It was September, 2020 and I was driving down the highway when I got the call that would literally change my life forever.  My heart started racing and my face started getting hot so I reached down to turn on the AC full blast, even though it was 45 degrees out.  My dog Nimoy looked up at me and blinked.  “Please don’t turn into a hot flash,” I silently begged.  “Hello, is this Mrs. Lamb?” A neutral, official-sounding woman asked through my ear buds.  Trees whizzed by faster and faster on the side of the highway as more and more cars became a blur in my rearview mirror. Suddenly I realized I was in danger of getting pulled over at the speed I was reaching.

“Yes, this is she,” I said, applying the brake to get my speed under control, and taking a deep breath, realizing I had been holding it.  It was Adult Protective Services.  She was calling because someone had reported that I was stealing my father’s money.

Blink. Blink.  “Wait…, what?”  I thought she was going to tell me that someone in the group home I had just gotten him into had been reported, but no, she was talking about me.  ME!

The trees whizzing past me now seemed to be moving in slow motion.  

Wait, she’s talking about me?  What the actual hell….Me? The one who had literally just spent every waking hour taking care of every single thing for him (while working a job) for over a year?  ME!?!   I flashed back to all the times he or his caregivers would call me 20-40 times a day from Vegas, with questions impossible to answer, threats impossible to deal with, and demands impossible to fulfill.  Oh. My. God.  Really?  Sigh.  Me? The one who had been sacrificing everything for my dad?  

My eyes rolled and my jaw clenched and I heard myself saying slowly, “HEEE put me in charge so I could PROTECT HIM from his Lewy body dementia!” I did manage to not yell, but I knew that she had heard my irritation..  And then I was wondering if my anger made it seem like I was guilty of something.   Sigh.  Whatever…

Now that I was getting pissed, the fear was taking a backseat. How could this be happening? She had a very long list of accusations against me, some of them very weird.  (Like, apparently my husband had set up trust funds for my his own grandkids with Dad’s money.) I knew those had come from my him because of the way they had been worded.  Seriously? This is what I get for being a good daughter?  This is what I get for doing all of this?

I flashed back to one phone call from Vegas, when he was screaming at me that he was going to drain his bank account and move to Manila with his caregiver because I wouldn’t give him more money to gamble at the casino.  “It’s my money, just give it to me!”  After he hung up on me, I hunched over and crumpled onto my bare knees on the wooden floor, so angry and frustrated that I started punching my own face. In the back of my mind somewhere I imagined I would soon be in a hospital with no windows, drinking warm milk with graham crackers after they gave me my meds.  The stress was nothing I had ever experienced in my life.  I had also just moving him to yet another rental in Vegas. Inside I wondered why I was being punished.  What horrible life must I had lived  before this one that deserved this current incarnation?  OMFG! This is Groundhog’s day! My childhood buttons were getting pushed so hard they’d melt if they weren’t just a metaphor.

I asked the woman how long this was going to take.  I was now hearing my own heart pounding in my ears so loudly that I could hardly hear her any more. “I really don’t know,” she said, almost robotically.  I turned up the volume on my earbuds and asked her “Do I need a lawyer?”  “Do you think you need one?” She said, flatly.  “I don’t know, I didn’t do anything wrong, I know that, but this doesn’t sound so good. I just can’t believe this. This is unbelievable,” I croaked She then asked for all the bank statements, and so it began…

Five months later (which felt like 5 years and probably aged me 10,) the case was closed due to a lack of evidence pointing to any wrongdoing.

Look, as tempting as it is to say I was a good little buddha throughout this hell realm, it’s just not true.  Nope. I felt like I was in hell every minute of every day.  It felt like there were red ants taking over my insides. I was drinking again and was only able to sleep 3-4 hours; waking up to a racing heart.  I tried to meditate.  lol.  I used EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) so much that I thought my fingertips would lose their prints. I couldn’t laugh or even cry, I was in a constant state of flight or fight, and since neither was an option I just held on with white knuckles, praying it would end.

