Saying Goodbye to Dad

Are you struggling to take care of a loved one with memory loss? Here's life-saving advice.
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Leeza Gibbons, former talk-show host and Dancing with the Stars celeb, has a new book out this month that I wish I'd had 10 years ago. It might have changed my life. It's called Take Your Oxygen First: Protecting Your Health and Happiness While Caring for a Loved One with Memory Loss. My mom and I (and other family members) sort of clumsily learned to care for my dad as he suffered advancing confusion, dementia, and weakness from a series of strokes. But we somehow missed the whole idea of taking care of ourselves. Gibbons says this is typical -- and it's why she wanted to write the book after everything she learned from her own experience with her mom's Alzheimer's disease.

More than 50 million people in this country provide care to an adult who is ill or disabled. "Most of them do it in silence," says Gibbons. "They often don't have help or advice. Not to mention the black hole that siphons off all your money. People just unravel. They lose faith."

When I met Gibbons last week, it was a revelation. It was like I'd met a soul mate, someone who instantly understood the "dark place" I'd been to during those years before Dad died. I realized her experience was so similar to mine, and yet I'd never had the chance to talk to someone like her before. I could have talked to her for hours, and I realized the therapeutic value of sharing such experiences. Wish I'd found a support group and done it sooner.

There are lots of books full of advice about caregiving, but I never got very far with any of them. This one, however, pulled me in with its warmth and compassion. Gibbons writes fearlessly and without filters about the details of her family and what happened, while two doctors fill in the medical background and psychological advice. It's a helpful combination. And boy, did I relate to Gibbons and her family and the stages they went through. The denial! The martyrdom! The depression and hopelessness. The hope that a miracle would just fix it all. And if not that, maybe drinking would help. Yep, been there.

Continued on page 2:  Dad's Illness Through My Eyes


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