Catherine Harrison grew up in the small town of St. Helens, OR with her parents and older sister. They had a view of Mount St. Helens from the picture window in their living room. This year for The Longest Day, Catherine will be hiking Mount St. Helens in honor of her mother.
“Growing up we sat down at the dinner table for dinner. We would go camping at places like Silver Falls State Park, the Hoh Rain Forest, and cool places in Oregon. My mom was afraid to fly so we never got on an airplane. Every summer we would come to Spokane and stay at my grandparent’s lake cabin on Loon Lake,” said Catherine. A favorite memory of hers was driving with her family all the way to New Jersey to visit family and stopping along the way to visit little towns and take pictures.
Catherine’s father worked at a sawmill, and when it closed, the family of four moved, eventually landing in Spokane, WA in 1987. Catherine and her father still live in Spokane today.
In 2011, Catherine’s mother, Miriam, began to show signs of dementia. Catherine had started working as a flight attendant.
“I took some time off to help my mom with her cataract surgery. I remember taking her in for the appointments, and when she had to sign her name on things, she just had the pen in her hand and was looking at the paper. I would have to say each letter, and I thought ‘what is going on?’” said Catherine.
At the time, Miriam was taking a mix of medications, so her family thought that might be causing her memory issues. Her mother was eventually diagnosed with dementia in 2014 and passed away in August of 2017.
Looking back, Catherine now realized some of the signs her mother was showing.
“My dad had said that he had to get a digital clock because she was having trouble telling time on the clock. I was thinking it was because of her eyes, but now, knowing what I know about Alzheimer’s, that is one of the first signs,” she said.
During her mother’s journey with Alzheimer’s, Catherine’s father, Bill, was one of her primary caregiverz. He took on a lot of responsibility, often neglecting his own health and eventually developing his own health issues. Catherine and her sister noted that their father has begun to show signs of dementia as well.
“I would say dad started showing signs even when I was taking care of my mom. He would get really paranoid about the neighbors. And when my mom was put on hospice, the hospice nurse told me that he was showing signs of sundowning. He would get confused and agitated in the evening,” said Catherine.
“Now he seems a lot better. He’s not paranoid or agitated, but on Christmas night when it was snowing here in Spokane, my neighbors came and pounded on my sister’s window (she was visiting for the holidays) because my dad was out wandering in the snow at 4 a.m. He was out in the snow without his walker and we had no idea he had wandered off. That was a wake-up call.” Bill now lives with a family member and Catherine and her sister share caregiving duties along with help from family and friends.
Catherine chose to hike Mount St. Helens for The Longest Day because it reminds her of her mother and her childhood home.
“I was in grade school when the mountain erupted in 1980 and I was so obsessed with it. I knew all the facts and figures of how many hours it was erupting and I would go to school and tell everybody about it. My sister has this really cool picture that she took from the hill behind our house of a smaller eruption.”
Hiking Mount St. Helens is something Catherine had always wanted to do. “When I saw you can do whatever you want for The Longest Day I thought ‘oh, I could hike Mount St. Helens’!”
“I am doing this to raise awareness and help raise money. When you lose someone to Alzheimer’s you really want to try and make a difference and help find a cure. There are so many people that are being diagnosed with it, and it affects so many people,” she said. “Not just people living with the disease, but their families and friends as well.”
“At work one day I remember I was on the cart with a coworker who found out my mom had Alzheimer’s. She told me her mom had Alzheimer’s too. And then a passenger seated right next to us said ‘So does my mom!’ It just impacts so many people and I just want to be a part of something to raise funds and awareness for this disease.”
Thanks to Barbara Crowe, a generous donor in Washington State, all gifts given to The Longest Day events in Washington State and North Idaho between May 15 and May 23 will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $10,000! Double your impact today by fundraising for The Longest Day! Go to alz.org/thelongestday.