A Tangible Way to Honor my Mom: A Walk to End Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the country and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed. Based on mortality data from 2000-2008, death rates have declined for most major diseases while deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have risen 66 percent during the same period.
Alzheimer’s Association

One out of every 57 people in the United States will die from a disease that slowly steals your memories, your mobility, your learned behaviors (like how to talk, walk, write, use the bathroom or comb your hair), and all the things your body does on its own (like fighting an infection and swallowing food; eventually it stills your breathing and silences your heart). Your body forgets how to do everything.

My Mom passed away four years ago from this egregious disease. She was 72. A wife to my Dad for 52 years.  A mom to her 7 children. A grandma to her 15 grandchildren. She is sorely missed.

In her honor, my husband and I participated in a local Walk to End Alzheimer’s today (near our home in Southern California, a thousand miles away from my family of origin in Oregon).

Mom was diagnosed in 2004 and passed away in 2007. It took me until 2011 to join the cause. I’m not mad at myself for not getting involved sooner; just perplexed at what took me so long. Perhaps it was my extremely sedentary lifestyle. Doing any kind of walking was the last thing on my mind. Perhaps it was my fear of asking people for money, even if it was for a good cause.

Now that I’ve become more physically active, participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s was something I had to do. My husband and I together created a team of two.

Today, throngs of people of all shapes, sizes, ages and colors arrived at the Walk, some wearing custom-designed t-shirts honoring those who were suffering from or had died from Alzheimer’s. My favorite t-shirt read: “Alzheimer’s attacked my family. I’m fighting back!”

We arrived a little later than planned so we had to park in a dusty field next to the park. We checked in and received purple wristbands. Because we had raised over $100, we received a ticket to pick up a purple Walk to End Alzheimer’s t-shirt.  I was bummed to discover they were out of all t-shirts except size small, but we put our name down to receive one in the mail later.

Next to the t-shirt booth was a table stacked with laminated paper flowers, Sharpies and safety pins. A sign denoted which color flower you should pick depending on your situation:

  • Multicolored flowers: I have Alzheimer’s
  • Yellow flowers: I am supporting or caring for someone with Alzheimer’s
  • Purple flowers: I have lost someone to Alzheimer’s
  • Orange flowers: I support the cause and a vision of a world without Alzheimer’s

Was it an honor to write my Mom’s name down? No. It was sad. But it was an acknowledgement of her. That I was there today because of her. That she lived. That she was missed. That she mattered. A lot.

I pinned the flower on to a lanyard I wore around my neck, which was holding a photo of my Mom with her four daughters. It’s one of my favorite family photos, even if it doesn’t include my Dad and three brothers. My Mom had just been diagnosed and we were cherishing and loving all over her.

I looked at the flowers other people wore and wondered what their stories were. Of the vastness of their pain and loss. Of how great their love for each other.

Nearby there were tables full of coffee, bottled water and snacks: granola bars, fruit leather, crackers and muffins. High school kids wearing volunteer t-shirts manned the tables. I asked one of the kids where they were from. She was part of the Volunteer Club at a local high school.  Wow. How cool is that?

Across the grass were several booths with representatives from retirement homes, assisted care facilities, funeral planning, and the Alzheimer’s Association. A couple of Lakers cheerleaders were on hand to autograph Lakers team photos.

There was an opening ceremony, during which the speaker had everyone in the crowd hold up their laminated paper flowers to create a special “garden.” Later, a young lady sang a beautiful song she wrote for her grandma.

Then the walk officially began. It was slow going as there were lots of dogs, little kids, and elderly folks participating in the walk. The high school student volunteers held directional signage and cheered us all on as we passed them. They made me smile. It was a two-mile walk but felt much shorter, and was anticlimactic at the end. People just strolled directly to their cars and that was that.

The entire event was extremely well organized, both before and during the event. A plethora of tools were provided to help participants raise money: email blasts, Facebook posts, snail-mail letter templates. Lots of encouraging reminders were sent to me before the event. I had my own personalized donation web page where my friends and family could go give a secure donation. When I got home after the walk, I’d already received a “thank you” email.

It was a fantastic operation. I was totally impressed by the professionalism and organization of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Thanks for letting me share this with you. It was a good day.  I’m all in for next year. : )