Jun 132017
 

The fact that my dad even knows who Matt is feels quite incredible. My dad was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease 11 years ago, and my husband Matt came into our lives just three years ago.

What makes my heart soar is how they’ve become best buddies. My dad still lives at home with my mom, his soulmate turned full-time caregiver. While he cannot be left alone, dress himself, buckle his seatbelt, or even open the door, when Matt is around, his former self shines through. The two are downright squirrely together!

When Matt and I got engaged, we decided to have a small ceremony, because we were worried about how my dad would handle a large crowd. While wedding planning, Matt’s only requests included a canoe full of beer and a food truck parked in the driveway.  The only “must” on my list was for my dad to walk me down the aisle, and that I would wear red Converse chucks since my dad also rocked a pair when he married my mom 33 years earlier.

We invited 80 guests to the ceremony. Locked arm-in-arm with my dad – with the biggest smile I’ve ever had in my life – I remember hearing my cue: “A Thousand Years” by The Piano Guys. This was it. The big moment.

The chapel doors opened, and I locked eyes with the most handsome groom I’ve ever seen in my life. But then I felt my dad start to tense up.  Even though there was a sea of familiar faces smiling brightly at us, my dad didn’t recognize a single face.

“Dad,” I said with my biggest, reassuring smile, “do you see Matt down there?” I pointed down the aisle. “Today’s my wedding day; you just need to walk me down this aisle, and give me away to Matt. We’ve got this.”

Ever so slowly he began to shuffle down the aisle on our way to my groom. At this point, everyone was crying and smiling. The song may have repeated, but I can’t be sure.

When we got to the front of the church, I gave my dad a huge hug; we had made it!  With lots of happy tears in her eyes, my mom joined us to help my dad to his seat. Slowly, with a wink, I said: “Do you see mom? You’re going to go sit next to her while I marry this kid.” Choking back tears, my dad said, “I love you. I just love you so much!” The day was about as close to perfect as they come.

Alzheimer’s disease has taught me so much about living life to the fullest and cherishing the time I have with my family. Matt is such a special part of our family now, and I know my dad would have chosen no one else to be by our side as we battle this terrible disease. Recently, my dad asked if I was “still hanging out with that astronaut guy.” I replied, “Dad, do you mean Matt? He’s a pilot, but yes, he’s my husband, so he’s stuck with me!”

My dad comes to hang out with Matt and I every Thursday, even sleeping over, to give my mom a much-needed break. The memories I made on that milestone that was our wedding day continue to fuel my fight to find a cure…but our “Thursdate” adventures are pretty darn special too. Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

About the Author: As a member of the Minnesota-North Dakota chapter’s young professionals group and Blondes vs. Brunettes and as an Alzheimer’s Congressional Team member, Chloe Misner has been a powerful motivator for her peers in the fight to end Alzheimer’s.

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Jun 172016
 

My graduate school commencement ceremony was fast approaching, and I knew it would be next to impossible for my dad to attend.  My dad, who is in his 80s, is living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Just the drive to and from the school would be a challenge for him, so I made arrangements for the assisted living facility to live stream the ceremony. Little did I know, my family had other plans in mind. My mom had asked the assisted living health coordinator if my dad would be able to make it to Emory & Henry and back. She said, “Yes!” and the entire staff was let in on the plan. The big surprise was underway.

The day of graduation I got there early with my mom. We were able to save seats and still have a good view of the stage. As we were counting the seats, I noticed my mom had counted one extra. I asked her why, thinking maybe my cousin might be coming.  Mom fought back tears and replied, “Your father.”fathersday

After hearing those words I broke down.  I was so emotional, because I knew how difficult it was for him to make the trip. My brother Tim would drive him over so he could be there in person. That was the only graduation gift I wanted – for both parents to see me graduate.

When I met my classmates to line up, I broke down again as I shared my good news with them. A few of my friends joined me in shedding tears of happiness.

It wasn’t until I got to my seat that I saw my dad. He was wearing my school colors, including an ‘Emory & Henry Dad’ hat. He asked my mom why I was crying, and she told him I was so happy to see him. During the ceremony, I got up and walked over to him. I squeezed both his hands, smiled at him, gave him a kiss on the cheek and told him I was so glad to see him. His face lit up. I knew he was proud of me for what I had accomplished even if he had no idea what was going on.  God planned it perfectly.

Throughout the ceremony he was able to focus on me, his “punkin.” We looked at each other from the rows, smiling, waving, winking and mouthing “I love you.” Those were precious moments I will always treasure.

On the way back to the assisted living my dad was his old self. He even cracked a joke!  I was driving, dad was beside me in the passenger seat and my mom was behind me, when dad asked “Where’s mom?” “She is behind us,” I said. He gazed confusedly at the side view mirror, pretending to look for her and said “I don’t see her.”  The whole car broke into laughter. I laughed so hard that my body was shaking and no sound was coming out. For two minutes my dad was back. He was his jokester self.

Having him there with me was the perfect surprise and the best graduation gift.

As many of you know, Alzheimer’s is a very heartbreaking disease.  But throughout our “Alzheimer’s journey,” there has been light amid the darkness. I have learned to treasure every moment I spend with my dad, to laugh with him and to love him for being him. I thank God for blessing me with an amazing family and for making my graduation day one I will never forget.

Even though my dad doesn’t remember that day, I always will. It was a day of light.

About the Author: Sara Gearheart, 29, is a children’s director from Virginia. For the last five years, she has been the team captain for her Walk to End Alzheimer’s team “The Journey.” Sara is a caregiver for her dad who is living with Alzheimer’s.

 

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