In this year and a half of isolation, ‘quarantine pods’, fear and misinformation, it has become especially important to identify safe spaces in your life. For some, that is a physical space to call your own. For others, it could be a particularly calming person. For yet others, memories of past safe spaces might suffice. We all found ways to weather this storm and survive an unprecedented and completely new experience. Such is the case for one local Henderson County realtor, his safe space, and a glimmer of hope for a safe community.
Bryan Byrd’s Grandpa John (or Dode, as they called him) was “the calmest, coolest guy [he] ever knew,” begins Bryan. “Dode was very patient, very calming. I would come to him as a young man with stories of ‘oh, the sky is falling’ and he just had a way of saying that ‘this too shall pass’,” Bryan remembers. Always an active part of conversations, Grandpa Dode was Bryan’s safe space growing up. It also sounds like he might have been that person for many in his family.
Dode lived until his late nineties, and later in his life he began to withdraw from conversations. This was noticeable even to Bryan, a grandson who lived out of town. “At first, he just became quieter, and I thought he was just slowing down. I didn’t really understand what was going on. He just seemed very different. He wasn’t present anymore,” shared Bryan. The family thought that perhaps he was losing his hearing. After a couple of years of decline, a need for constant care and an eventual diagnosis of dementia, Bryan grieved the loss of being able to connect with his grandfather. Bryan even stopped visiting, he admits, not knowing what to say or how to act. He remembers talking to his father about this feeling and his father shared similar sentiments. Bryan’s father too was “struggling to look into his [father’s] eyes and see someone else.” Bryan summed up this time perfectly when he shares that Dode was “robbed of the last few years of his life.” And as a result, Bryan and his family were robbed of their safe space.
After his passing, Bryan was approached by local Alzheimer’s Association staff while he worked for a local radio station. She simply shared her story of being a current caregiver for her mother with Alzheimer’s and asked if Bryan had a connection to the disease. This simple act of connection inspired Bryan to tell his family’s story in a way he had never shared before. “She gave me the confidence to share my story. When I share my connection, while it’s a club that no one wants to be in, it’s a club more and more people are joining,” explains Bryan. Bryan was asked through this storytelling session to be the Master of Ceremonies for the 2018 Walk to End Alzheimer’s – Henderson County. “I was able to participate by lending my voice.”
Even that first year participating, Bryan remembers how impactful sharing his story was, and how important the Promise Garden Ceremony was for his community. “It amazes me that everyone has the same reaction when they share their story,” says Bryan, “It just reminds me of why we walk.” While Dode was alive, Bryan’s father was able to utilize the education resources of the Alzheimer’s Association to find some sort of understanding of what was going on. When Bryan talks about the Walk with his community he focuses on this education component, sharing that “it’s most important to create that [disease] awareness. If as families and communities we can have a dialogue, we’re more likely to be collectively aware.” Bryan shared many reasons that awareness was beneficial individuals with a diagnosis, from early detection and diagnosis to care planning and financial impacts. “It’s important that we’re not waiting until after someone passes to do something about this. We can provide more resources today with financial and political support,” urges Bryan.
Bryan is now a realtor in Henderson County with Keller Williams, helping families find their literal safe spaces. In the height of the pandemic, Bryan inspired others to walk “separately together” across his town by reaching out to his personal connections via text and email and by sharing his story on social media. As he saw in person, the simple act of sharing inspired others in his community to start sharing their own stories. Bryan’s girlfriend walked with him on walk day on their favorite hiking trail. His hotel-owning friends downtown displayed flowers and signs out front to promote story sharing. He started his Walk team called #SafeHendo to promote the idea of sharing stories and creating connections will keep the community together through this storm. And this year Bryan and his team will walk again in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s – Henderson County on September 25. “I think about all the time I was able to get with Grandpa Dode and then quickly move to ‘Who is going to suffer from this next?'” Bryan shares. It sounds like Bryan has followed in Dode’s footsteps as the safe space for his own community. Hoping that one day “this too shall pass.”
LIKE BRYAN, WE ALL HAVE A REASON TO FIGHT FOR A WORLD WITHOUT ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE. Join your local Walk to End Alzheimer’s today.
The Alzheimer’s Association hosts 17 walks across North Carolina. The Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Since 1989, the Alzheimer’s Association® mobilized millions of Americans in the Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk®; now the Alzheimer’s Association is continuing to lead the way with Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Together, we can end Alzheimer’s.
We’re moving forward with plans to host the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s® in person this fall. We are planning every Walk with the health and safety of our constituents, staff and volunteers as our top priorities. All events will implement safety protocols including physical distancing, masks (where required), contactless registration, hand sanitizing stations and more. We will continue to closely monitor Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state and local guidelines to ensure Walk events adhere to recommendations and are safe for attendees, as well as offer options to participate online and in your neighborhood.
2021 NORTH CAROLINA WALK DATES
Alamance County – 9.25.21
Asheville – 10.9.21
Charlotte – 10.23.21
Fayetteville – 10.30.21
Gaston/Cleveland/Lincoln – 10.9.21
Guilford County – 10.16.21
Henderson County – 9.25.21
Hickory – 10.31.21
Iredell County – 9.25.21
Jacksonville – 10.16.21
Moore County – 9.25.21
Mount Airy – 9.18.21
New Bern – 10.23.21
Rowan-Cabarrus – 10.30.21
Triangle – 10.9.21
Wilmington – 11.6.21
Winston-Salem – 11.6.21