Dad would have turned 91 today. This is the earliest photo I have of him, taken at school and addressed to his beloved mother.
Such a serious young man, with his whole life ahead of him.
Dad didn’t have an easy life, but I’m sure while his feet were planted in the grass of his beloved Belfast, Northern Ireland, he never thought he’d live in sunny Los Angeles. His journey as an immigrant shaped his life, but he never forgot home.
At the end of his life, while in the final stages of Alzheimer’s, he talked about returning home, to see his sisters. We were able to honor his wish, in a way. Some of his ashes were sent to his family in Belfast.
Those of us who have cared for a loved one with dementia know the roller coaster of emotions one can feel. Click on the post below from When Dementia Knocks to learn more about one common yet guilt-ridden experience: wishing for our loved ones to depart this world to finally be free of this terrible disease. I know I felt this more than once towards the end of my father’s life.
Last week, a caregiver told me something that she considered so horrible that she could only say it in a whisper. She told me about her husband and his Alzheimer’s journey. He had just moved from a memory care community to a nursing home. She wasn’t pleased with the care he was receiving. Their kids […]
Thinking of Dad on this Father’s Day weekend. One thing I’ve been reflecting on lately is how even when my father was dealing with the latter stages of dementia, he would tell my mother and I to be careful. He was still trying to protect his family.
To those who have lost their fathers to dementia or who are actively caring for their father with dementia, I hope you can find comfort in loving reflections. For those whose fathers are still alive, I hope you get to spend quality time with him this weekend. Finally, I want to recognize all of the amazing male caregivers out there, fathers and husbands and brothers and sons, who care with compassionate strength.
It has been 10 years since my father’s death. So much has happened in the past decade, but I’ll never forget where I was when my mother called with the worst news of my life, in the middle of the newsroom at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I had been waiting for that awful call for quite some time, and some part of me wished for it, because it pained me so much to see my father suffering in the late stages of dementia. But of course there was no immediate sense of relief upon my father’s passing, just sadness and regret.
I do still carry feelings of regret and guilt to this very day, and probably always will. I discuss this at length in The Reluctant Caregiver, and urge others not to judge themselves too harshly. In that spirit, I am taking a look back on what my father inspired me to do over the last decade.
I began this blog, The Memories Project. What began as a way to document memories of my father and process my grief has become the foundation of my dementia and caregiver advocacy platform. I have also met so many fellow caregivers through the blog and am grateful for their wisdom and their support.
I wrote a book, which was a life goal of mine. My collection of personal essays on family caregiving, The Reluctant Caregiver, won a gold medal at the IPPY Awards. An essay from that collection won the Rick Bragg Prize for Nonfiction from the Atlanta Writers Club. A story I wrote about my father, “French Toast,” was included in the Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias collection. I know my dad, a lifelong lover of books, would be proud.
I finally made it to Ireland and visited my father’s hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland. This was at the top of my bucket list and has been one of the best experiences of my life.
The privilege of sharing my father’s story through a variety of outlets, including NPR, AlzAuthors, Caring Across Generations and the Aging in America conference.
The decade since my father’s death has been the most difficult of my life, but also the most rewarding. I hope that you can take time this holiday season to recognize and reflect upon the highs amidst the lows of your own caregiving journey. Give yourself the grace that you deserve.
It was an emotionally exhausting week to be a journalist, with the mass shooting in Orlando yet another example of America at its worst. But as always is the case in these national tragedies, stories emerge that show America at its best: brave, compassionate, able to put aside differences to help others in need.
A father in Seattle talking to his 8-year-old daughter about the Orlando incident was surprised when she innocently asked, “Do the fathers still get a Father’s Day card?”
That spurred a project where 49 Father’s Day cards were created for each father of a victim in the Orlando shooting. The city got involved and over 300 people signed the cards.
It’s a difficult Father’s Day for too many families struck by senseless tragedies.
It’s a heartbreaking Father’s Day for those who have recently lost their fathers.
It’s a bittersweet Father’s Day for those with fathers who have Alzheimer’s disease.
