2016 was a year of extremes for me – extremely big life events, some happy, some less than.
My mom announced that she would be bringing my dad home to care for him. He had been in a Memory Care Home for over 2.5 years – this move both shocked and terrified me! (click here to read more about this bold move)
February 3 – 5
We had my dad come home for a few days to “test things out”. He was in the end stages of Alzheimer's, very content but very frail and in need of help with almost everything. He could walk and usually feed himself.
We (her three kids) didn't want my mom to bring him home permanently only to discover it was harder than expected. The test went really well – he seemed to become instantly more alert and engaged – we were optimistic!
Dad comes home for good! With in-home caregiver support scheduled for several times a week so my mom could get out of the house, my parents quickly fell into a routine. It was nothing short of amazing! My dad seemed more content and more engaged than he had been in nearly a year in the home. My mom stepped up to the plate and took amazing care of him. I never would have dared imagine it would go as well as it did – all that fear and panic in January, thankfully, was for naught!
My son graduated from college! What a HUGE & FANTASTIC life event! My dad would have been SO PROUD to be there…
My son moves to Boston permanently to start his life as a grown up – with an amazing job and all! I discovered having him go to live and work in Boston felt markedly different than going to school there. I suddenly realized there were no more summer or winter breaks – long periods of time he would be “home”. It was an adjustment – an event that made me excited for him and proud but sad as a mom at the same time…
My sister was in town so we had a “Family Meeting” with my mom, sister, brother and I. My dad was amazingly engaged – trying to communicate with words and gestures more than he had in a long time. He was losing weight quickly at this point and part of our meeting was to talk about how we were all feeling about this journey and to come up with some plans as things progressed.
If he became bedridden, what extra support would be needed? What would we do, who would we each call, when he passed away…
We took a lot of family photos that day – if you don't have a selfie-stick yet, let go of your pride and get one! They are fun and often the only way EVERYONE gets in the photos!
At first I thought my sister's text, “We think it's happening…” was a joke, but then I knew deep down we never went that far with a joke. That morning my dad simply wouldn't get up. His breathing became labored.
He spent the day in and out of delerium. At times he would open his eyes and look afraid or they would tear up – that was REALLY HARD to watch… Most of the day he slept.
We called hospice and they sent a nurse to check on him – and us. She explained what we could expect, what we could do to ease any pain or anxiety he had… to call for any reason at all if no one was there.
The day was surreal. It felt INCREDIBLY LONG.
How amazing is it though, that we were ALL WITH HIM.
We didn't have to make the dreaded call to my sister who lives in PA saying, “Catch the next flight possible and hope you make it!!” I can't imagine how hard that would have been…
How amazing that we had had such a connected day together, just the day before. Snapping photos, sharing memories, and preparing for this very day?
We had a Celebration of Life for my dad at my mom's house. We focused on the amazing man he had been and not on the disease that took him. We were surrounded by friends who came to pay their respects and encircle us with strength. I'm sure my dad looked down at it all and smiled!
November 2 – 9
My dad's final wish – that he had told us about for at least 10 years – was that we would go on a family trip to London when he passed away (and my mom was to pay for it – bonus!)
So the “Reed 5”, now the “Reed 4” converged on London to remember my dad and all the family adventures we had been on in our lives.
Many have asked, “Why London? Was he from England?”
No, he wasn't British but he had a big affinity for England and London in particular. My dad was an Astronomy professor and loved the history of Astronomy in particular – his favorite astronomer being Isaac Newton. My dad always loved to travel so it made perfect sense to all of us that this would be the place he would choose to send us. (I'll be doing a separate post about this trip in the near future.)
Not only was the trip a lot of fun, it gave us something to focus on in the first few months after he passed and it gave us a time to be together and get some closure. No work, no spouses or kids – just us.
This year we had our first holidays without my dad. He hadn't been integrally involved for a few years because he was living in the Memory Care Home, but it was still sad that we couldn't visit and hug him…
Christmas was his favorite holiday so December had it's rough spots for me.
Grief, I'm finding, is something that comes in waves.
I'm also finding that it's best to let the emotions flow through you rather than trying to stuff them down as that just keeps them around longer. I've been “walking my talk” and using my Pivot to Happy skills to deal with the post-Alzheimer's emotional rollercoaster.
So I'm declaring 2016 as a “Year of Extremes” for me – extreme joy and loss. Celebrations and sadness… much like the entire Alzheimer's Journey.
I'm ready to turn the page and see what 2017 brings…
– Tara Reed