As an inexperienced first-time mom, I was so grateful for my neighbor, Jane. She and her husband Ralph were the “veterans” of our street in Prairie Village, having lived in their home for over 50 years and raising five children. When Jane offered to watch my toddler Toby, giving me some time to myself, I jumped at the chance! This led to regular play dates, through which Jane and Toby became fast friends. They shared a love of trains (her father had been an engineer), and he could not get enough of the small train set her boys had played with years before. She even bought him a little blue and white striped train engineer’s cap. At that time, Jane was in her mid-70’s -- smart as a whip, active in her church and community, a talented seamstress and quilter, an avid walker…full of life, and a true inspiration to me.
Jane kept Toby for me often, especially after my daughter Iva was born. But I was starting to notice things that gave me an uneasy, concerned feeling. I vividly remember walking over to get Toby one day, looking at Jane and realizing she had no idea who I was. Another time, on Halloween, Jane tried to put a big slice of cheesecake in his candy bag. I could hear the exasperation in Ralph’s voice as patiently explained why she couldn’t do that. A few months later, our fears were realized -- Jane was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Jane eventually became combative, and Ralph could no longer care for her in the home they’d shared for most of their lives. The family moved her to an assisted living facility, where he visited and cared for her every day, though she no longer recognized him. Although Ralph was still in good health, it was apparent that he was, emotionally, a shell of his former vibrant self. I was generally aware of Alzheimer’s and knew the “symptoms,” but this was the first time I’d encountered it on a personal level. It was truly heartbreaking…especially for Toby.
I have lived just down the street from the Alzheimer's Association - Heart of America Chapter office for many years, have driven by it hundreds – maybe even thousands – of times. But even during Jane’s ordeal, I had no idea what transpired here in this office. In September of 2017, through a wonderful twist of fate, I began to work for the Alzheimer’s Association, and became acutely aware of the details and complexities of this devastating disease. Fortunately, I also became aware of the exceptional group of people working tirelessly to provide education, guidance, support, and compassion to those dealing with it the best they can. I spent many years working in retail advertising and marketing, and always felt I should be doing something more meaningful…to touch, in some small way, the lives of people who needed a friendly, hopeful, compassionate voice. Here, I’m able to do that on a daily basis, and am proud to serve alongside such selfless advocates doing wonderful work for families of those with Alzheimer’s.