Agnes Lesofski always put her family first. After her husband of 21 years passed away, the now-single mother of seven enrolled in night classes while working as a homemaker to support the five children who were still living at home. One of those children was Beth Lewis, now living in Spokane Valley, who greatly values the sacrifices her mother made.
“She was my mother and father from the time I was nine years old because my father passed away,” Beth says. “She had been my mentor and best friend my whole life.”
For years, Beth and her siblings had looked to their mother for guidance. Then the family began to notice changes in Agnes’s behavior.
“My mom was 85 at the time and we had gone to Europe. My brother was a traveler and would take my mom on all these different trips,” Beth explains. “He was in the hotel room with my mom, and he came and got me and said ‘I need you to come help me. She’s fixated on unpacking and packing her suitcase.’ So I went in there and she had emptied her entire suitcase. She would roll everything up to put back in and then say ‘Wait, where are those grey pants?’ and then she would pull everything out again.”
While this was cause for concern, a later moment with her mom and siblings furthered their suspicions that something was wrong. The family sat down for a game of cards one evening, and Agnes no longer knew how to play.
“Mom would say to us, ‘I need you to sit down and play cards with me so I can keep my brain sharp’. Then one night, she just froze. I asked ‘Mom are you okay?’ and she said ‘I don’t know what a set is. I don’t know what a run is.’ That’s really when the five kids all sitting around the table all were like ‘Okay, this is big.’”
After visiting with a neurologist, the diagnosis was Alzheimer’s, a disease Beth believes her grandmother had as well, although she was never diagnosed.
“We really didn’t know all that much about it but my grandmother had dementia. It was probably Alzheimer’s, but at that time we didn’t really talk about it. It was just dementia and that was a dirty word,” recalls Beth.
This left Beth and her siblings unprepared, so they started doing research on the best way to care for their mom. “Everyone started to dive into it as we discovered what was going on. We were trying to figure out the best way to help my mom, whether it was to slow the progression, correct her diet or anything else we could do. We all started doing a lot more reading, and it’s overwhelming what’s out there. There’s just so much,” says Beth. “I think it was a little bit of a shock and a whole lot of fear. You start to think about ‘Am I next? What does this do for me, what does it do to my kids?’”
To complicate matters further, their mother and the five siblings were geographically separated from each other — living in Montana, North Dakota, Washington and California. Still, the siblings did everything they could to support their mom. They rotated providing in-home care for her by travelling every five to six weeks. They maintained this schedule for a few years, but it was becoming more difficult to make their scheduled trips.
“After caring for her this way for a few years, two of my siblings started to have health issues of their own,” remembers Beth. “I’m the executive of her medical care, so when all those puzzle pieces started to fall off, I had to make a decision to move her here with me.”
Beth cared for her mom for a few more years before moving her into hospice care, where she remains to this day. “It’s really been quite a journey watching the changes with my mom and how she can function,” says Beth. “She was my energizer bunny. She’s still here.”
After witnessing what Beth had gone through with her mother, her team at the Spokane Valley Macy’s store rallied around her to show their support.
“Macy’s has a national Roundup for Charity every August and, for the first time, each store got to choose what they wanted to donate to within their market,” says Beth, who is the Vice President and Store Manager. “I was sitting in my office and my administrative advisor came to me and said ‘We’ve all been talking and we think that there’s just one organization that we should be looking at: the Alzheimer’s Association. We all know how important it is to you, and what you’ve been going through with your mom. We just think this is the right thing to do for our store and for our community.’”
Beth was blown away. “It makes me feel really really proud to work with the people I work with. Their passion and compassion has been overwhelming.”
The Roundup for Charity isn’t the only way Beth and her employees have gotten involved. They also volunteered at the Spokane Walk to End Alzheimer’s in 2016 and will be back again Saturday, October 6 in Riverfront Park. The 2016 Walk was not only the first Walk for her, but for many of her staff as well.
“I think it was eye opening to everybody. We realized this was much bigger and affected more people than what we thought,” says Beth. “What I noticed was that people really wanted to talk about it. There was such a camaraderie. The sharing that went on was really impressive. For me personally, it was overwhelming to say the least. But I think my team felt very uplifted by the fact that they got to go and share in something that very personal for a lot of people.”
Agnes did everything she could for Beth and her siblings. Today, Beth is returning the favor, and the contributions from her, her team, and their customers will impact thousands of others affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
Join Beth, her team and the thousands in Washington and Northern Idaho walking to end Alzheimer’s disease. Visit alz.org/walk or call 1-800-272-3900 to register today.