But somehow, somewhere, we have to dig deep and be grateful for what we do have. So I am grateful for a father who has been freed from the prison of Alzheimer’s, who loved me and was proud of me and for all of the old photos and mementos I have of his life that I will treasure forever.
If you celebrate Father’s Day, I hope you are marking the day in a way that is meaningful for you.
Easter makes me think of eggs, of course, and how my dad avoided them like the plague. He feared having a high cholesterol level. Recent studies have debunked many of the previous reported links between egg consumption and high cholesterol, but when I was growing up in the 1970s-1980s, it was a big health focus.
As I got a little bit older and a tiny bit wiser, I thought it was strange that my dad would worry so much about eating one measly egg but smoked a pack or more of cigarettes each day. Surely the coffin nails would kill him via lung cancer before he developed heart disease.
We were both wrong. Despite the decades of smoking and the decades of egg aversion, Alzheimer’s claimed my dad’s life.
It made me think about how often our fears are misguided. We worry about x, when it’s really y that’s getting ready to do harm.
Fear is a valuable self-preservation tool, but it can also hold us back from our potential.
With both dementia and cancer prevalent in my family, I do think about what I eat and other lifestyle choices probably more than the average person.
But I also know I could get hit by a bus on my way to work.
There’s a balance there somewhere, everything in moderation, as the saying goes.
I stumbled across this blog via a Facebook post. I’m not a religious person, but this blog post by Rev. Katie Norris is particularly relevant to those of us long-distance caregivers who struggle with guilt.
We should focus on happier times with our loved ones, not the final moments.
Norris has had to make the decision whether to return home for her mother’s last days multiple times. Dying of course is not a nice and neat affair, and one can be slowly dying for years. Most of us would like to be there when our loved one passes, but Norris points out that we have to accept our lack of control in this situation and that our ideal ending may not happen.
Ultimately, we must focus not on the ending, but the middle, on that time spent with our loved ones during the bulk of our lives.
I thought this was such a simple but profound philosophy. It’s a lesson that really hits home with me, because I have struggled so much with not being there when my father died.
I wanted to pass along the message to those of you who may be struggling with guilt or regret.
Today is rainy, chilly and dreary, just like three years ago when I received the dreaded phone call that my father had died.
Everything else is so much different.
One of my favorite photos.
Little did I know at the time that I had taken the first of many significant dips on the roller coaster of life. Mom, always the picture of health, was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer just seven months after my father’s death. I quit my job to take care of her for the next six months. It would be another year before I secured any regular work.
I discovered that freelancing is best approached when you have time to plan and build clients, not for a sudden source of steady income. I learned that being a really good employee doesn’t get you very far in this job market.
And perhaps most importantly, I immersed myself in the world of Alzheimer’s activism, and learned so much from the stories I read.
So I am definitely a different person than the one who answered that phone in the middle of the newsroom on December 20, 2011. I hope I’m a bit wiser, and a lot more compassionate.
Tonight I will light a candle, toast Dad’s spirit with a glass of Irish whiskey and remember his wonderful singing voice, realizing that one can smile and mourn at the same time.
I had the misfortune of finding myself shopping in Walmart today. Mom wanted to stock up on some things prior to surgery, so she wouldn’t have to worry about it when she is released from the hospital after her surgery.
Any kind of giant store like Walmart makes my vertigo go crazy. The entire store is sensory overload, and then there’s the constant dodging of other customer’s carts. Mom went to get her hair done so I was left alone to shop. (And if you’ve ever shopped with an elderly woman, you know it’s preferable to shop alone!)
As I sped through the Christmas gift section, to get from the pharmacy department to the grocery side of the store, my gaze picked up a gift box of men’s cologne. It immediately gave me a pang in my heart. Every year, I would buy Dad one of those box sets of cologne. I would usually get Stetson or Grey Flannel. It was an easy to select gift that I honestly never put any thought into. Dad wasn’t into presents, so he never asked for anything specifically. I didn’t want him to feel left out so I tried to get him almost as many gifts as I would get my mom, who would gush over every little cheap trinket I would get for her.
Dad always seemed to appreciate the cologne, even if all he did was mumble a thanks when he opened it. He definitely used it every day, and the scent of men’s cologne will always remind me of my father.