One by one, different-colored plastic flowers were being placed at Ludington’s Leveaux Park to mark the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s Saturday morning.
The annual walk was done a very different way because of COVID-19, and Saturday’s rain showers added a another wrinkle to the occasion. Jim Bachelder, who is on the local committee for the walk, helped to place each of the flowers facing Ludington Avenue between Madison and Staffon streets.
Bachelder’s wife, Jean, died in 2014 from dementia, and he’s assisted with the walk since.
““We had been married 11 years. And the weird thing is I was diagnosed with prostate cancer about the same time period. I went over my five-year mark in 2014, the year she passed,” he said as he was preparing to stake in a few more of the flowers. “I was going to the caregivers’ meetings down at the library monthly.”
Bachelder said he and his wife moved to Ludington in 2009 so Jean could care for her mother, who also suffered from a form of dementia. They weren’t certain what kind it was, but the effects were there.
“Jean was a nurse, in fact, a site nurse, a geriatric site nurse,” he said. “She wanted to come up and take care of her mother while she was able to do so. We came up here and helped her mother.”
While the display of flowers and signs marking the walk were visible as cars swished through the rain along the avenue, much of the event was done virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Erin Murphy, the development manager for the West Shore region of the Michigan chapter for the Alzheimer’s Association, said the organization wanted to ensure the safety of those who were likely to take part in the walk.
“We have been taking a very conservative approach to it and wanted to take a step back and make sure everyone is safe and healthy and, heaven forbid, something were to happen and people were to get sick,” Murphy said. “Pretty early on, we knew we weren’t going to have a physical walk in the community like we’ve had in previous years. But we still wanted it to be something we were able to continue the walk in some capacity, especially because COVID-19 but Alzheimer’s is still happening.”
The walk is intended to raise awareness for the disease and serve as a fundraiser for the association and the variety of programs it provides to those with the disease as well as the families and others that are there to support them. The association encouraged people to walk when and where they could while taking the necessary precautions because of the pandemic.
“So, we wanted to still come together and ask folks to walk together in their local communities with their teams and co-workers and friends and however they feel comfortable on walk day and show their support and willingness to support the cause,” Murphy said.
While much of what the group does has transitioned into an online format, that’s not the only format the organization uses to help reach people.
“We’re available for programs. We’ve been running them. There is a little hesitancy from older adults to participate in online programs, but what they don’t realize is that they can just dial their phone,” said Susan Evans, a program coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association. “It’s as simple as that. It sounds overwhelming with online, but you could just dial in.
“We’ve not seen a lot of participation, but we know there are a lot of people out there that need that support. We’re here, but we’re trying to pivot because COVID and everything.”
Murphy said there were some who honked their horns Saturday as they passed by the display, and some stopped by to talk, too.
For Bachelder, it is a way to get involved and support others who are going through similar situations as he did. He said he didn’t get involved until after Jean’s death, but has ever since. Events such as Saturday don’t bring back as many memories of Jean for Jim.
Instead, it’s the smaller things as life rolls on where he may pause.
“I could be sitting around the house or I could be driving somewhere and all of a sudden it hits me,” he said. “When she first passed, I had not been up to Traverse City for quite some time. So I decided to go up to Traverse City because I wanted to check something out at the mall up there. I’m driving up the back way up through Bear Lake, and as soon as I get to the BP gas station there in Bear Lake, all of a sudden it hit me.
“I had to pull off to the side of the road because the last time I went up there was with her. I was not expecting it. I pulled off to the side of the road. I almost decided to turn around and come back home, but decided not to. I forced myself on. It sneaks up on you, but not as often as it used to.”
If anything, Bachelder said life has shown its twists and turns.
“(Jean’s death) was hard to handle. It was not in our plans for me to get cancer or her to get Alzheimer’s.”