Why I Walk… Jeff’s Story

Walking Sticks

I started walking 10 years ago. My new daughter -in-law put together a team of church members to walk since she had lost a family member to Alzheimer ’s disease and our new church was looking for some outreach areas to donate funds. Kristin was actually selected as a spokesperson to address the crowd before the walk began. As a group, our church team had met several times at our home to make walking sticks from cedar branches that my wife and I had cut. It was a good bonding experience and made for a nice presentation at the walk as ours was the team with the walking sticks.

But my passion didn’t truly begin until I saw a program at my Rotary club about Alzheimer’s. Until then I just viewed it as another of those diseases that affect people in a disruptive way. But I learned that day that Alzheimer’s kills. The video we saw showed how the disease randomly ‘scrambles’ one’s brain, affecting speech and cognitive skills as we all experience. But it was startling to me to learn that it finally scrambles the autonomic nervous system that control heart and breathing which makes Alzheimer’s a killer.

This brought home to me the seriousness of this disease. At that point in time, I had not had a close family member suffer from Alzheimer’s, but I started to look at those I knew and it was life changing.

I’m a funeral director, so I should have better understood the disease. Oh, I most certainly understood the chaos and heartache it brought to families. I consoled many a survivor who suffered the guilt of having felt that they lost their loved one years ago, although the death was just recent. But I never knew that the disease was the actual thing that caused the death.

More recently, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. For years her husband was able to take care of her and shield her from the life altering changes that would ultimately occur. Finally, he had to put her in an excellent Alzheimer’s unit.

The Coronavirus pandemic has wrought havoc on patients and families alike. My wife has not had physical contact with her mother since early March. Before that she cut her hair, painted her nails, gave her back rubs, and generally was a hands on caregiver. That has been replaced with phone calls while looking through a glass door since no physical contact is allowed.

So I walk hoping there might one day be a cure that someone suffering from this disease might survive and return to a normal life. I walk to help the local chapter have funds to get the word out to inform others (like me) about what the disease actually does. And I walk because of the people I know that suffered from Alzheimer’s when I didn’t realize it was killing them. I always think especially of Allen Echternkamp, the sexton of a small rural cemetery with a steel trap mind who could tell you where a grave was or who owned a section without ever looking at a plot map. To see this great mind reduced because of this awful disease was a tragedy. We all need to do what it takes to find a cure, and that’s why I walk.

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