Today is the three-year anniversary of the death of my dad. In life, my dad taught me many things, but in death, he continues to teach me, although he is physically no longer with us.
This year, the lesson is mindfulness. Last year, I failed to completely unplug from technology on March 14th, which disrupted the way I wished to honor my dad on the anniversary of his death and left me reeling, enraged, and struggling with unforgiveness for the rest of the year. At first I blamed others for violating such an important day to me. If they only knew what I had been through and what my family had endured after my dad suffered from Alzheimer’s for 12 years, they would not be bugging me via PM on Facebook.
Now I realize I have control over what I take into my life, and what I choose NOT to allow in.
This year, I have decided to completely unplug from technology on March 14th. My phone is in airplane mode. My Kindles are silenced. My email is set to an away message. I won’t be checking Facebook. I especially won’t be responding to private messages. My laptops are off. This very blog post is prescheduled.
Being in the present moment has always been hard for me. I often find myself worried about the future, about work, and about how others have treated me in the past. The Bible tells us not to worry. I’m still working on that.
This year mindfulness is especially important because I have my beautiful baby boy, Jacob Henry, who is 9 months old. Henry was my father’s name.
One thing that I have observed about Little Jacob Henry is that he lives in the present. If he falls and bonks his head, he cries. And then he gets over it.
He eats mindfully. Every new food and texture is an opportunity to learn and explore. He nurses. He clicks his tongue and smacks his lips when he’s done.
He naps. He plays. He drools. He crawls. He giggles. He sighs deeply when he’s bored.
The similarities between babies and the elderly before they part this earth are notable. Jacob Henry wears diapers. So did my dad before he died. Jacob Henry eats mushy foods. So did my dad. Jacob Henry is almost completely reliant on me and my husband as his caregivers. So it was with my dad and my mom, who was an amazing caregiver to him. My dad was a man of few words, but when he spoke it counted. So it is with Jacob Henry. Jacob occasionally says “mama and dada.”
In Jacob Henry is a little bit of my dad, Henry. I wouldn’t have it any other way. They never got to meet each other in life, but they sure are alike.
Today I’ve set the intention to do one thing: breathe. Breath is a gift from God. Now that I have seen my dad take his last breath and have also seen my son take his first breath, the breath has even more significance to me.
Today would have been the 82nd birthday of my dad, Henry, Jacob Henry’s namesake. When I look at Jacob, I see a little bit of my dad sometimes. My dad was hard working and intelligent, and he cared deeply about his family. I miss him terribly, but he has made me the person I am today and he continues to influence the way I live my life. I wrote my dad’s eulogy after he passed away 3/14/16 after his 12-year battle with Alzheimer’s, and although he is not here to celebrate his birthday today, he’s with me in my heart. My dad really liked shirts, especially blue ones, and we had an ongoing joke that when we gave him with his birthday present, I would say, “Here’s your present, and it’s not a shirt.” It almost always was a shirt. This year I can say it’s not a shirt…it’s a grandkid! https://ginaakao.com/2016/03/27/a-eulogy-for-my-dad/
Two years ago today, my dad, Henry Akao, passed away after a 12-year battle with Alzheimer’s. Today I chose to honor his legacy by standing up to a bully and deciding to line up a much-needed Tender Loving Care day with my mom, who was my dad’s caregiver for years.
My dad was a man of high integrity. He always encouraged me to stand up for what I believe in. This photo was taken in 2015 of me, my sister, and my dad during the last birthday celebration we had for my sister, who was born on March 1st.
My dad passed away on March 14th, a day I will forever remember going forward as the worst day of my life. You really never know the magnitude of death until you see a loved one die. I saw my dad take his last breath. I remember being terrified. My heart was pounding. I heard death’s rattle–it chilled me to the bone and traumatized me. I listened for his next breath. It never came. Silence. The last breath.
Before my dad had died, I had taken a mindfullness stress reduction course. It taught me how to meditate. You can never be in a future breath or a past breath. All we have is this breath. And this one. And this one.
It made me realize that each breath we take is sacred and a gift from God. I need to be very careful how I spend my time on this earth.
Today I set my intention. My family, God, and my health is important, so with those priorities in mind, I began my day. My mom and I knew today would be a challenge, given all we had been through during my Dad’s struggle with Alzheimer’s. I am grateful he is no longer suffering. In heaven, there will be no tears nor disease. There won’t be a need for doctors!
