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Karen’s Story

My dad died on June 4, 2016; he was 95. Six months before that, my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She was 88, two weeks before her 89th birthday. She is now 94.

When mom was diagnosed, it was no surprise because she had been exhibiting symptoms for two or three years before that. She was combative, not very nice to my dad and she would take forever at the grocery store just reading labels. She couldn’t use her cell phone, or her computer and she insisted there was nothing wrong with her, very loudly. I told my dad and he was in denial. Until one day he wasn’t, and he cried to see my mom that way. I was at their house two or three days a week and my dad, who never called much before, would call me almost daily.

At the same time dad was under hospice care, I was coordinating caregivers to come help mom with her errands and cook. I was also trying to take care of my mediation practice and handle my daughter who was in her early 20s. No stress there at all.

On dad’s 95th birthday in 2016, we had to amend the family trust, so my mom was not left in charge of the estate when dad died. Dad died one month to the day after that.

When dad died, I was overcome with grief and felt his presence with me for a couple of weeks. I let him go on Father’s Day 2016. I was profoundly depressed, in a fog, and just going through the motions of life. I could not concentrate on anything, would get lost while driving and my sleep patterns were all messed up. At the same time, I was the one taking care of the trust details. All I can say is that I am so grateful our trust and estate attorney and her staff were there to guide me. I had a checklist to go through and it took me six months to get it done. That’s how grief affected me. And I was lucky because mom and dad had a trust in place. Dad had also told us all where all the investments were, so it was easier.

A year to the day after dad died, mom went into memory care. I spent an entire month interviewing communities and visiting them to find the one that fit for my mom. Trust me, they are not all created equal. At the same time, I was feeling so guilty that we could not care for mom in her own home. My brother had moved in with her, but he works during the day and mom needed 24/7 care and supervision. In-home care was ridiculously expensive, and mom needed socialization. It was heartbreaking, and God, the guilt was overwhelming…especially on the day we moved her. We had to just leave her there and then I couldn’t see her for three weeks while she got acclimated. When I finally did see her, she wept with joy. She thought we had abandoned her forever. She is 94 now (2019) and is slowly declining both mentally and physically.

5 months after mom went to memory care, we sold the family home of 51 years. There was more guilt, more grief and more fog to walk through. My 3 siblings and I went through the entire house, had family meetings and it took three months to pack up the house, toss some things and donate others. I all the way down to the measuring wall where my dad measured us and the neighbor kids as we grew. I was so attached to the past that I was almost immobilized.

Selling the home meant there was no longer a place for holiday gatherings, birthday celebrations and there was no “going home”. It was a loss like no other and we had to make new traditions and really work to stay connected. Family central, was gone. Dad at the head of the table was gone and the writing this makes me sad all over again. That feeling never really goes away, it just dulls over time and we move on.

Oh, yeah, let’s not forget the family meetings. I am considered an expert in conflict resolution and communication but when I went to these family meetings, all of my training went out the window! All the garbage from the past came up, resentments surfaced, heated words were exchanged, and we muddled through. I mediated between my siblings and tried to keep myself in check. Not an easy task. Fortunately, all of that “stuff” made us closer, amends were made, and new promises made. It was like birthing, it hurt, was hard and so worth it in the end. And we were lucky to be able to do that.

Basically, those two years were an emotional roller coaster. And when mom passes, we will do it all over again. When one parent passes you feel like your world is off balance and incomplete, when both pass, you suddenly realize that you are now the older generation of the family and there is no one to ground you. I miss my dad, our home and my mom the way she used to be.

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