Gary and I were doing well; we were both flourishing at work and enjoying life. I started a coaching practice in 2001 and worked with entrepreneurial business owners and professionals. The fruits of my labor had paid off and it had grown into a thriving referral based business. We had been married 6 years, had achieved some milestone goals and could finally say that we were financially comfortable and on plan. In June we celebrated by going on a dream vacation, visiting friends and bicycling in the Provence area of France. We had taken a French class prior to the trip. Gary was amazing; he picked up enough of the language to get around quite well in Paris and in the countryside. It was the best trip ever and it was the best year ever because so many great things were happening.
The tables then turned. Just when we thought we had accomplished sustainable momentum in our lives and thought that we were on a roll, July 2005 brought some bad news. My dad was diagnosed with Stage 3 lymphoma at age 78 and my mom age 87 was starting to show signs of dementia. Dad and Mom had always been very active and bounced back and forth between Costa Rica and a remote area of northern California. Everything changed. In order for Dad to go through chemo, the oncologist told us that he would need to live within at least 20 minutes to a hospital and their current living situation didn’t cut it. We all agreed that they would move to Redondo Beach, so they rented an apartment in very close proximity to our home.
By the end of 2005, Dad’s health was deteriorating rapidly and their situation required more and more of my time. As a daughter, there is an innate sense to “take care” of our loved ones. You can really be taken aback and unprepared by a sudden change in your role in any relationship. In my dad’s case, he was the strong one, a driven and accomplished individual. People depended on him. There was no way that this could possibly be happening. We always assumed that because my mom was older and had had some health problems that she would be the first to go. Something inside you goes into auto pilot because it’s your parents and you find yourself doing whatever you can to help because you love them. It’s a natural reaction. It is very easy to place others’ needs before your own and it can happen even on an unconscious level. There is one thing that I am going to be saying over and over again: There is no roadmap on this journey when you are caring for a loved one and every situation is going to be different. Being needed and being on high alert and overdrive for a loved one can become a trap before you realize what is happening. The next thing you know, you are living in a state of adrenalin and your life is completely out of balance. Our first trip to the ER was when Dad couldn’t sleep and took it upon himself to take an additional sleeping pill. He fell in the bathroom, hitting his head in the middle of the night. Your life can quickly become about waiting for the next drama to occur and you won’t even realize that the quality of your life is in jeopardy.
My dad died in May of 2006. He died in Costa Rica which is a story and adventure in and of itself to be told at a later time. After dad Died, Mom moved in and lived with us for almost 6 months before moving to an assisted living community in Northern California.
A lot can happen in a year and this story just scratches the surface of all that did happen that year. In addition, the company that Gary worked for sold to a large Fortune 50 company and would start changing drastically over the next two years. But before I share another story, my next blog will talk about the words Caregiver versus Care Partner (a term used by The Alzheimer’s Association) and why I think it’s important to pay attention to how you use these terms and how it may help you maintain your perspective and quality of life.