As we enter spring in the Midwest, I love the smell of baseball in the air, the laughter of kids running around the neighborhood, and the anticipation of warm, sunny days ahead after an unpredictable round of (in my case, Chicago) weather. It also gets me thinking about the time of year when I was growing up. I would look forward to the summer road trips with my family — with my mother and father serving as tour guides. My parents were lovers of history, so we didn’t typically hit the beach. We would head east to Gettysburg and Williamsburg (and much along the way) and then head west, weaving through various points of interest on our way to see my brother in the wide-open spaces of Wyoming. During other times of the year, we would fly to California to see my sister and her family, where we would partake in the epic picnics and family talent shows involving her 11 children. Epic is an understatement. These are moments I will treasure forever — especially now that I have lost my father, and I now watch my sister navigate the terrible path of Alzheimer’s disease. I think about that every day, and it is my Reason to Hope that my children will not grow into their adult lives without seeing a cure for this disease.
My father, David, had a passion for things such as seeing trees grow and blossom in our yard, as well as digging deep into our family history. His love to learn and share has fueled my desire to help end the disease that robbed him of enjoying these things later in life. A man so incredibly vibrant was not the same man I said goodbye to in 2014. He was never bitter, even in the early stages when he knew what was happening. He always, without fail, knew his family would make the right decisions for him and loved us with his whole heart. Shortly after his death, I attended a business event for human resources and met a member of the Illinois Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association — it was an emotional event for me as it became so clear that I had no idea what resources were available for us. My family was focused on my dad and making decisions with what I realize now was very little information. In fact, at the time of his death in 2014, there was still a hesitation among many doctors to officially call what was happening dementia, let alone Alzheimer’s. It was at that event that I made the decision that I would get involved to do my best to spread the word to others facing this disease. I also wanted to help those around them that are trying to navigate so much that comes with it. I have been involved with the Illinois Chapter ever since through various boards and committees, the annual Walk, the Longest Day, and of course, Reason to Hope.
My first Reason to Hope was in 2015 in Chicago. I will admit I was skeptical about how a one-hour luncheon would pack the punch of other types of events that I had attended. I was so impressed. More than that, I was inspired. My guests felt the same (many who are still attending six years later). In each Reason to Hope that followed, I have experienced stories from so many points of view. I have learned about the science and legislative advancements that people like me can influence. I have made new friends, met many caregivers, and have watched individuals diagnosed with the disease take the stage to talk about their lives before and after. I continue to stay involved for all of them and everyone who has this disease. I have learned over the years the list of those not connected to Alzheimer’s is becoming something rare. When I have invited people over the years, I quickly learn of their stories, and we all have much to learn from each other.
I’m excited to be co-chairing for the first time year. 2020 has created a lot of reflection for many, and I’m not the exception. Katie Lane approached me about being a co-chair, and I had shared with her that I had written a commitment to myself in 2021 to get even more focused in my efforts with finding a cure to end Alzheimer’s. Serendipity. I carry my father’s memory with me everywhere, and I draw my inspiration from my sister, Trish, who has been living with the disease for several years. We are so far away from each other, but she has one of her daughters, Audrey, living with and caring for her. I receive weekly texts and pictures reminding me that while some of her memories are lost, her beauty and love for life are stronger than ever. She is another Reason to Hope.
This year’s event will be virtual, which in many ways opens up the doors to even more people to hear the message. The event is not limited to the four walls of a banquet room. I would encourage you to consider taking one hour on April 29, 2021, to attend. Learn more and register here. You will experience learning, connection, and inspiration. The program will involve updates on the progress being made in the fight against Alzheimer’s, and it will provide a chance to meet with other guests to share stories and build connections. Whether you have experienced the effects of this disease first-hand or not, I have no doubt you will gain insights into how you can make a difference in the future. I hope to see you there.
By: Jennifer Keeney
Join us for Reason to Hope on April 29 at 12pm CT. Register at ReasontoHopeIL.givesmart.com.
If you are unable to attend, please consider making a donation to support the mission of the Alzheimer’s Association.