While she may not have worn the razor-sharp boomerang tiara, the deflective bracelets of victory or the golden lasso of truth, Sylvia Brown was ‘Wonder Woman’ in her own regard. Raising seven children of her own, and embracing the loving support roles of grandmother to 17 grandchildren and great-grandmother to 31 great grand-children, her position of matriarch is quite an understatement. “From raising our family, to canning anything and everything imaginable, to climbing cherry trees and roofing, there’s nothing she tried that she couldn’t do,” shared daughter Shirley Bell, a resident of North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. Sadly, Sylvia succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease on August 26, 2017, which was the unfortunate timing of being the birthday of one of her sons.
“When Daddy got sick, we noticed a change in Mom,” offered Shirley and Janette Swaringen (Shirley’s sister). “Mom had also become hard of hearing and blamed her behavior on that.” Sylvia and her husband were married for 68 years and inseparable. She was his primary caregiver, and her daughters realized that her self-care (bathing and eating) had become erratic. Sylvia’s husband passed away in October of 2012, and her condition continued to deteriorate. “We could not convince Mom to leave the house generally speaking, so we had to trick her into going to an appointment.” The appointment was with a neurologist in Elkin, N.C. When Sylvia realized where she was, she immediately wanted to leave. “It was like a switch had flipped,” said Shirley. “Mom had never been combative before, but she was determined to leave that office.” The family was able to eventually calm Sylvia and have her sit down. They believed Sylvia’s urgent desire to leave was that she knew she was sick and did not want to face this reality.
Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2013, Shirley and Janette cared for Sylvia until she fell and broke her hip which required surgery and a subsequent stay in a rehabilitation center. Upon leaving the rehabilitation center, Sylvia went to live with Janette in June 2017 and had 24- hour care followed by that of hospice. “It’s like watching them die twice,” laments Janette who worked in a Wilkesboro area nursing home with many residents who had Alzheimer’s. “You’re losing them mentally and then physically.” Sylvia’s mother also had Alzheimer’s, so Shirley and Janette both are proactively putting their best foot forward in raising funds to support the Alzheimer’s Association.
Team Mama’s Family has been participating in the Walk To End Alzheimer’s® for six years. Their team of over 25 family members actively participates in a variety of fundraising activities. “Our hot dog sales have become really popular, and we’ve even developed area bragging rights on them as they’re so good,” both ladies laughed. The team has also successfully implemented ‘Jeans Day’ at their local credit union, friends who have lost loved ones make a memorial donation in their name to the team, and yard sales are always popular.
While this year’s walk will be different, Mama’s Family will host their own team gather together and walk in Sylvia’s honor for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s – North Wilkesboro on October 10. In fact, they have already more than doubled their $1,000 goal. “Alzheimer’s research is so important to us and a cure needs to be found,” assert both Shirley and Janette. They both agree that the Walk to End Alzheimer’s is a wonderful way for everyone who has been impacted by this horrible disease to gather and celebrate their loved ones with the same purpose – supporting the mission of living in a world without Alzheimer’s disease and all other dementia.
Written by Janette Swaringen
These are my mama’s hands. They are old and wrinkled, big knuckled and marked with age spots. Scars and calluses formed by 87 years of hard work. These hands have held babies and rocked a million miles and changed that many diapers. These hands have worked a garden and canned everything she could to feed her family. These hands have cooked more pots of food than you can count. These hands have made clothes for me and quilts for our beds. These hands have cared for little ones and old ones. These hands have cleaned and mopped, and washed clothes on a wringer washer and hung them on a line to dry, and chopped wood. These hands held on to my daddy as he lay in the church. These hands turned the pages of her Bible and wrote the words to hymns so she could remember them.
But now these hands can’t remember how to sew or cook. How to feed herself sometimes or dress or bathe. These hands reach out to grab at things only she can see or picking at her blanket. If these hands could write a story now it would be about the love she gave and the hardships she faced head on.
I hope I’m holding these hands when daddy comes to take her so I can place hers in his and she will once again remember what these hands are for.
LIKE SHIRLEY & JANETTE WE ALL HAVE A REASON FOR WE ARE FIGHTING FOR A WORLD WITHOUT ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE. Start your own team or join an existing team for one of our nineteen North Carolina Walk to End Alzheimer’s events:
The world may look a little different right now, but one thing hasn’t changed: our commitment to ending Alzheimer’s. This year, Walk to End Alzheimer’s® is everywhere — on every sidewalk, track and trail. Your health and safety are our top priorities. We won’t have a large in-person gathering — instead, we invite you to walk in small teams of friends and family while others in your community do the same. Because we are all still walking and fundraising for the same thing: a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia.
When you participate in the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s®, you’re part of a community that cares — and that community, which starts in your backyard and stretches across the country, has never needed us more. With the dollars we raise, the Alzheimer’s Association® can provide care and support during these uncertain times while advancing critical research toward methods of treatment and prevention.
Register today at alz.org/walk and join the movement.
2020 WALK DATES
Alamance County – 9.26.20
Asheville – 10.10.20
Charlotte – 10.17.20
Fayetteville – 10.31.20
Gaston/Cleveland/Lincoln – 9.12.20
Guilford County – 10.17.20
Henderson County – 9.26.20
Hickory – 10.24.20
Iredell County – 10.10.20
Jacksonville – 10.17.20
Moore County – 9.26.20
Mount Airy – 9.12.20
New Bern – 10.25.20
North Wilkesboro – 10.10.20
Robeson County – 10.24.20
Rowan-Cabarrus – 10.24.20
Triangle (Raleigh-Durham) – 10.10.20
Wilmington – 11.7.20
Winston-Salem – 10.3.20