Meanwhile, the voice in my head I had adopted as a kid was saying “You’re so stupid, you’re in trouble, you’re not smart enough to figure this out. They’re gonna get you. You shouldn’t have signed up for this, dumbass.”  It didn’t matter that I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, I still felt in my body that I was going to be punished.  Ahhh, childhood trauma…It felt like somehow he would find a way to make it look like I had done something wrong.  To my dad, I had done something wrong.  I had moved him here to Oregon because I couldn’t keep managing his care long-distance. I did it for a year & it almost killed me.

So, there I was, shaking with fear & dread for 5 months, all the while still working a PT driving job during COVID.  Some small light or sound would wake me at 3 AM and I would stumble out to the sofa, pile up the pillows all around me like a fortress, weigh myself down with my weighted blanket and shake as I listened to the clock ticking, ticking, ticking until the sun came up.  Sometimes when the shaking wouldn’t stop and I was too exhausted to do it any more, I would wake up my dear husband, who would hold me until I eventually passed out from sheer exhaustion.

Every. Single. Day. I vowed to myself that once it was over I would get him a legal guardian and then never talk to him again. I was finally going to go “NC” (no contact) as my new therapist had been encouraging me to do. After hearing all the stories from childhood up until now she was pretty sure I had a parent who was self-absorbed, and that I needed to walk away to focus on my own life for a change.  It was impossible to imagine.  I really loved my dad.  And I couldn’t fathom “abandoning” him.  But…this was killing me and I knew it was not sustainable.  I needed a break, at the very least.

This kept me going during the whole investigation: the hope that one day I would heal and have a life again.

For the next 7 months I stayed away & got updates from the manager of the group home..  It was excruciating.  I felt guilty.  Like a bad daughter.  I would cry thinking about how I just needed to figure it out.  That he must love me, that it was just his dementia, that I needed to forgive him and visit him again.  And then I would remember how he treated me, how the mean voice in my head had actually come from him. I remembered that he only ever wanted to talk with me when he wanted something. It was just transactional.  It was a vicious loop in my head.  Round and round it would go.

What I didn’t anticipate was him calling me to apologize and ask me to visit him again.  (A miracle.)

What I learned over that “NC” time was that yes, the continued damage he would do to me emotionally had stopped, but nothing else had changed.  Sure, he wouldn’t slay me any more with “You’re the reason my grandson is dead!  If it weren’t for you, he’d still be alive!” on Mother’s Day, (the hardest day of the year since 1995 when I lost my son Yogi).  But, otherwise nothing had changed, all the pain of feeling not good enough and longing for his love and acceptance remained.  What to do, what to do…

So, I went back.  And another miracle occurred.  Because now that I had accepted that he was mostly concerned with himself and that I couldn’t change him, there was no longer any expectation that it would be different.  I found a guardian and the freedom I felt in knowing I could just be gone if I wanted to allowed me to truly show up with him as an equal. Over the next 2 years until his death, I was able to stand my ground with him for the first time. 

I learned to love myself unconditionally as I learned to love him unconditionally.
And, then another miracle happened.  I actually did feel his love.  It was when the “veil” was thinning.  He was in the last weeks of life.  One of the items on his “bucket list” was that I engrave his watch he gave me. (It said my birth was the happiest day of his life and that he would love me through eternity.)  He told me he had failed me, and I told him “We’re good, dad” don’t worry about it.  I’m okay, you’re free to go when you’re ready.  No guilt.  I love you.”

Against all odds I made peace with myself, truly accepted myself through the process of showing what I was made of in taking care of him.  Next to losing my son Yogi, it was the hardest thing I had ever done.  And as a bonus I got to make peace with him too. And that was the biggest miracle of all.

The bottom line is, yeah, miracles happen, but usually it’s because we’re making them happen by showing up,  being vulnerable, and never giving up on the possibility that change is possible.  When I hear “People don’t change,” I think “Not if they don’t want to.”  Because if you want to, you absolutely can change.  And that’s not a miracle, that’s just a fact.  How do I know?  It happened to me. And this story is just one of many examples.

If this story resonates with you, please, please, know that you’re not alone. And that you can reach out if that sounds helpful.