Although I have been volunteering for an organization for three years, earlier this week I had decided that with my precious baby boy, Jacob Henry due June 20th, I would end my volunteer work in order to focus my priorities on my family. I notified the organization in a kindly-worded email that I had enjoyed serving their community but that February 2018 would be my last volunteer month with them. I had given over 24 hours of notice to line up an alternative volunteer to fill the position I had been loyally doing for many, many, many years.
To my surprise, the one of the leaders of this organization reached out to me on Facebook this morning with a very rude tone. She lied and said I was being unprofessional for not giving her enough notice to fill her volunteer position. I told her that today was the two-year anniversary of my dad’s death, and that if she wanted to talk about this at another time, she may, but I would not be working today in honor of my dad. Instead of respecting that and leaving me alone, she started bullying me. She accused me of being unprofessional, even though I reminded her that there were three years of evidence of my good work, and if one day of short notice erased three years of loyal service to this organization, it was not one I would want to volunteer for anymore. I was shocked at how disrespectful, insensitive, and rude she was after all I had done to serve this organization. What kind of person would treat a grieving, pregnant woman the way she did? I was sad, angry, and confused how she could be so cruel in the face of my pain and grief. Grieving is something that never ends. Yet she found it necessary to defriend me, immediately remove me from all the groups in her organization, and call me unprofessional, which is untrue. Before she abruptly ended her message, I told her it was a shame she had decided to treat me so poorly on the special day of my dad’s passing.
I could decide to be resentful. To let her under my skin. But instead, I have chosen to do what Dad would have wanted, which was to say “no” to a bully and remove her from my life. I have decided to forgive her, and will pray that God will show me how to address her bullying behavior so that she will not continue to harm others. To my dismay, I learned she has been bullying many others. I need not harbor any resentment for this bully. But I do hope and pray she will not continue to disrespect and mistreat others the way she did with me today. I fear it is a trend. It makes me sad. But it also makes me proud that I am no longer associated with this person and that I stood up for myself, which is what my dad would have wanted. When you prune a dead branch off a tree, you allow for new growth, and new blossoms. Sometimes it is necessary to cut out the bad people from our lives so that there is room for the good ones to enter. As my coach, Kate Beeders, has always encouraged me to do, I chose to “return my old story to the library and write a new one.” So this is my new story. It is a story of resilience, of strength. Of courage, to stand up to bullies. Of grief. And yes, of life.
This is a picture of my mom and I outside of the Pink House, in Genoa, a beautiful place where we decided to have lunch today.
I enjoyed a fresh quiche while my mom savored her beef stroganoff. Today I choose a new beginning. A brilliant one.
It’s that time of year again for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s! If you are local to the Reno area, join us!
Registration at 8am
Ceremony at 9am
Walk at 9:30am
300 Howard Drive
Sparks, NV 89434
If you’re not local to Reno, you can still donate and support the cause. I lost my dad, Henry Akao, to Alzheimers on March 14, 2016 after his 12-year battle with Alzheimer’s. I miss him deeply and still mourn. Some say grief never goes away. Although my dad may be no longer physically with us, I’ll love him always.
I helped my mom, Rita Akao, write the wording below, which she has used to become a Champion fundraiser for this year’s walk with the help of her church. Please read her story, and feel free to comment or share.
A Call to Join the Walk to End Alzheimer’s from Rita Akao
To honor my husband, Henry T. Akao, I would like to ask for your support in this year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Here is the link to join: http://act.alz.org/goto/A–Team
Twelve years ago, my husband, Henry Akao, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. First I noticed that he couldn’t do banking anymore. A structural engineer by trade, he was always diligent about paying his bills and keeping detailed records in his checkbook. Then I started to notice that some bills were not getting paid on time. Our family had to ultimately take over all of the banking activities.
Then we noticed that he would get lost while driving. Luckily he always found his way home. We had to give his car to my daughter so he would stop driving. That was the answer. We even recorded Henry’s voice saying that he was okay with giving our daughter, Gina, the car, so he would remember his choice.
Through the Alzheimer’s Association, we found out about the Continuum, an adult respite care program. This enabled me to do errands and shopping on my own while Henry was being well cared for during the days.
Then he started wandering. One night, in November, just before his 79th birthday, he wandered outside during the rain and fell. He got hypothermia. I woke up because it was cold and found him at about 3 AM lying on the living room floor. The patio door was open. He was soaking wet, unresponsive, and shaking like a leaf. His temperature was 93 degrees. I called 9-11. The EMT and firefighters took us to Renown and warmed his body. He celebrated his 79th birthday in the hospital, and I was able to stay with him. He was transferred to Life Care, and I stayed with him there as well. A second pair of eyes was needed to care for him. He was very restless at the rehab center and fell again there, and I realized I had to take him home.
