Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It Was No Hill for a Climber

Everyone has a story. I've heard this line in a movie and I cannot recall what movie. Almost 2 years ago I had the pleasure of attending a Mental Health Conference at Lake of the Ozarks with my supervisor, Sherry, and our institution's Substance Abuse Counselor Susan. I've known both of these ladies for a very long time. But let me tell you something. When you spend several days with people you learn so much about them. It was a very relaxing, educational and eventful 3 days.

After a day of seminars, we decided to go to Springfield to Lambert's, Home of the Throwed Rolls. Sherry had been there, we had not. She suggested, I was game, Susan was not. But she relented. Luckily we only had a short wait at the restaurant when the conversation turned to the Titanic Exhibit at Branson. Sherry wanted to go and I agreed. Susan thought we were crazy. We went to the Titanic that night. It was a blast. We drove all the way back to the Ozarks that night pooped.

The best part of the whole excursion was learning about Susan. She was quite the little entertainer all the way to Springfield. I think she had a nervousness about her because the event was so spontaneous and unexpected. So she told us all about herself. (Remember what I said in a previous post, when someone shares something about themselves with you it is a gift. She gave us all kinds of presents that evening!!) Susan shared her life experiences. One of which was her father Earl. Susan's father had passed away just a month prior. He had Alzheimer's Disease. She took us through the whole spectrum of symptoms, diagnosis and death. It was difficult not to get emotional at times.

Just last week Susan shared with me an article she wrote for the Mid Missouri Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. I loved the tribute she wrote for her dad. I loved it so much I asked her if I could share it with people on my blog. Here it is:
It Was No Hill for a Climber
Susan and her father Earl

My story of my father and his fight with Alzheimer's disease is one that lasted for nearly 15 years. He was diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer's disease in December 1995, even though he showed signs several years before.

Let me start this tribute to the man who gave me strength and taught me to never give up. Years ago when we would take walks together he would say to me as I was tiring out that "it was no hill for a climber". This stuck with me throughout the years as I watched him progress through the disease. He fought Alzheimer's disease to the end as if he climbed through it into heaven.

My father, Earl Epping, passed from this life April 24, 2008. He was 89 years old and lived his last five years at the Missouri Veterans home in Mexico, MO. My name is Susan Epping. I was born and raised in Moberly, MO. I later moved to Tulsa, OK where I spent 20 years of my life. I moved back to Moberly in 1998 deciding that I wanted to be near my father so he would know me as long as he could. I want to share how all the phases of Alzheimer's happened and how I learned to accept each one, not easily, but it happened.
I remember the day he was diagnosed. I sat thinking what will I do when he no longer knows me? I quickly came to terms with that thought, realizing he was the one who would lose the memory, not me. I knew then that I must stand strong for him. I had heard how all the stages occur but really didn't think it would happen to dad.

After my move back to Moberly, my mother and I would attend Alzheimer's support groups to give and receive experience, strength and hope. My mother had a hard time in the beginning with denial, plus she had a hard time telling her friends about her husband, feeling she was betraying him in some way if she told anyone he had Alzheimer's. The meetings certainly helped her in that area. We experienced taking away his right to drive, which was one of the very hardest things for him to give up. For me, I felt very much like the bad guy taking away his keys. At that time I started taking him for drives up to Excello and Mt. Salem, some of his old stomping grounds when he was young. What a fun time we had together! In time he seemed to accept not driving and allowed mother or I to drive him. I learned to love him in every stage how ever long it would last. The Alzheimer's continued to take and take from him. As a daughter I had to help him in ways I never thought I could, like showering, dressing, and feeding him.He was able to stay at home with my mother as long as he could but the time came when we needed more help. In March of 2003 he entered the Missouri Veterans Home. On that day my heart broke. I felt like I was giving my father away. He did seem to adjust more quickly than I and in time it became my weekly routine to pick up my mother and head for Mexico. In time he couldn't walk and ended up in the wheel chair and then came the gerry chair. We all did the best we could. On Sundays we all would attend church services in the chapel at the home and my father could sing the chorus of Jesus Loves Me up until several months before he died.

