My father joined the Air Force in 1950 during the Korean War where he trained as an airplane mechanic. After his tour of duty, he returned to his home in Miami and married my mother after only three months of courtship. He worked during the day and attended barber school at
night, eventually owning several barber shops. My parents moved to Georgia after retirement to be near their children and grandchildren. Although my dad enjoyed doing yard work and watching sports, his family always came first. He was the most loving and compassionate person I had ever known. His generosity knew no bounds.
At first, I noticed subtle changes regarding his cognition: hiding personal objects, forgetting to pay bills, losing the ability to fix basic things. Over time, the changes grew more serious. He no longer felt comfortable driving alone for fear of getting lost. His overall mood fell prey to serious depression and his anxiety caused extreme agitation. Medical problems, including triple bypass surgery, also occurred. My father started falling during the night, requiring hospitalization on several occasions. His condition worsened every day.
As his primary caregiver, I found myself thrust into a world about which I knew very little — the world of dementia. Feeling bewildered and alone, the incredible weight on my shoulders was almost too much to bear. Knowing what to expect from day to day became a mystery. I didn’t always do the right thing or say the correct words. Looking back, I may not have always made the right decisions. Clearly in over my head, my choices were few and far between. I was a daughter that woke up one day to find herself caring for her father, our relationship roles now reversed.
I remember so well the day he hit rock bottom. During a Sundowner’s episode, my father committed the unspeakable which forced my mother to call 911. I sadly watched him taken away that night, never to return home again. The authorities sent him to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation after which he was moved into a memory care unit for his safety as well as my mother’s. My father’s condition continued to deteriorate. He suffered more agitation, a fractured hip and complications from surgery and medications.
On October 22, 2011, my father lost his battle with Alzheimer’s. He endured a level of suffering to which no human should ever be subjected. Alzheimer’s took my dad from me, little by little, until he was simply a shell of the man I once knew. This vile disease stole everything, reducing him to a stranger. Then when nothing was left, it stole his life.
My ultimate dream is for a day when no more Alzheimer’s or dementia of any kind exist, when people will be able to live with their precious memories intact until the very end. Until that wondrous day, my hope is that our journey helps to bring awareness to this terrible illness. The more we as a society learn about this disease, the better we’ll be able to handle Alzheimer’s. Everyone afflicted with it deserves a fighting chance. I hope that our story will in some way help others affected by this tragic ailment, whether in providing helpful information or simply words of encouragement. May our countless tears be the fortitude that helps others deal with the adversity from this devastating disease.
Vanessa Luther is the author of A Life Stolen: My Father’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s, the true account of the devastating, but inspiring journey that she and her father traveled through Alzheimer’s. She grew up in Hialeah, Florida and later moved to Pensacola, where she met and married her husband. After earning her Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, she moved to Atlanta, Georgia where she worked as a Consulting Software Engineer for 17 years. She then put her career on hold to raise her three sons and eventually became the primary caregiver for both of her parents. She currently lives in Lawrenceville, Georgia with her husband, three sons and their dog.