Thursday, April 7, 2011

Ms. Monica goes to Springfield - pt 1

Ms. Monica goes to Springfield.

In a few hours, I’m climbing aboard the bus when it leaves Peoria for Springfield as I accompany a group of like-minded citizens who are determined to educate our Illinois state senators and representatives on the horrific toll that Alzheimer’s is taking upon our public and private worlds.

It’s hard, since I am rather verbose, but I’m limiting myself to two personal stories to share with them. I’ll put it in writing along with some photos so they can see the dear friend I lost and the dad-in-law I’m losing to this cruel disease …

Dear friend in Springfield,

This is the only photo I have of my dear friend, Molly, and me together. She’s the beautiful lady standing between her husband and son with her daughter on the far left.

You would have loved Molly, the retired public school kindergarten teacher who gave many a youngster the love and attention they needed at such a precious age. She was also the ultimate wife, mom and grandma who was forced into early retirement because Alzheimer’s came knocking on her door. With a devastated heart, she accepted the responsibility and challenge of caring for her husband, Joe, the love of her life.

Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s has claimed two members of this incredible family. Joe has the disease and resides in a nursing home. He is oblivious to the ultimate sacrifice his beloved wife made for him, as the relentless challenges of caregiving destroyed Molly’s health and unexpectedly ended her life on January 9, 2010, not even three months after she had to place him in an Alzheimer’s unit, a decision that broke her heart after the physical demands had broken her body.

Their daughter, Margy, also wants to share this important message with you:

My Dad, Joe, suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Last year, my family lost its key player, my Mom, Molly. She was with my Dad from his diagnosis 10 years ago until his placement in a nursing home. She cared for him through his decline and ultimately gave her life for him. The loss of my Mom has deeply impacted the lives of my family as well as the lives she touched through her role as an advocate for those suffering from dementia.

Molly was an active participant in caregiver support groups and education for families provided through our local Alzheimer’s Association, Central Illinois Chapter. She believed education was power and dedicated herself to caring for Joe and supporting others in the same situation. Her life and death speaks volumes for the need of our Alzheimer’s Association and the services they provide to our area families. So, now, as my Dad’s caretaker, I urge you to support the tremendous work of our Alzheimer’s Association. Please help them continue to provide the counseling, education and support that is so greatly needed by those suffering from dementia and by those, like me, who have the daunting task as caretakers.

Even more than a year after Molly’s passing, Margy and I still get teary-eyed when we talk about this fun, feisty woman because we loved her so much. It’s not right, it’s not fair that the compassionate act of caregiving killed her. Alzheimer’s caregiving is destroying the health of millions more caregivers who are doing their best to care for their loved ones who cannot be left unattended because of the danger they present to themselves and others as Alzheimer’s destroys the brain’s capacity for common sense and self-care.

While still grieving the loss of Molly last spring, I took on the unexpected challenge of caring for my father-in-law, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s after we had to move him here from Florida to care for him. Pepaw’s decline was both exhausting and frightening as he nearly started fires from smoking and threatened to have my husband and I arrested for stealing his truck and money.

His rapid fall into the grips of Alzheimer’s created the biggest crisis of my 31-year marriage and threatened my own health as I lost countless hours of sleep worrying about him and making sure he was not a danger to himself and others. This easy-going man turned angry and threatened people and lost all ability to reason. We had no choice but to seek an immediate opening in a secure Alzheimer’s unit, the closest of which was nearly an hour and a half away from us, here in Springfield.

I cried when I had to leave him there that day last August as the guilt and unjustified sense of failure was overwhelming. I’ve cried many more days and nights since then as Pepaw’s health continues a rapid decline, the latest setback a broken hip in February. He no longer knows my name though seems to know I’m somebody he can trust, something for which I’m grateful as I spent most of one night in the emergency room with him just a few weeks ago. I cry even more as I watch this man’s lifetime of hard-earned money slip away to cover his 24/7 care.

You, as our friend in Springfield, are being urged to consider the physical, emotional and financial toll Alzheimer’s is taking upon your citizens, your families, your friends. The numbers afflicted by this nightmarish disease is growing every year and promises to be a public health epidemic nationwide and in our neighborhoods as it overwhelms our healthcare system and saps the energy and lives of family caregivers.

These are but a few of the faces of this cruel disease. Molly, Joe and Pepaw can’t be here today, but I am, asking you to devote the funds and legislation necessary to care for Illinois families ambushed by Alzheimer’s, because the cost will be even greater tomorrow if we do not plan and act today. Consider the priority of compassion as you wrestle with the state’s financial challenges ahead.

Monica Vest Wheeler
Peoria, Illinois