Clarissa Walker’s life a legacy her daughter shares with the community
By Neva Walker
I recall my mom once saying to me, “Baby the hardest thing is, I’m losing myself because without your memories you have nothing.” That statement became the struggle my family would have to cope with while watching our pillar slowly leave before our eyes.
Clarissa Walker, who passed away on March 7
Photo courtesy of Neva Walker
I woke up a couple weeks ago with her on my mind, which isn’t unusual but that morning the devastating disease that ceased the vibrant intelligent woman I had known was heavily on my mind, too — Alzheimer’s disease. I was surprised to learn that November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, the same time I would be honoring the birth of my mother. Since I don’t believe in coincidence, I decided this was a message placed on my heart to share my family’s story along with information about this disease with my community.
Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia and a progressive disease that impacts the brain and causes severe memory loss over time; it is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. There are seven stages that one may go through while living with this disease, which range from no impairment to very severe decline.
In 2010, there were an estimated 5.4 million people age 65 years and older across the country living with Alzheimer’s. In addition, research is showing African Americans may be more likely to develop Alzheimer’s because of our high rate of heart and vascular disease. (Alzheimer’s Association, November 9, 2011)
The last few years I have had many ups and downs while struggling to accept this, which led me through the stages of the grieving process even before my mother, Clarissa Walker, passed this year on March 7. The Kubler-Ross model stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It has truly been a struggle with these stages to know I wouldn’t be able to look to or count on the person who not only could fix whatever I was going through, but also knew what was on my mind before I even said it.
In our community, we often ignore memory loss or just say that’s part of getting older. Yes, it is common for one to develop memory loss or even dementia, and it’s not a given you or someone you love will get Alzheimer’s. Yet, we have to do a better job taking care of ourselves, knowing our bodies and seeking help when there are signs things have changed.
Looking back now, there were so many clues something was wrong with my mom, such as her repeating what she said in the same conversation and not wanting to do things she enjoyed like puzzles or taxes, but they were ignored. At least for myself I can say I was in denial because I thought my mom was strong enough to handle anything.
By the time my siblings and I stepped in, it was time to move her out of our home and take over her finances. I’m thankful that not only are there so many of us, but each one played a different role in caring for our mom during her deterioration. A special thank you goes out to my brother Bret and his wife La who went above and beyond to make our mom comfortable living with them instead of going to a nursing home.
For those of you who have been touched by Mrs. Walker through one of the services she provided at Sabathani Community Center in Minneapolis, having her involved with an issue or just being able to have her love through her smile or words of wisdom, know firsthand the special person she was. Even with the loss of her memory, she kept her loving spirit and her love for the community; both wanting and needing to help us.
We lost a remarkable woman to our community, someone I miss daily. I ask you to do two things in her honor and in acknowledgement of National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.
1) Learn more about Alzheimer’s, especially prevention, and develop a plan of action for your family. Go to www.alz.org or call the Alzheimer’s Association at 800-272-3900.
2) Do something for someone else not because you have to, but because you want to share your talent, wisdom and love with someone else.
Mrs. Walker would have appreciated it.
Neva Walker served as Minnesota State Representative for District 61 from 2001-2008. She can be reached at friend firstname.lastname@example.org.