The Long Goodbye

Just when a person’s memory really begins to matter most in life, this cruel and heartless disease comes along, disrupting everything and everyone that is close.

The fact is, Alzheimer’s is an irreversible disease and, unacceptably, has no known cure. It slowly steals the victim’s mind, leaving a long trail of broken-down, worn-out family members and caregivers behind.

Everything comes with a price. The average Americans’ life expectancy has increased dramatically over the last 100 years, expediting the numbers of those plagued with Alzheimer’s, making it a drastic price to pay.

There appears to be a sense of shame associated with this disease. Notoriety seems to be given to celebrity driven causes such as breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc. I’m not trying to place the importance of one fatal disease in front of the other. But, for example, a professional sport such as Major League Baseball uses Mother’s Day as an opportunity to have ball players swinging pink bats or running in pink shoes for breast cancer awareness, Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, seems to be kept lingering completely outside the ballpark.

The disability of being mentally impaired has been swept under the rug for hundreds of years. “Ol’ Uncle Charlie has been very confused lately, so we decided to let him live in the cabin on the backside of the property.” This attitude has stolen attention and devotion away from this mind-devouring disease that it truly demands. Even as Alzheimer’s continues to climb the scale to one of top leading causes of death, it still seems to remain stagnant on the priority list of lobbyists and politicians.

There is nothing prejudiced about this disease: creed, culture, gender, rich or poor; it will strike down anyone, taking along family members and caregivers along the way. It simply does not care!

Usually, most caregivers are a husband or wife, son or daughter that love the patient dearly. They constantly feel that they have to give the best possible care to ensure their loved one’s well-being. And sadly, it’s the family who witnesses the patient slowly fading away, which has prompted many to use the sobriquet of “The Long Goodbye” for this disease. Having experienced this personally, I couldn’t agree more.

At the very end, Hospice kept telling me my father wouldn’t make it through the day, but then found it necessary to repeat themselves fourteen days in a row. The ups and downs of this duration was mentally and physically exhausting. By the time my father passed, I barely knew my own name. My sister and I took shifts sleeping; if you could call it that. The rest of this precious time was spent tending to Dad and watching him wither away to the point where we could hardly recognize him.

This is a period of time that I like to call the “waiting room.” I was afraid to leave the house for a five minute trip to go to the store, because I didn’t want to forgo being with my dad for his final breath.

It came to a point where I felt like I had split personalities. There was one half of me praying that his Maker would hurry up and just take him and stop his suffering. This brings on a tidal wave of guilt. Well, let me tell you something; everyone feels this at one time or another; it’s a natural reaction. Don’t torment yourself over this.

The other half was pleading for him not to go! Somewhere inside myself I believed that there was still a glimpse of hope and he would sit up and make a miraculous recovery. My heart was being torn in two different directions.

Please take my advice and don’t go through this alone. Having someone with you to initiate a conversation or even cry with you is a blessing. Talk about the happy times you shared with your loved one. The fact that you have someone there gives you a chance to step outside for a minute and breathe in some fresh air. Trust me, it will be immeasurably comforting.

I personally know how difficult it is making phone call after phone call, informing family and friends that the end has now finally come. Try not to do everything yourself. Ask for help. It’s nearly impossible to think straight at a time like this. It’s in times like these that a family needs to pull together and lend each other support.

I don’t believe those left behind ever get over losing a loved one. Somehow we just learn to accept it.