Monday, October 8, 2012

Dad is a Pioneer

Last week was a very special week for my family. My Dad was honored by the National Dairy Shrine as a dairy industry Pioneer.

The National Dairy Shrine is a sort of hall of fame for the dairy industry. The organization honors leaders and dairy producers who have done exemplary work in the dairy industry, and also gives away thousands of dollars in scholarships to college students interested in the dairy industry. Dad was president in 1988, and was always very supportive of the organization.

At the Shrine's annual banquet last week, Don, Dave and Mary were there, along with Dave's wife Cynthia and Mary's son Micah. My wife Kelly and kids Maggie and Jack were there too to share in the honor. The only family member not there was Tom. Our cousin Bob came up from Rockford.

During the ceremony, a member of the Dairy Shrine board went through the five Pioneer designees. He read Dad's bio (find a release from the Shrine here) then I got to say a few words. I introduced my family, then said that it was an honor for us because, for one, Dad turned 90 in August. Plus, because he has Alzheimers, he doesn't remember anything about what he accomplished in his career. But this award helps us know that the dairy industry has not forgotten, and that means a lot to us.

I also said that if Dad were there to accept the award himself, he no doubt would have deflected the accolades and instead thanked all of the people that he worked with through his career, and especially his family. He never accepted all of the credit himself, for anything.

My Dad was a true pioneer, even back to his days on the farm. I remember reading in his book how he built farrowing crates in the early 50's from a plan he got from ISU Extension. It had to be one of the first built in western Iowa. When Dad built a parlor in 1965, it was the first double-herringbone in Iowa. At the Brown Swiss Cattle Breeders Association, he developed the Association's marketing arm, and started a program for identifying grade animals that was adopted across the dairy industry. He exported thousands of animals around the world in the 80's, when agriculture income was suffering and dairy producers needed all of the income they could get. In the early 90's he was the first CEO of the U.S. Livestock Genetics Export Council.

As much as he was an industry pioneer, he was a great husband and father. It was great to remember him in that way last week.

Dad couldn't make it to the banquet - he stayed at the nursing home. Mom and Mary visited him on Wednesday, and when Mom told him that he was getting an award, Dad said "I am?" It was bittersweet that he was surprised at such an honor, and we certainly wish that he could have been there in person. But it was a great night nonetheless.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Can you answer the ice cream, please?

Up to now I've posted all sad, depressing material. With this post I've decided to add one of the more lighter moments that Mom experienced as part of Dad's Alzheimers.

A couple of years ago, when Mom and Dad were still living in their home, Mom called me one evening and was laughing on the phone, saying "I've just got to tell someone what happened to us today."

Apparently Mom and Dad's phone died, so they went to Shopko to get a new one. After picking one out and returning home, Mom put it on the counter and got Dad his usual snack - a bowl of ice cream. With Dad satisfied for the time being, Mom went into the bathroom. When she came back out, the phone was nowhere to be found.

She looked high and low. All over the kitchen. In the bathroom. Back to look in the car. Again around the kitchen. She even looked to see if she already plugged it in but somehow forgot. But no luck. Frustrated, she put Dad back into the car (ice cream consumed) and went back to Shopko, where she purchased the phone again. This time she came home and before doing anything else, plugged it in.

That night they went about their business, ate supper, watched some TV, played a hand of double solitaire (Dad could still see well enough). When they were done, they decided to have another snack - a bowl of ice cream.

And when she opened the freezer, there was the phone sitting right next to the ice cream. Of course Dad, when asked, had no idea how it got there. Mom could only surmise that when Dad put away the ice cream from his afternoon snack, he probably thought the phone box was ice cream, too, and put that in the freezer as well. At least he was thorough.

So even through sad days we have to laugh at those little things.

By the way, Mom said the people at Shopko had quiet a laugh when she brought back the other, somewhat chilled, phone.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Took Dad to a Home Today

Mom finally realized that it was time. For more than a year we have talked to Mom about putting Dad into a nursing home, because at 88 years old, she was no longer able to take care of Dad and herself. This summer Dad's Alzheimers advanced too far and taking care of Dad was no longer something she could do.

The biggest issue, I think, was Dad's sleep pattern. There were many times when I talked to Mom during the day and she sounded just worn out. She would say - "Dad didn't sleep again last night". I came to realize that what Mom meant was that Dad was awake all night, and she probably got to sleep around 4 am. Dad would contantly ask her questions, get out of bed, and worry about everything from wondering if they had enough money to where the car was parked. Then he would be awake most of the next day, and constantly be at Mom's side, asking her questions, wanting to do something, constant prodding. Mom finally had enough.

Honestly I'm sure Dad didn't know what he was doing. His constant pressuring of Mom was out of a childlike neediness. Mom was Dad's lifeline, and he stuck to her like glue.

