By: Michele Devlin
In 2016 at the age of 64, my mom, Debi Turner, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. For years, she’d had some unusual symptoms that I chalked up to stress or being tired. Boy, was I wrong. The most independent, strong woman I knew was starting to fade away. She was so young, and it progressed so fast. I had two moms: the one I grew up with and the one who succumbed to the disease. I watched the woman I grew up with — and who had taught me to be just like her — turn to me for support. Everyone knows that eventually a child will need to be there for a parent, but no one imagines the impact this brutal disease has.
What impressed me the most was that my mom always smiled. She was so happy. Of course, she had bad days and nightmares, but her smile was infectious. The strange thing about the disease (and I guess sort of a blessing for the people suffering) is that, while family and friends watch the drastic changes in their loved one, the loved one doesn’t understand what is really happening to them.
The toughest decision of my life was that I couldn’t take care of my twins and my mom at the same time while ensuring all of their safety. The first Walk to End Alzheimer’s that we participated in was just a few short months after I moved my mom into a memory care community. She went up on stage with her blue flower, joined by my twins with the white flower and they smiled ear-to-ear, pulling at my heartstrings, knowing we didn’t have many more days like this. We giggled, we skipped, she chased my son and we had an amazing time showing our support for the cause. Praying that a cure would be found; one that would save my mom.
We walked again in 2018, but this time my mom couldn’t walk. That did not stop her. She loved to go out, not understanding where we were going, as long as we were together. She smiled as my dear friend pushed her wheelchair and we walked alongside her, again with the twins carrying the white flower.
This disease takes no prisoners and ravages everything in sight, but the most important thing to remember about Alzheimer’s is that the person suffering is still there. They might not know you at the time, but they know that someone loves them. Enjoy every minute you have. Hold their hands, sing with them (my mom remembered song lyrics), bring grandchildren to visit, bring animals to visit, take them to a restaurant, a hike, to the beach, and most importantly, talk to them and tell them you love them. The rewards you get will be with you forever.
I lost my mom on December 13, 2018 at the young age of 66. Although metastatic breast cancer took her, the Alzheimer’s eliminated the possibility that we would find the lump in time. One saving grace is that my mom passed knowing who my twins were and she told us on the daily that she loved us. Words just cannot explain the hurt that comes with losing a parent essentially twice.
I want others to know that this walk is short, only takes a few hours of one’s life and is for one of the most worthiest causes. So many are suffering: those with the disease and their loved ones. The most meaningful aspect of the Walk for me and my twins is the tradition that we had with my mom: the two wonderful Walks we had with her, the happiness she expressed being with us and with others reaching for the same goal. Above all, the Walk gets the word out about Alzheimer’s, and more people need to know the effects this disease can have on their loved ones. It gets the word out that a cure needs to be found. And this year we walk as “Debi’s Warriors” to get that word out.
Debi’s Warriors will be walking at the North Olympic Peninsula Walk to End Alzheimer’s on Oct. 7 in Port Angeles. Learn more about the Walk to End Alzheimer’s here.
Held annually in more than 600 communities nationwide, the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s® is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. This inspiring event calls on participants of all ages and abilities to join the fight against the disease! Find your Walk and start your team at alz.org/walk.