Thursday, November 18, 2010

Alzheimer's reunites Nashville woman, father

By Bob Smietana • THE TENNESSEAN • November 18, 2010 Growing up, Kathryn Huddleston didn’t see her father much. He worked long hours for the Tennessee Valley Authority and was rarely around the house when she was a child. But when her dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the late 1990s, Huddleton didn’t want to miss out on her last chance to be with him. “I wanted him to have the best possible care,” Huddleston said. It was an experience that changed her life. Before caring for her father, she’d been mostly focused on her career. Now she finds that relationships matter more than material success. She also says the experience caused her faith to grow. The Vanderbilt graduate and retired consultant recounts the lessons she learned as a caregiver in a new, self-published book called There’s a Storm Coming. She’ll be sharing those lessons in a free forum at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Green Hills Senior Health Center, 2001 Woodmont Ave. The title comes from a comment her dad made in one of his lucid moments — referring to his illness and the havoc it caused in his life. Huddleston, who attends Covenant Presbyterian Church, doesn’t pretend that giving around-the-clock care for her father for more than a year was easy. She spent most nights on the couch outside his room, half asleep, so she could respond if he needed help. Along with Alzheimer’s, he had a heart problem that caused several late-night emergency room visits. At times she wondered if she was up to the task. “When you are tired, when you are hurting, when you feel like you’ve been unfairly treated, you do feel like you want to give up,” she said. “But a close walk with God will give you strength to endure.” In her book Huddleston offers practical tips for caregivers from her experience with her dad. For example, she and her dad went somewhere every day — to the mall or out to hear bluegrass music or to the zoo — so her dad wasn’t cut off from the rest of the world. Since he was a fan of religious music, they went to a lot of church services. Huddleston also tried to include her dad in every conversation she had, so he didn’t feel left out. “I didn’t want him to be invisible,” she said. After her father died in November 2002, Huddleston said that she fell into an emotional pit, not sure what to do with herself. Being a caregiver had become her identity. And so once her dad was gone, she had to figure out what do with the rest of her life. Huddleston, 64, says she’s grateful for the time she had with her father, despite his illness. She’d been estranged from her parents most of her adult life. “I had been deleted from the family album a long, long time ago,” she said. But in the time she cared for him, Huddleston and her dad were reconciled. “I know who you are,” she recalls him saying before he died. “You’re my baby girl.” “That’s the first time he ever said that,” Huddleston said. Contact Bob Smietana at 615-259-8228 or

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