The Most Difficult Climb of All
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Alan Arnette is son, activist and mountaineer extraordinaire. Alan has climbed the highest peak on every continent in honor of his mother, Ida. Pretty incredible. His meditation first appeared in our book Seasons of Caring: Meditations for Alzheimer's and Dementia Caregivers. - Trish
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer…For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.” - Albert Camus
My voice cracked with emotion as I placed the satellite call from the summit of Mt. Everest: "I want to dedicate this summit to my mom and all the Alzheimer's moms out there. We love you, and we miss you..."
With that, the third summit of, "The 7 Summits Climb for Alzheimer's: Memories are Everything" was almost complete. All I had to do was return from the top of the world to the safety of the lower camps in 40-m.p.h. winds at 20 degrees below zero.
Climbing Everest was easy compared to caring for my mom during her last three years with Alzheimer's. She was our family’s memory keeper. She knew every detail about the families of all eight of her siblings. She was the glue that held the family together.
And then one day, everything changed. We knew her memory was lapsing, but like most families, we chalked it up to normal aging. And then over breakfast, discussing her husband, my father, who was in critical condition in the ICU, Mom dropped the most unmistakable piece of evidence thus far. "Now, who are you?" she asked me, her 49-year-old son. Alzheimer's had already taken the life of one of her sisters and had a firm grasp on another. But we did not know what we did not know.
Over the next three years, Mom lost the rest of her short-term memory, struggled to take care of herself and began to lose her long-term memory, as well. But she never lost her beautiful personality: her smile, her thoughtfulness, her caring for others and her sense of humor.
She loved music, especially her church songs. She lost the ability to read, so she leafed through magazines enjoying the pictures. We made sure she had her music and magazines. But Alzheimer's takes memories and lives and is particularly cruel. And it may be more difficult for the caregivers than for the individuals themselves.
I pulled the hood of my down suit over my head to keep the harsh winds off my face as I began my descent. My mind drifted to my mom, to my memories. This climb, and all the others, was not about climbing but about people - the need to raise awareness, the urgency to educate, the push to fund research. Every step I take climbing mountains is a step for those with Alzheimer's and their families.
There are plans for us greater than we can imagine. Help us all to use our talents and our resources to overcome the figurative mountains of lack of awareness and insufficient funds so that the next generation need never see another life lost to Alzheimer’s disease.
Editor's note: Tell the White House to increase funding here.