It is about time I did.
My first Walk to End Alzheimer’s will take place in a part of Seattle that would be unrecognizable to my mother, whether or not she had ever had dementia: South Lake Union, where the new Museum of History and Industry has taken over the old Naval Armory and a new waterfront park has taken over—what was there before? Mud, cattails, derelict docks?
Then there’s Amazon, of course, which has transformed the motley, low-rise warehouse district we used to call—well, we didn’t call it anything. It was “near the Seattle Times” or “near the Mercer Mess,” or for those of us in the picture trade, “near Glazer’s and Ivey-Seright.” And it was “near Jafco,” a sort of scrappy Costco precursor in a Soviet-style, concrete bunker just south of Mercer. Rustin and I bought our wedding bands at Jafco, an act of happy frugality inspired by our desire to save up for our round-the-world, backpacking honeymoon.
So as I walk this weekend, I’ll be walking my own quirky memory lane. Which also includes many, many Mercer trips from Queen Anne, where I once lived, to Madrona, where Mom once lived. Those cross-town treks date from before we knew Mom had Alzheimer’s disease. Sure, there had been some troubling memory lapses, but nothing out of the ordinary for a busy, not quite-60-year-old high school teacher with six grown kids and a growing roster of grandkids. Right?
Wrong. And she knew it, before we did.
I think I know the real reason I haven’t walked. It’s because of all the faces I know I will see. Though I’ve written and thought plenty of times about how many millions of families are living with Alzheimer’s disease, I’ve never seen a huge number of them in one place at one time. More than five million Americans with Alzheimer’s is a big, big number. But a little girl walking for her grandfather is a human being. As is a husband, walking for his wife. A son walking for his mother. A friend walking for her friend. A woman with Alzheimer’s disease, who might remind me of my mom.
There was a time when the last thing I wanted was to see all those faces, reflecting back to me my own loss and grief. And yet now I do: because I have come to understand that there is strength in numbers. Just by the simple act of walking side-by-side, we’re telling each other: I get it. I know. My family’s been there too.
Walking together, we can raise money for more research, support groups, education and outreach—just as, together, we persuaded the federal government to create the first-ever National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease.
The local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association predicts there will be twice as many people walking this year than there were a decade ago. The number of walks around western and central Washington has grown from four to ten.
I think I’m not the only person who is finally ready to walk.
And here’s a postscript that means so much to me: I just learned that Her Beautiful Brain, the memoir I wrote about my mom’s long struggle with Alzheimer’s, will be published by She Writes Press in Fall 2014. More details as I have them!