Back To The Beginning
In April of 2007, my husband and I decided to sell our century old home in Salt Lake City. It required constant maintenance; we felt as if the house and yard owned us. We dreamed of a different life: one with less real estate responsibility. Our goal to live on the road in a 16-foot travel trailer became a reality when the house sold in August. Without a mortgage and a lifetime of accumulations, we simplified our life. A few tools, four handmade quilts and a sailboat stayed behind in storage. We pointed our compass west and said, “Let’s go live a life.” For three months, we climbed peaks in the Rockies, shivered under towering Redwoods, tickled our toes in the Pacific, and fell asleep listening to coyotes howl in the desert.
Then the call came with news concerning my dad’s declining health. He was not treating his high blood pressure; he suffered from extensive edema, required a cane to walk, and had shortness of breath. We left the truck and trailer in Las Vegas and flew to Florida, thinking we could assist with Dad’s health care: give him a pill or two, help with some daily chores, and maybe have time to watch the sunrise over the Atlantic. Oh, how simple it sounded.
We didn’t do so well. Within a month, Dad was hospitalized with congestive heart failure. After a flurry of tests and doctor’s consultations, we learned he had renal disease brought on by hypertension. The doctors mentioned kidney dialysis, which sounded like a freight train bounding down the tracks in our direction. Dad’s hospitalization put Mom’s long-standing dementia into a tailspin. Before we fully understood Dad’s diagnosis and treatment options our suspicion that Mom suffered from Alzheimer’s was finally confirmed. It was as if a giant foot came down and stepped on the break pedal, and our short, sweet life on the road came to a screeching halt. We were living life differently, that’s for sure. Just not the way we intended.
I left home at 17 to attend college. At age 20, I left Michigan and headed west to settle in Colorado. I was geographically and, quite honestly, emotionally severed from my family for 35 years. Suddenly I had parents again, very needy parents. My sister and I rarely connected over the years, but now we found ourselves in the same ball court as tag-team caregivers.
My husband Lon and I took the winter duty in Zephyrhills, Florida. During the summer months, Katie and her husband Del continued to look after them on their farm near Applegate, Michigan. Our parents, Donna and Gerald, could only give minimal aid to each other; in their stead, Sis and I became a replacement wife and husband for each of them. The shoes we decided to step into were large and clumsy. Kicking them off was not an option for us; we learned how to find comfort in the uncomfortable.
The following chapters are from a journal I kept during the winter of 2009-2010. Each chapter is part journal and part reflection on who my mom was, how Alzheimer’s changed her, and how I learned to be a caregiver.