed out as tears rolled off my cheeks. This whole year I’ve been fighting to not cry but when it happens then it comes out silently but heavy. It was very touching to have my dad there and my mom never ceases to surprise me. She can be tough but she can also be super sweet and soft. She tells me she is so proud of me. As one of my Thai yoga clients says, “Nobody will love you more.” Isn’t that the truth? Peace.