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 Mom Musings - A Walk for Hope

By Erin McCrea

Nothing scares me more than the possibility of losing my memories. I take a lot of photos, and I post a lot about my life through my writing and social media. There are many reasons for this, but one of them is because I’m terrified that I’ll forget. Writing, creating, and posting is a way to help me remember my life. I want a record in case someday I forget. I want a record in case I forget about the people I loved. It’s one of my worst fears.

Even more than that, I worry that my son will forget. I worry that he will lose his memories and there won’t be anything to stop it. I worry that in fifty to ninety years, Alzheimer’s will still be a disease that can't be stopped.

There is a chance that my mother, my sister, me, or my son will get Alzheimer’s. This is my fear. It’s in our family. It's a disease that diminishes hope. My mom watched her own mom forget. I hope to never watch my mom forget. I am a strong person, but I never want to go through that. I want my mother to remember me. I want her to remember my son. He may seem unforgettable, but even he might not stand a chance against the loss of memory experienced with Alzheimer’s.

Through this story, I’m writing about my grandma’s disease. I’m writing about it through my own eyes. This is how I saw things.

My grandma was good at pretending. She was good at pretending in the end. She could nod along while you talked. She could pick up a book and start reading it, and it didn’t matter if it was her book or not. If there was a bookmark, she would pick it up and read. She could pretend she recognised you. This is from my viewpoint. I don’t think she always knew who I was.

One Christmas (it may have been her last), my sister and I went to the home she was in to pick her up. We were driving her from Biggar to my hometown, Plenty. As we were leaving, she told one of the workers that she had no idea where she was going, but she was excited.

My grandma grew up in Alberta. She was raised solely by her mom for the most part. I can only assume her mom was a very strong mom. My grandma went to university after graduating high school and received a degree in chemistry. She met my grandfather, and then they married and moved to Saskatchewan. She was a farm wife. I don’t say that lightly. Farm wives are strong. My grandma was strong.

As I got to know my grandma over the years, I quickly learned that family was her number one – loving her family was her number one. Grandma never forgot a birthday. She never forgot an event. She never forgot our favourite cookies or chocolate bars. She remembered what her kids loved, what her grandkids loved, and even what her nephews and nieces loved. She knew it all.

I don’t know what it was like for her to lose herself. I don’t know what it was like for her to lose her memories or start forgetting the things she had carefully kept track of. I don’t know how she felt about it. She didn’t tell us. She couldn’t tell us. I think it was a slow process. I was living in South Korea when I started noticing changes in our phone calls.  

My grandma always took care of her family and my grandpa. For the first time, my grandfather became the caregiver. He retired from farming, and they moved into town. He seemed less happy. He was aging, and he didn’t like it. He took care of my grandma though, and I could tell she knew she was safe with him.

We lost my grandpa first, and it was awful. My grandma didn’t remember he had died. She needed to be reminded. My mom had to tell her more than once what happened. I can only imagine how much that hurt both of them.

My grandma was moved to a nursing home in Biggar. We all visited when we could. My mom was there often, but I didn’t get there as often as I would have liked or should have been. It was hard. It was hard sitting with her and knowing she wasn’t really there. She always remembered my grandpa, and she accepted he was no longer with her. She pointed at his photo once when I was visiting and told me he was always watching over her. My grandma’s room was covered with photos of her family – her kids, her grandkids, her great grandkids. She had her memories in photo form.

Grandma lived longer than any of my grandparents. There was a point when we thought we would lose her, but she fought through it. She was a strong woman, even with Alzheimer’s, and even when facing death. She was still strong even though she may not have known it at that point.

I can’t imagine what it was like for her to lose herself. I don’t know what it was like inside her head. I know what it was like watching. I watched my mother lose her mother in so many different ways, and it was heart-wrenching at times.

It was hard to visit her and see the sometimes vacant expression on her face. It was scary to see that empty look.

Alzheimer’s is an unstoppable force. Right now, there is no cure. It’s really scary. It’s all really scary. There are many people who deal with it. In fact, I think everyone I know has a story. Mine is not the only one.

This is why I walk.

This is why I try to do Saskatoon’s IG Wealth Management Walk for Alzheimer’s, hosted by the Alzheimer’s Society of Saskatchewan. It used to be held at the Field House in Saskatoon, and for the past three years, it has been held by the river. People come to share their stories. They walk for loved ones. They raise money so we can all change the future. I really hope someday this dream comes true – not just for my family, but for so many others.

This year, my sister and I were going to do the walk with my son. Unfortunately, about two hours before the walk began, our city was filled with smoke from the fires in Alberta. (I try to never complain about smoke from fires because I have not experienced a devastating loss from a fire.) It was smokey enough that I didn’t feel comfortable bringing my toddler on the walk with us. He stayed home, and he complained loudly about it. “BUT MOM! I REALLY LOVE YOU!”

The walks grow bigger every year. They are held all around the province. The one in Saskatoon has a DJ, water and snacks for participants, signs to write why people are walking, a photo booth, and draws for prizes.

Everyone in attendance has had someone in their life with Alzheimer’s. They are all walking for somebody they loved. The event is always started with some form of exercise. It’s also started with speeches. I am thankful to those that volunteer and donate. I’m usually brought to tears by the words shared and spoken.

I know I’ve written more about my grandma than the actual event. The event is great, and for those who desire to check it out next June, I highly encourage it. It’s a wonderful walk filled with dreams of a world without Alzheimer’s.

For me, it’s a time I can walk for my grandma... and remember her. I can walk for the future. I can hope. We can hope. It’s a scary and debilitating disease, but there is always hope. In a world that sometimes looks frightening, it’s imperative to have hope that it can change.  

To read more of Erin’s work, you can visit her blog “Writing Momma Life,” her Instagram page “The Writing Momma Life,” & her Facebook page “The Writing Momma Life.”

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