Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Long Goodbye

Alzheimer's disease, really any form of dementia, is scary stuff. I know this because I'm the offspring of a mother who suffered from vascular dementia for the last eight years of her life, and a father who suffers now from Alzheimer's. (Indeed, my father was diagnosed within six months of my Mom's passing. Just when we thought we'd have time to breath again, the universe said, nope, not happening.)

My sister and I are now twelve years into our rocky relationship with dementia. We didn't ask for this, our new roles as caregivers, watchdogs, warrior advocates, guardians. We didn't plan for this. No one ever does. And yet, here we are. Parenting our parent, one who has a debilitating disease that will eventually kill him after making him suffer. That's blunt, but that's the way it is.

They call Alzheimer's "The Long Goodbye" because unlike losing a loved one to, say, an accident or a sudden heart attack, with Alzheimer's you lose them bit by bit, memory by memory, every single day. There's no grieving, processing, and getting on with your life here. It's a daily struggle, coping, crying, getting kicked in the guts, and then summoning the courage to do it all over again the next day. Every day.

And, when one has to wonder if they will end up like their parent, a thought that never leaves your mind, not for one tiny second, then Alzheimer's is not just scary, it's downright terrifying.

How many times can one's heart break and then mend, time after time, so you can keep going? How many tears can one person shed in a lifetime? How many fears can one cope with before the mind screams "I can't take any more"?

I don't know....

But I'm learning.

Additional reading: The Long Goodbye - Features - Atlanta Magazine

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