So today we took Dad to a nursing home. It's nice enough. The people are very kind and treated Dad great. It's clean. But it's a nursing home.

A long time ago when Dad and I were sitting in his den one Saturday morning, just talking, he told me that he never wanted to be in a nursing home. He didn't want to be cared for that way, with him being reliant on someone for his every need. Now it is the only option, and I couldn't help but thinking about that this morning as we walked around the nursing home. If Dad were in his right mind, he would have rather been dead than be there.

But this is what happens with Alzheimers. You don't get a choice - you just have to deal with it.

When we were done signing the papers we went to say our goodbye's to Dad. He was sound asleep on his new bed. I guess he doesn't care, now.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why I am wearing purple tomorrow

This video pretty much says it all. But here are some more facts and figures:
  • 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease.
  • One in eight older Americans has Alzheimer's disease.
  • Alzheimer's disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.
  • More than 15 million Americans provide unpaid care valued at $210 billion for persons with Alzheimer's and other dementias.
  • Payments for care are estimated to be $200 billion in the United States in 2012.

  • My Dad is one of those people who has Alzheimer's, and I don't want to have it someday, and I sure as hell don't want my son to have it. So that's why I'm wearing purple tomorrow.

    Tuesday, September 18, 2012

    A Long, Slow Walk Into the Fog

    So how did Dad get this way?

    As far as we can tell Dad's memory started to slip right after he finished Bye George. It was fairly subtle at first, forgetting where he put things, not remembering something in his past, forgetting people's names. It was what would probably be considered normal dimentia.

    Dad was always a great story teller. Anytime he got up to give a speech he would always tell a joke or story. Usually Mom played a ficticious role, and usually reacted with a smile and eye roll. So we knew that when Dad started to repeat stories that his memory was going south. Then he started repeating questions, and it became more obvious. And given his genes, we knew where it was headed.

    Soon he couldn't drive anymore, which may have been due as much to his macular degeneration than his memory loss. He would forget where he was going - I remember him getting lost in the World Dairy Expo parking lot, only to be "rescued" by a nice guy on a golf cart who brought Dad back to the Coliseum. Then he forgot the names of long-time friends, then family members, then his kids.

    I always saw Dad as the consumate public relations person, and I think that's how he was able to hide the slide to the outside world for so long. But after awhile it was obvious.

    I often wonder what he was thinking, and how he was feeling, as he felt his memory slip away. At some point he had to realize that it was happening, and he had to know where it was headed. I admire my Dad for a lot of things, but I probably admire him most for the way he faced the impending "fog". He didn't complain or wonder why he had been chosen for this fate. Being in his shoes, I'm not sure I could face it the same way.

    Because now that Dad's in his fog, he's not at all the same person he was. The person represented by my Dad's body is technically my Dad. But the person who was my Dad left long ago.

    Wednesday, September 12, 2012

    Bye George

    Dad was always a great writer. I hope to think that I inherited some of those characteristics. He always wrote in a conversational style. I remember him telling me that you should write like you're sitting at a table across from someone, telling them a story.

    Dad wrote his memoirs in a book that he finished in 2000. He titled the book "Bye George". I remember at the time asking him why he titled the book that way, wondering why he didn't title it "By George" instead. He was noncommital about why he chose the title, saying only that the title was the title he wanted.

    Only recently have I realized Dad's reasoning for the title. He knew what was coming. He knew that he would slowly lose his memory. That's why he wrote the book - to get all of his thoughts down on paper for others to read and remember before he forgot all of it. He, literally, was saying good-bye.

    The book isn't a Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Dad did try to get it published, but ended up printing a bunch of copies for himself that he gave to family and friends.  Because of the explicit detail Dad goes into regarding his early life on the farm, how he used horses to till the land, some of the first updates he made on the farm which were, at that time, technologically advanced, a copy of the book is in the Iowa historical society library.

    It's a cherished possession that nothing can replace. I can't wait for my kids to read it so they can understand what Dad was really like - not like he is today. Someday maybe I'll write my own version.

    As I write more posts on this blog, I'll share some portions of the book to provide an insight to the kind of person my Dad was.

    Monday, September 10, 2012

    Yes, I Hate Alzheimers

    I hate Alzheimers. I'm not suffering from the disease directly, but my father, who turned 90 in August, is in the late stages. Unfortunately it runs in my family. My grandmother had it. My maternal great grandfather had it. It appears that other members of my family, going back farther, had it as well.

    Alzheimers has affected our whole family. My mother, who is 88, is taking care of my dad and it is wearing her out. It's even affected my 8-year old son who is struggling with trying to understand why grandpa doesn't remember him.

    This blog won't take away the disease, or prevent me from getting it. But I hope it will help us all cope. It will help us deal with watching Dad deteriorate. But it will also help us to remember the type of person he was. And I hope, if anyone else reads this, that others will be able to share their stories as well.

    So here we go . . .