by Amy Lardi
My story begins in paradise. I was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, we spent many days spent at the beach playing in the sand and sun. My dad, Caleb Blanton, was an ironworker and helped build many of the beautiful buildings you see along the oceanfront to this day. Dad would walk on four inch wide beams on skyscrapers with no difficulty. On his lunch break, he would dawn his snorkeling outfit and search for sharks. We were living in heaven on earth. On Saturdays when he was off work, he would go to the beach with us. Each day at the beach, when it was time to leave, he would run us out to the water and dunk us to get all the sand off and then carry us to the car so as not to get any in his Volkswagen Bug. We were true Floridians. Ultimately, Dad had to move the family to Illinois for a job that promised a better life.
My dad was born in Harlan County, Kentucky. He was no stranger to the region’s sometimes violent past – while pregnant with my father, my grandmother in her 7th month of pregnancy lost her husband to a gunshot meant for someone else.
Dad was a good father figure, providing for us and teaching his children how to change a tire or the oil. He was the kind of dad that you were afraid of, in a good way. I had respect for him and didn’t want to disappoint him, so I tried to always do right. This gruff man also drove a Sunday School bus and would make sure the kids, usually unfortunate in their home life, had either candy or ice cream for the ride home. I wouldn’t have turned out the same if Dad hadn’t been that kind of person.
While visiting my brother in California in 2010, we got a call from my brother stating Dad had fallen a few times in the shower. Afterward, mom starting noticing more falls. They were never explained but remained nonetheless concerning. I searched the internet looking for a balance clinic, thinking he only needed some therapy. But alas, after our first visit with the doctor we were referred to a neurologist. So we made an appointment with a neurologist in our area and, after a few tests, dad was referred to a movement disorder clinic in Chicago. After many doctors, we were lead to Rush Presbyterian in Chicago where he was finally diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP). We had never heard of the disease. What was it? And what did it mean for our lives? They gave us CurePSP’s website – I remember going home, reading it, and crying, thinking about how awful my dad would have it. A man who had walked four inch beams 250 feet in the air was now being told he would no longer be able to walk without assistance. But Dad has continued to fight. Once an avid boxer in the Navy, he now pushes himself to continue lifting weights, albeit light ones. He has never been a quitter.
Six months after Dad was finally diagnosed with PSP, his wife, my mom, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. They both were at the same assisted-living facility, as having them both at home was getting to be too much. We had a dad with a mind as sharp as a tack and a broken body, and a mom with no mind and a body that could outdo most 20 year olds. Life became surreal. Even though I had a family of my own with a husband and three great kids, life as I knew it was changing. I was losing my parents. What had happened? My kids had grown to become young adults with their own lives. I thought I would have time to spend with Mom and Dad after my kids went their own ways. Over the next year or so, we eventually had to put Dad in the assisted-living apartment because helping him and chasing Mom was becoming too much for me. Dad remained in assisted-living until 2014, when his falls became more frequent. He didn’t really want to be there once Mom passed away – it made him too sad. I had always told him he was welcome at our house anytime and he finally took me up on my offer after the staff at the facility stopped responding to his requests for assistance. So, Dad moved in and we hired help, mostly for the night time, so I could get some sleep as Dad gets up a lot. But during the day, it is just he and I. We are currently in the process of finding more morning caregivers to help with his bathing, as he wants to remain as dignified as possible with his daughters. I can’t write this story without giving credit to my husband for helping the family through this. He has been an absolute necessary part of this and he does it all without question.
Mom passed away in March 2014. I miss her terribly, as does my dad. He continually says, “Why can’t I just go home and be with Mom?” It breaks my heart. As long as the Lord allows me, I will take care of him to the best of my ability. I love this man in such a way that I get mad at him, annoyed with him, and become his biggest cheerleader all in the same heartbeat. My mom loved this man with all her heart and I know I am doing exactly what she would want. I used to laughingly refer to them as Edith and Archie Bunker. My story is for those who are still in the fight – giving them encouragement as I need it. Stay strong my friends! We will fight this awful thing together.