I grew up with two hippie parents, my older sister and a cat named Rainbow in a small town in Colorado. My parents realized early on that they were driving each other crazy and got divorced when I was four. After that there was a lot of back and forth with my mom who suffered from depression problems and my dad who disappeared each time he got a new girlfriend. I remember having a lot of fun when I was little but I was young enough to not understand most of what was going on.
Then one day when I was 22 and living in New York City with my sister, we started getting emails and phone calls from our mom and neighbors and friends that something might be wrong with dad. He was being very forgetful and easily frustrated with simple tasks like calculating a tip at lunch. Dad was a very stubborn man so it took another year or so until he was diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer's. He was only 58 and he passed away at by the age of 67.
I spent those nine years growing up way too fast. The biggest concern for a lot of 22 year olds is securing a job after college but my sister and I were busy with things like convincing my dad that he wasn't capable of living alone, selling our childhood home so we had money to pay for his care and applying for Medicare, Medicaid, Power of Attorney, etc. We had help from a lot of people that cared about him but since he wasn't married, the big decisions were on our shoulders. It was chaotic to say the least.
It is difficult to find clarity out of a situation as devastating as watching your father fade away. Since I didn't always have my dad around growing up, I often struggled with the fact that a lot of my memories of him are from when he was sick. I struggled with taking care of someone that didn't always make the time to take care of me. And as the years passed, I struggled with having to do some of the same tasks for my dad as I was doing for my first child; feeding him, changing his clothes/diaper and trying to communicate without words.
The best advice I've ever received, from an amazing friend, is that we are only given as much as we can handle. This became my mantra. "I can do this. I am strong enough to handle this." Eventually many of the things I found so frustrating about the situation ended up bringing clarity to the rest of my life. Taking care of my dad taught me extreme patience, which made me a better mom. And even if it wasn't the kind of time I thought I would get, I know I ended up spending more time with my dad than if he had never been diagnosed. Yes, he missed my sister getting married, the birth of my second daughter and countless memories to come but I'm so grateful for the time I had with him.