For those who follow the Allred annual holiday letter, you already know .. this is the letter of doom. But this year, despite proclamations of years passed (almost two decades), was pretty rough. Col. Marc B. Powe, true American hero and our father, fell and is permanently brain damaged. At the time of his fall, he was caring for our mother, Karen, who has Alzheimer’s. That was January 8th of this year, marking the beginning of the worst year of our lives while thousands of dollars were stolen from our parents, businesses refused to recognize our power-of-attorney status, and rip-off and scam artists loomed. At one point I had decided there would be no letter this year until one of my children reminded me how very much my father – their Papa – looked forward to this letter.
So, in honor of my pop – the man who never got me in trouble despite my deeds because he so delighted in my antics; for the U.S. Diplomat who snickered in horrified delight when I called the Queen of Jordon on his dare; to Mr. Integrity who feigned shock when I created a security breach at the EPA headquarters in D.C. – this letter is for you, Daddy!
Here’s what we know about the ICU department in hospitals ... they don’t much like it when you feel badly for your father who is now bound to a bed by restraints and can’t understand why and, so, you pretend that his gurney is a bobsled and you run him around on the top floor. They said it was “dangerous” and “not safe” but Daddy laughed so… On the fourth reprimand, I pretended to be sorry.
Michelle moved in with Mom so that together they could live with five dogs and Mom’s friend, Sun-Downer, (a term with Alzheimer patients) liked to have Mom rearrange Michelle’s room at 2 in the morning. Michelle: “Mom! What are you doing?” Mom: “Michelle? When did you get here?” Once when we were packing things for Daddy,
Mom called the police on us. When Mom and I went to the bank, we were informed
that the Social Security Administration had declared our mother deceased. I looked at Mom. She was packing and re-packing her purse. She had no idea she was dead. But I was super relieved to learn that Mom and Daddy gave away over $50,000 to three Native American tribes, every senator running for office, and a cat-rescue sanctuary. Cat rescue? They don’t even like cats? And why Mom offered me up to someone she met as a “cat trainer” I will never know. Can cats even do basic obedience or retrieve the morning paper? But Mom was technically dead so … I agreed to talk to Mom’s friend about cat training.
Our dog, Douglas, has his own Instagram account (Instagram: @the_Douglas_). He can get the paper every morning and actively requests to take daily showers. Katie opted out of paying some speeding tickets, thus provoking local authorities to send out a menacing “warrant for your arrest” letter but Katie had just watched “Straight Outta Compton” and dared “the man” to arrest her as she was
looking for a way to earn some “street cred.” Never mind that she can’t even open a water bottle without saying the word, “ow.”
Another devastating family emergency almost called off Kerri and Kyle’s wedding but we convinced the beautiful couple to have their wedding just so that we could watch as the church forgot to inform us that they were putting nearly 200 of us into a room meant for 50 people, then the rain came but that’s okay because, thankfully, the A/C went out. The photographers were asked to video a Flash Mob band but they also forgot.
The day before wedding, our father fell again, that’s when the A/C at the church went out and Dozier, Katie’s dog, got bone stuck over his bottom fangs. If you haven’t seen a panicked Doberman flinging slobber at 9pm on the night before a wedding with the bride looking on and the estimate of “it will cost $500 to get that off” (Yeah, no thanks Mansfield Emergency vets) well, then you can’t fully appreciate the statement of “go get the melatonin and let’s dope this sucker up?” Robb got wire cutters while four people literally draped over Dozier’s 90-lbs body and oh, how we cheered when it fell off. Katie was especially helpful as she stood crying. At the wedding, everyone saw the newlyweds off for their honeymoon but Kerri/Kyle kept coming back and eventually people gave up and left.
A Captain from the U.S. Army familiar with Col. Powe’s intelligence work asked for our father’s life work of research with the idea that it will then be submitted to Fort Leavenworth’s Museum of Army Intelligence. My childhood friend, Karin Stanton, was with me while we were literally mailing hundreds of pounds of paperwork stamped “classified.” She was so jumpy, asking over and over if this was legal and could we be arrested for treason or something. What the heck do I know? I’m a professional cat trainer!
By early summer, we could not stop the escape attempts by our father who thought he was a POW, nor could we stop the late-night falls. Yet again, we got a call and Michelle responded, going to the hospital. There she watched as a “very, very fat naked man,” ran passed her. She said, “Fortunately for them, he was very, very fat and therefore slow. Another patient freaked out and kept ripping out his IV. A guy across from Daddy's room Don, started screaming obscenities at everyone and challenging the five cops and five security guards and five nurses surrounding him. Somehow all 16 of them ended up struggling in the little room, with the crazy guy screaming at the top of his lungs, until they tranquilized him and restrained his arms and legs. Last I saw him, he was splayed spread eagle on the gurney snoring loudly. I sort of hated to leave.” Such has been our life. We find humor where we can, as well as victories. When we saw another resident at Daddy’s care facility, heft his 80-year-old body on top of the trash can in an attempt to vault over the fence while staff ran out to peel him off the fence, I looked at Michelle and she whispered, “Nice.” We knuckle bumped each other … it wasn’t Daddy. ‘Nuf said.
