Today is Father's Day and I am missing my Dad, Gerald E. Keerbs or Jerry as his friends and family knew him. He died in 2004 from complications of Alzheimer's disease, but this horrible disease took the essence of him long before, starting around 1996. It took me this last five years to really recover my memories of who he was and let go of the memories of the person Alzheimer's disease distorted and twisted him into.
But living with Alzheimer's disease is not what make my Dad a hero to me. My Dad is my hero because of the unconditional love, infinite caring and unending self-sacrifice he showed during my time battling acute promyeloytic leukemia in 1988 at age 22. After I was diagnosed on January 13, 1988 at UCLA Bowyer Multidisciplinary Oncology Clinic, my Dad faced my tragedy and rose to the occasion. He was truly there for me.
During 1988, my Dad became my go-to-guy and primary caregiver: he took me to all my medical appointments, he checked me into the hospital for each course of chemotherapy, he drove me to the Emergency Room counteless times when complications emerged between hospital stays, he insisted he be tested to see if he was a bone marrow match for me and he donated his platelets when I started to have transfusion reactions towards the end of my chemotherapy. He organized a trip to my apartment during my first hospitalization and, with the help of my Mother and youngest sister, moved me out and back into my parent's home. Every single week night, he drove from a long day at work at The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo to home in Encino and then to Westwood to the UCLA Medical Center to visit me in the hospital. I spent about 20 weeks that year in the hospital, which means my Dad made this trek a total of 100 days.
When I was in the hospital, I lived anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks in my hospital room. So when I say that my Dad checked me into the hospital, what I mean is that my Dad lugged 2 or 3 boxes full of my stuff from the parking lot to my hospital room. Similar to moving into a dorm room at college, I brought a variety of clothes, diversions and extras that made my hospital stays more comfortable and tolerable. Included were board games and my Koosh Ball, which were often pulled out when my Dad came to visit to create an enjoyable way to pass the visiting time.
When I wanted something particular to eat from home or the store, he got it or bought it and brought it too me. If I needed a book, an article of clothing or anything else from my room back at my parent's house, he searched for it and delivered it to me. He took my dirty laundry home with him, washed it and brought back clean clothes. He encouraged my youngest sister to come with him on visits: the two of them were a dynamic visiting duo!
To this day, I don't know how he was able to get all the time off work he did. Even though, at first, I didn't want to accept all his help, I am so grateful that he was insistent and persistent with me. It felt good to know that I could count on him for whatever I needed when I was fighting cancer. He truly took care of me which is what makes him my hero.
So when my Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1996, I knew I had my chance to repay him. I used my knowledge as a social worker and provided my Mother with information, resources and support to meet my Dad's needs. When my Mother died in 1999 from metastatic colon cancer, I rose to the challenge and became my Dad's primary care giver. With help from my youngest sister, I did everything I could to make sure my Dad was well taken care of: good medical care, comfortable and compassionate assisted living housing, engaging adult day care and lots of visits from me, my youngest sister and my husband.
It hurt to watch my Dad slowly fading away; Alzheimer's is a cruel and vicious illness. The hardest part was when my Dad couldn't remember who I was any more. They say Alzheimer's is the long goodbye, but I think it is a long illness of forgetting into nothingness. But I never forgot who he was, what he meant to me and how he sacrificed for me when I was ill. Those memories helped me be there for my Dad during his illness.
I am glad that today I can really remember my Dad for the hero that he was to me. I love you Dad and always will!
Now, you can be my hero by going to the tribute page I created for my Dad at the Alzheimer's Association website. Please considering making a charitable donation through the The Gerald E. Keerbs Memorial Fund (http://act.alz.org/goto/Gerald_E_Keerbs) to the Alzheimer's Association.
This is my Father's Day gift to you, Dad!