Kristen Barsky-Harlan and her wife, Sarah, had just 3.5 months to plan their wedding. It was not the original date they had chosen; but Kristen wanted her father there by her side, to walk her down the aisle and enjoy the father-daughter dance. Kristen’s dad, Tom, had younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and Kristen wanted to remember her wedding day with her father present.
This year on June 21, Kristen has chosen to participate in The Longest Day in honor of her father and grandfather, who both had Alzheimer’s disease. For her activity, she has decided on a donation-based dance class where up to ten couples will learn the basics of tango. Her father loved to dance, and her sister-in-law is a professional tango dancer, so Kristen thought this would be a great way to raise money to support the Alzheimer’s Association’s vision of a world without Alzheimer’s.
“My father was the happiest guy you’ve ever met,” said Kristen. “He was a born socializer and networker, feeding off the energy of meeting new friends and hosting dinner parties at our home. My father loved to pamper himself with massages, travel and dance. He was a self-proclaimed foodie and experimented in the kitchen, enjoying sharing recipes—from paella to salad dressings—with family and friends. If he saw shrimp louie on a menu, he’d order it hands down every time.”
Tom also had a love for aviation his whole life. “Although his vision was too poor to become a pilot, it didn’t stop him from collecting model airplanes and attending any and all air shows which came through our town. For his 50th birthday, he rented out the Otis Spunkmeyer plane and had friends and family over to enjoy flying around the San Francisco Bay while the Blue Angels practiced their stunts for Fleet Week. The smile on his face from that day and captured in those pictures is priceless. He was on top of the world that day,” Kristen said.
Tom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 62, just two years after he retired. “Since my dad had been such a sociable guy, it was hard to tell that anything was wrong with him at first. One of the early signs was his struggle to use his flip phone. He couldn’t figure out how to hold it up against his ear to hear clearly and was confused by the buttons.” This was weird for Tom, considering he had always been an early adopter of new technology. Caregiving for her father was through cross country efforts, split between her mother, her sister and herself. Tom passed away in June of 2018.
Kristen decided to get involved with the Alzheimer’s Association because, “It can feel isolating and very lonely to be affected by a disease that not many people know about or understand.” She began with the Coney Island Walk to End Alzheimer’s in 2010 and continued her involvement with the Walk, as well as raising money for Alzheimer’s in the NYC Marathon, until she moved to Washington three years ago for her job at Amazon. It was at that time, that she became more heavily involved with the Pacific Northwest Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Seattle and the Alzheimer’s Association in general.
“When I’m volunteering with the Alzheimer’s Association, there is a level of understanding we all share because of how devastating this disease is. This shared sense of belonging with the Alzheimer’s Association drives my passion to continue to support fundraising efforts to find a cure..”
The Longest Day was one more way for Kristen to get involved in the cause and honor her father. “My father made it a priority to ensure I felt seen and heard,” she said. Now, Kristen is honoring her father by making sure that his story is seen and heard, in hopes of raising awareness of the disease that took him too soon.
The Longest Day is a “day of action” for the Alzheimer’s Association during Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month®. On The Longest Day, thousands of participants from across the world come together to fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s through an activity of their choice – biking, hiking, playing bridge, swimming, knitting and more. You can donate to Kristen’s Fundraiser here.
To register for your own The Longest Day fundraiser or to learn more about it, visit alz.org/thelongestday The day with the most light is the day we fight.