Jennifer Van Oss’ father, Robert was the kind of dad who would always join a family pillow fight. Generous to a fault, he was a neighbor who would mow your front lawn before the sun came up — and would never take credit. “He never lost that part of him, even as his disease progressed,” Jennifer says.
Her dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 52, when she was just 15 years old, and a sophomore in high school. Her dad passed away in 2009, at the age of 55. “At his core, even as his disease progressed, he was still the sweetest, funniest, BEST guy.”
The Sweetest Moments with Dad
Thinking of past Father’s Day celebrations with her dad, Jennifer says every one of those Sundays involved golf. “Father’s Day was all about my older brother Josh and me indulging Dad, not complaining about having to go golfing, which we really didn’t like to do! But there was always ice cream after, always. Dad’s favorite was the Butterfinger Blizzard. He was really big on ice cream.”
When she thinks back to some of the sweetest memories of her dad, Jennifer most loves that he never forgot who his wife was. “He never forgot Mom, even at the very end,” she shares. “He would light up every time she came to see him, when all of us came to see him. I am so thankful for that. He would still take her hand right away, each time he saw her, so naturally, like young love.”
Jennifer honors her sweet father and their best memories any way she can. “I always have the nagging feeling that I cannot let his passing be in vain. So I am doing anything I can to help fund research to help find a cure.” Jennifer is on her local committee for the annual Alzheimer's Association event The Longest Day. Held on the summer solstice, June 21, Jennifer held her event early this year, on April 30, with a monument tour of Washington, D.C. She has raised nearly $35,000 in the fight to end Alzheimer’s through her event.
“My motivating factor to be involved in the Alzheimer’s cause is that I believe in a cure, and I have to do my part, for my dad, and for my daughter,” Jennifer says. Her daughter Olivia is a young toddler, not yet two. “I want to give her the best possible chance of not dealing with this disease in her future.”
Looking Back with Love
Jennifer often thinks of her dad: the way he was, before his disease and during it. His smile, his bravery. “My husband and daughter did not get to meet him, so I will tell them his stories,” she says. “I’m honored to pass on everything he has passed on to me, and I do my best to instill these values in Olivia.”
Jennifer says her experiences with Alzheimer’s through her dad’s battle have shaped her as a person, and have made her passionate about advocating for all those in need of care. “I firmly believe we all have inherent dignity, and that it's so important to help people understand how to treat those with dementia with dignity and respect to the very end. I do this for my dad, for me, and for my daughter, and I know he would be so happy that I am. I remember you, Dad. I am so glad that I am a part of your legacy.”
About: Based in the Washington, D.C. area, Jennifer Van Oss is married with one daughter and her second child on the way. She implores young people to join the fight to end Alzheimer’s. “I wish I would have known that this experience wasn’t going to be a logical progression, and that every instance is different. It is important that the younger generations own this issue. It is a growing issue, not a shrinking one.” In addition to her volunteer work with the Alzheimer’s Association as an Alzheimer’s Ambassador, Jennifer formerly worked as an activity director at a memory care home. Visit her The Longest Day team page.