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It begins simple enough – a forgotten name, a missed turn, a lot of notes – for my dad it was retelling the same old stories over and over.
That is how my family’s journey into Alzheimer’s began back in 1995. For two years the only person who noticed or acknowledged the changes was my mom. The rest of the family simply minimized what was happening. Dad had become a master of compensation. The AD Association refers to this as Stage One of a four-stage process. My family refers to it as the Stage of Denial.
Stage Two began in 1997 when the signs of this progressive disease became undeniable, even to my dad. Dad was not only experiencing memory loss during this period, he was also no longer able to perform daily activities without my mother’s assistance. At the beginning of this stage Dad had trouble working the seat belt of a care; by the end of this stage he had forgotten he even knew how to drive.
It was at the beginning of this stage that Dad was diagnosed with dementia, and by the end of this stage, we surmised it was Alzheimer’s. With this diagnosis came a great deal of fear, sadness and anger for everyone. Every inability for Dad brought a new dependence on Mom. Dependence became a burden, and the burden brought anger.
We tried to combat the anger with knowledge. Our new mission was to learn as much about the disease as we could. For our family, Stage Two became the stage of Anger – but we came out swinging and ready to fight.
We began Stage Three in 1999 grieving a dad who no longer recognized his daughters. We ended that stage 18 months later grieving that we no longer recognized Dad. Dad’s judgment and language abilities were seriously impaired. He had difficulty communicating and he was completely dependent on others. These demands pushed the family to seek outside help. As with others in my parents generation, this was a very difficult move to make. We were grateful for those who helped us.
If it wasn’t for the progression of a relentless disease, we might have won the battle by keeping Dad at home – but that was not to be because dementia is not a fair fight.
Dad’s personality and behavior changed dramatically because of Alzheimer’s. The happy man we had always known was now frequently agitated. The perfect sleeper was now up all night. These changes along with others forced us to concede. Dad needed full time, dementia-specific care.
We found that care at Gianna Homes. It was the best fit for our family because their style of care was consistent with what we tried to give Dad at home. In addition, the home atmosphere with familiar caregivers who always make the family feel welcome just made the transition that much easier for Dad and the family.
So in the midst of Stage Three, the stage my family calls the Stage of Helplessness, came some much needed relief.
As we were immersed in Stage Four it seemed that there were few abilities left for Dad to loose. There were fewer words and fewer glimpses of the father we once knew. But our previous journey through the other three stages had taught us HOW to FIND HIM and that was often through his BRILLIANT smile.
At first, we were overwhelmed by what we no longer saw and then we grew grateful for every glimpse of the familiar old Dad.
Our seven year journey has led us through our own transformation: we learned to confront our loss, surrender to the grief, embrace our Faith and eventually to receive the gift of peace.
We believe this peace to be truly a divine gift. Only now can we discern that although we may have lost the battles to Alzheimer’s, in our hearts we know we have not lost the war. This war will be WON with LOVE! This love has been woven through 56 years of marriage, through a lifetime of fatherhood and throughout every stage of the darkness of this disease. This love eventually ushered Dad into God’s loving arms as well.
And in the end, LOVE will be the victor. Love may not save the man from the disease, but love has conquered the losses of a disease that no one believed could be beat.
-Written by the daughter of a past resident here at Gianna Homes.