We had home health care to help him with his walker. He was doing well. One morning, he said he felt really cold. I warmed some blankets in the dryer and put him to bed. I was not able to get him up on my own so I had to call the fire department to help get him up. This happened many times. His primary care doctor put him on hospice.
The Circle of Life Hospice nurses prepared us for what would come. The hours prior to him passing were extremely difficult, even though we had CNAs to help us. My daughters, Amy and Gina, and I had to step up to swab his mouth every 10 minutes, because he had developed Thrush mouth. About an hour before he died, I called the hospice nurse, and he stepped me through till Henry’s last breath. Henry passed away at 1:44 AM on March 14, 2016.
To honor Henry, we continue as a family to support the Alzheimer’s Association and their ongoing efforts to find a cure for this devastating disease. We prayed that Henry would not continue suffering. We prayed that God would have mercy on us. We are left with fond memories of all the good years we had as a family. He will always be loved. He will always be missed.
During his prime, Henry ran eight marathons. At one point during a Walk to End Alzheimer’s, Henry thought he was running a marathon but then he fell. Instantly, there were people to help pick him up and clean up the scrapes on his knees. My family asks you to join us this year in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s so that the world will be free of this heartbreaking disease.
As a participant in the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s®, I am leading the way in the fight against Alzheimer’s — but I can’t take on this disease alone. Will you join me in the fight by walking with me? As a team, we can be an unstoppable force against the nation’s sixth-leading cause of death.
Registration is easy; simply visit my Walk to End Alzheimer’s page and join my team. If you’re unable to participate, please consider making a donation to my fundraising campaign. Every dollar advances the care, support and research efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association®.
Together we can make a difference to shine our light on Alzheimer’s Disease.
Click here to visit my personal page.
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Click here to view the team page for A Team
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Sunday was our last day of our Cosmos tour. Our bus driver, Ferdi, took us to the peaceful hillside town of Assisi.
We visited Saint Francis Basilica, where several people prayed with reverence inside.
We explored the crypt of Saint Francis downstairs but no photos or videos were allowed. We ascended the stairs to the upper church and admired the view.
We only had an hour but had just enough time to walk up the hills and down the passageways. I could almost feel the spirit of my dad shining down on me.
We even passed a poster advertising an upcoming comicon.
We made it to the bus on time and Ferdi drove us several hours back to Rome. We arrived around 4pm with enough for one more stop at the Navona Fountain in Rome. On the second day of our tour, one of the men in our group had proposed to his girlfriend of eight years at the Navona Fountain.
At ambasciata di Capri Restaurant we savored our last dinner in Rome with our tour group. The appetizer included mixed veggies, eggplant, fresh tomato, and a ball of pizza pasta fried.
A musician performed several songs in Italian and a few in English. I recognized several songs the Three Tenors used to perform. The owner even serenaded us with a special ballad at the end.
Homemade pasta with meat sauce, tomato and mozzarella cheese and pasta with zucchini, smoked cheese, parmesan and basil was our first course.
I ordered a vegetarian option for the main course, which included Zucchini Parmigiana with mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce and parmesan cheese served with salad and roasted potatoes. I tasted some red wine with our meal.
Ursula made sure Steve and I received a lemon and cream dessert with a candle to celebrate our honeymoon. We have had many wishes come true already!
After a good night’s sleep, Steve and I returned to the airport on Monday, March 27th. We couldn’t have dreamed of a better honeymoon! We got to do everything we had possibly wished for in Italy and can’t wait to return!
We headed back to Venice by motor boat this morning.
Ursula lead us back past Saint Mark’s square to see a glass blowing demonstration.
It takes at least 15 to 20 years to perfect glass blowing and we were impressed how quickly the the maestro created a glass horse.
At last at 11am Steve and I enjoyed a 30 minute gondola ride.
A talented troubadour and accordion player serenaded us as we took pictures.
The oars man navigated from behind past the other gondolas.
The weather was warm an sunny. This was the first gondola ride for both me and Steve, a wonderful way to celebrate the day he proposed two years ago on March 25th.
We stood in line for free admission to see the inside of San Marco Basilica, which has gilded ceilings but where we were not allowed to take pictures or video. The story goes that Saint Mark’s corpse was transported to Venice in a barrel of pork fat to avoid Muslim inspection at customs.
