June 3, 2016
More than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Almost two-thirds are women. All are dearly loved.
June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month.
My first up-close and personal experience with Alzheimer’s was when my stepfather, Jim, was diagnosed. It was so difficult to watch the disease take hold of him. He was a dreamer, an inventor and an explorer. He left a difficult home life at 14 to travel the country and joined the Navy when he was 16. He was discharged when they learned he fibbed about his age. Then, as soon as he was old enough, he joined the Marines. Along the way, he collected many incredible stories.
I’d like to share the one I remember best, but it’s not for the weak of heart. While at port, Jim bought a small monkey and brought him on board the ship. When his commanding officer discovered the extra “passenger” a few days later, he told Jim to throw the monkey overboard, and so he did the only thing he could. He built a raft and sent the monkey off to sea. I still think about that poor monkey, even though I’m not entirely sure the story was true.
Jim had so many stories of a life fully lived, and he loved to tell them to whomever would listen. We began numbering them — I think the monkey story was #276, and there was a version A and B. It was heartbreaking to watch him lose his memory and all those stories to Alzheimer’s. I wish now I had written them down.
More recently, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with the disease. My husband and his siblings along with their father just made the difficult decision to place her in a facility. She is eating and stronger, but her memory has not improved. I am thankful she still remembers some of our inside jokes, though I know there will be a time when she doesn’t respond to my special nickname for her. I hope she never forgets how much she means to me. I don’t like to use the word “hate,” but I hate Alzheimer’s.
If you haven’t yet watched the “My KD Story” of a family who struggled with the disease, I encourage you to do so. It is the amazing account of how one woman lost most of her memory, but never forgot Kappa Delta. KD memories allowed her legacy daughter and granddaughter to connect with her even during the worst of days, even when she didn’t know who they were.
A big KD shout-out to Sigma Kappa Sorority for creating awareness and raising funds for Alzheimer’s research. You are making a difference in so many lives. One of the best things about sororities is the work they do for philanthropic causes. Each year, National Panhellenic Conference groups raise more than $34 million for worthwhile causes and their members volunteer nearly 3 million hours to support nonprofit organizations.
I’m proud to be a Panhellenic woman. And I’m thankful for a stepfather and mother-in-law who helped shape the person I am today.
Director of Communications