Thank goodness Robb’s patience has not waned during this year of constant trials. Example: While on a business trip, Robb called the hotel’s front desk and asked for Room 421. Robb was in Room 321. A man answered and Robb said, “let me give you some advice that everyone below you will be thankful for and will help you in life. It’s toe/heel, not heel/toe when you walk. Your joints will thank you, too.” He found a deal on jeans: 2 for $20. That the jeans were two sizes too large for him only seemed like a bad idea when he couldn’t keep his pants up. He’s made anything he deems “manly” start with “Mah-“ He wanted a hammer, thus he needed a Mammer. He needs a mah-belt.
By late summer Mom went to live with our dad, mostly because it was no longer safe for her to be home. Michelle and I make a fantastic tag team. While Mom interferes with EVERYTHING we do with our Dad, “helping”, we literally run circles and make similar motions like we’re landing a 747. It’s very distracting to both parents and they forget to resist and just flow … onlookers silently applaud. We accept checks.
Just before our family attempted a, we thought, well-deserved vacation, the upstairs bathroom flooded down into the kitchen and Katie was hospitalized with a kidney infection. It’s very important that during times such as these that loved ones turn on each other like a pack of hyenas because that makes everything better. Tommy got a job working on a ranch and Katie got a job working in a veterinarian clinic. Tommy has entered his senior year in high school. With the cold weather upon us, he proclaimed, “I wish I could put my entire hand in my mouth. My mouth is so warm and my hands are so cold.” Tommy is considering medical school. Katie, while settling into a new house, described the only potential problem as it being a might too close to an elementary school, saying, “I could hear the laughter of children and that has to stop.” She will stay in the field of animal care. Kerri is working on her third novel and has taken great delight in staging “crime scenes” for her unsuspecting husband who has a degree in forensic science. Though it was not for these reasons that she had to call maintenance to come to her new apartment to repair a hole in the wall of her shower. She called, “Have you ever done wall squats while you’re taking a shower?” I am so proud of my children.
The one thing that Mom and Daddy did spectacularly well together was to decline in rapid succession. The year began with Daddy in a hospital and Michelle, Mom and I essentially living there. One particular day while Mom and I, once again, were approaching Daddy’s room we heard beeping going off. And I knew. He had gotten out of bed again. The hospital had restraints on my father, which was necessary but hard to see. Yet Marc, ever the military dog, was able to rip them off and climb or attempt to climb out of bed. Never mind that he could not walk, he was determined to escape. As we walked in, we found him in a tussle with one of the nurses. I stepping in and helped her wrestle him back down. And no sooner than we got him settled, Mom started in. “Where's my purse? Did I forget my purse? Have you seen my purse?” Many times, I pointed out her purse to her and each time it brought her pleasant resolve. “Oh!” Then, she noticed a monitor that hung-over Daddy’s head and noted that it had a "press exit" button on the screen. For whatever reason, she felt the need to press it. This is just one example of how our lives were with Mom and Daddy:
"No, Daddy! You can't stand up" "Mom, your purse is right here." "Don't touch that button." Daddy, why are you getting up?" "It's right here, Mom." "Yeah. No. Don't touch that." "Daddy, you need to stay in bed." "It's here. It's right here. I have your purse." "Nope. That would be a big no-no. Don't touch that." "Daddy, stay still." "Rrrrrrrright here. The purse is here." "I don't think they want you to touch that button." "Daddy! You CANNOT stand up!" "Yeah. I have it. I have your purse." "I know it says press exit but they don't really mean it." "Daddy, Dr. Moody said you have to stay in bed." "Mom! It is right here." "If you touch that button your hand will blow off." "Daddy! It is ILLEGAL to stand up. It is against the law." And then finally, "I have no idea where your purse is." "Go ahead -- push it!"
When the nurse walked in I said (very sweetly), "Hey, you know when on the news, we see how a wild bear walks into a suburb and he's scared and confused so we just get out the tranq guns and shoot him? Why don't we just shoot my parents?" … Blank stare…. "I'll pull the trigger." (some people have no humor)
It is now December and while Mom asks the same questions again and again and again and again, and sometimes in such rapid succession that you almost couldn’t believe it possible that she couldn’t remember that she just asked that same questions seven times in a row in under two minutes, I finally understood and called Michelle in whispered tones, “I think Mom’s just screwin’ with us! She doesn’t have dementia! She knows what she’s doing and she’s torturing me for all the crap I pulled as a kid!”
But not to be outdone, Michelle and I pulled one more stunt for the year of 2016 on our mom. We took her to see Santa. Admittedly, we were nervous. How would she react? What would be her response? The crowd was a little overwhelming and she was shrinking back but when she saw him, she looked at Michelle/me and gasped! “Santa!” Santa instantly understood and said (I swear, with a twinkle in his eye), “I know you. I remember you when you were a little girl.” Mom hurried over to him, kissed his cheek, sat on his lap and talked and talked …
As 2016 began, Michelle and I often prayed for a miracle for our dad but the year of trials has produced many lessons about patience, love, and family. We’ve redefined ‘miracle’ and have learned to appreciate things a little more and a little longer. I continue my work with the special needs populations and writing, still dream of making the New York Best Sellers List with ‘White Trash’ and other books but fully recognize the ‘gifts’ given to me this year. With COMPLETE sincerity … here’s wishing everyone a great new year in 2017.
And who knows … I might take up cat training.
Love, the Allreds!