We finished our souvenir shopping and met our tour group at 5pm to head back to the hotel for a complimentary three course dinner that began with salad.
Chicken, peas and mashed potatoes.
And pane cotta with chocolate sauce for dessert for me as a nut free alternative to the cake others ate.
We left Montecatini and headed to Pisa. On the way there Ursula pointed out the Roman aqua ducts.
We only had a few hours to spend in Pisa, but the souvenirs are affordable so we finished getting the gifts to bring home to family and friends.
I was surprised to see that the Leaning Tower of Pisa was much shorter than I imagined.
Steve and I took turns taking pictures of each other pretending to hold up the tower or tilt it down.
After Pisa we traveled to Venice and checked into our hotel. Ursula surprised Steve and I by giving us the honeymoon suite! I was particularly impressed with how ornate the bathroom was.
At 6pm we met the tour group to enjoy a dinner in town. We took a motor boat to the water city.
Ursula guided us to Saint Mark’s Square, where we took a few pictures.
At the restaurant we enjoyed a three course meal starting with Caprese salad.
Spaghetti and vegetables.
Beef and potatoes.
And tiramisu to top it off, with one candle for the Australian couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary and for us celebrating our honeymoon.
Today Steve visited Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance. Wakup was at 6:30am and I enjoyed a quick complimentary breakfast of a fruit tart, croissant, cheese, ham, and eggs our hotel in Montecatini.
The view from the only bridge that had survived WWII was stunning.
Our tour group visited a leather shop and saw a brief demo of gold being applied to a piece of leather. Steve and I both treated ourselves to leather jacket and the attendee fussed over us until we found the perfect size.
We caught a guided tour of the Church of Saint Mary of the Flowers, the Duomo.
We didn’t go inside but followed the guided tour past the door of Paradise.
We didn’t get to see the original because it is housed at an academy for safe keeping but we did behold a replica of Michaelangelo’s David.
We closed the day at the hotel restaurant and enjoyed a three course meal starting with pasta e fagioli.
Pasta with pomodoro sauce and sardines.
And a creamy dessert topped with a chocolate glaise.
After dinner Ursula asked permission from the hotel staff if I could play the grand piano, so I played Clair de Lune, Fur Elise, and Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat. The people on our tour group clapped and thanked me.
We had a 6:30am wake-up call to leave Siena and go to San Gimignano, a rural town whose hills are featured in the background of the Mona Lisa. I hadn’t slept because of the cold I had managed to catch. I stayed away from the cookies and opted for eggs, ham, cheese, pears, peaches, and a fruit filled croissant.
We boarded the bus and our driver, Ferdi, took us to the Tuscany region where we tried two types of red wine. Before the wine tasting we enjoyed the garden and area where you can rent castle rooms and have weddings.
Steve and I are not big on wine but tasted the Chanti Classico wines.
We had some free time to explore the shops and take in the beautiful Tuscan countryside.
We enjoyed lunch at a cafe where I ordered rice with saffron and parmigiano cheese.
After lunch we boarded the bus and headed to our hotel in Montecatini.
Because of my cold we opted out of the Tuscan dinner with the tour group and happened upon a small five star restaurant that served hand made fresh pasta with vegetables.
I was too full to finis my second course but took my meatballs to go.
Steve and I departed from Rome on our tour bus and headed for Orvieto, where we visited a beautiful limestone cathedral.
We paid four euros to see inside, where it was very cold.
After the cathedral we grabbed lunch. I had a pizza with tomorrow sauce and lots of garlic, hoping that the garlic would scare away my cold.
We did some shopping and met a store owner who proudly showed us that his antique store is listed in Rick Steve’s guide book and that Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick had visited. We bought a gift and wandered to the next attraction, a church dedicated to Saint Catherine, whose scull was kept inside the church as a relic after she was martyred. Our tour guide explained that Catherine had taken a vow of silence for 5 years and dedicated her life to helping the poor.
We were not allowed to take pictures of the alter where the skull was displayed behind a golden mask of Catherine’s head.
We traveled to Siena and visited the square where horse races take place twice a year.
Dinner was included with our Cosmos tour, so at 6:30pm we headed to the restaurant and enjoyed a meal that started with bread and olive oil and beef and cheese. Next was a delicious spaghetti with cream sauce and carrots.
The main course was beef with cauliflower, carrots and onions.
I enjoyed my ricotta and chocolate chip cake for dessert and got to know three ladies from Houston who sat across from us at the dinner table. Two worked in HR and one was a cousin along for the trip.