I could go on and on about him but my purpose today it to encourage everyone who is going through this to enjoy your loved one as they are today and have acceptance. In the last few months of dad's life he couldn't communicate very well, however he would clap his hands when asked. When my mother would ask for a kiss, he would pucker his lips. He also would giggle everytime I would whisper in his ear "Dad, I love you!"
He had forgotten who I was many years before he passed but there were a few times when I would get on one knee and look straight in his eyes and actually get eye contact. He would reach out and touch my cheek and I knew he knew who I was. These times were very few but special, all the same.This is my first Christmas without him and it is very hard. He loved Christmas. My memories of years past have him in his red vest ushering in the holidays. He loved the lights and always decorated the house inside and out. In the past few years I would decorate his room for him. I have never not had a father and I am having the hardest time accepting this. This is my hardest hill to climb. I know he is in heaven and I know he is better off. However, the truth is I dearly miss the little man who at the end would clap his hands, smile and would giggle when I said "I love you."

Earl and his Bride Maureen

Here's to you, Earl Epping, the greatest man I have ever known. I miss you dearly and will never be the same without you in my life. Thank you for making me feel special. My dad loved his family and especially my mother Maurine. My hope is that research will find a cure for this horrible disease. I do believe in time it will happen. My father won't benefit from this but he led the way for someone else....perhaps me.

Earl, Susan and her son Shane

Thank you Susan for sharing this with me. It was a wonderful tribute to a wonderful man.

Susan is an energetic walker, runner, marathon enthusiast. A lover of life. I have had many laughs and many notable talks with this lovely lady. May God bless her for all she's experienced.


Terri and Bob said...

Wow, I have tears in my eyes after reading this. What a devastating disease. Thank you for sharing your friend's journey.

I think feta cheese IS goat cheese. It has a similar taste!

tam said...

What a very touching story Lisa. Thank you for that. I lost my dad to cancer in 1985 he was only 47 years old. The same age I am right now. He was rarely ever sick and I don't think he ever missed a day of work! I made sure to tell him I loved him and was there for him. We only had him for a matter of months after his diagnoses. There was nothing so hard as to watch this man, my dad loose his dignity and wither away. One thing I try to stress when working with young people and anyone really is make peace if you need to, do whatever it is you must do. But let the people in your life know you love and care for them! You truly never know how much time you have on this earth. ~Tam

Pat@Back Porch Musings said...

Beautiful post and tribute, Lisa. Thank you so much and thank Susan for sharing the journey.

Becky K. said...

Warren loves to go to Lambert's when he is out there at the Branson site of Sight and Sound.

I first saw dementia or alzheimers...I am not sure which it was... in my Great Grandmother. It made a huge impression on my young mind.

justabeachkat said...

What a sweet tribute to her Dad. Thanks for sharing.

My grandmother had this disease and it was so hard for my Mom to watch her go through it. I think my Mom lives in fear that it will happen to her too. I pray she won't.


Anonymous said...

Lost Dad to other problems which were a result of his cancer radiation treatments in 2000. Will ALWAYS miss him. Thanks for this lovely story about your dad.

The Blue Ridge Gal

CatHerder said...

such a beautiful post, such a beautiful man. Life is too short to be discontent ...Earl sounds like he appreciated every moment.

patty said...

lost my dad to alzheimers november 2008. I can relate to Susan story, bless your family

Merrie. said...

Thank you for sharing such a sad and happy story; there are always good things mixed in with the bad and it sounds like your friend was able to see that. Sorry for her loss; what a sweet family, how nice it must have been to grow up in such a loving place. Thanks for your comment on my blog; please do take the award too because I think that the things you share here make your blog a wonderful place to visit! Have a great day!