Why I Walk: Brylyn’s Story

Brylyn Felty is a volunteer for the San Francisco Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Her early encounter with Alzheimer’s fueled her determination to make a difference in the fight to end this disease.

Brylyn2At about 10 years old, I volunteered with my mom at a local senior center. It was Easter time and there were lots of fun activities like singing and art going on. One man was coloring alone so I walked closer and noticed that, despite having many colors available to him, he was only coloring with the brown crayon.

I just couldn’t understand why he’d only want to color with brown when he had a whole box of crayons, but he kept saying it was his favorite color. Something struck me as odd about this exchange at age 10, and I didn’t realize until later that this was my first encounter with Alzheimer’s disease.

I would think about that man every now and then, and for the longest time I couldn’t understand why his story affected me so deeply. I’d think of him and feel a deep sadness and I couldn’t figure out why.

His story was a metaphor for the experience of so many others with Alzheimer’s disease. Our memories are like a box of crayons. We use those crayons to create the beautiful murals that are our lives. Over time, those crayons might become damaged or broken, and a few are lost over time – it’s a natural thing that happens when you’re creating the masterpiece that is your life.

Brylyn1Alzheimer’s disease steals those crayons and you don’t understand why or how. And there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it from happening. The crayons just seem to disappear. Eventually, all you have left to color the remainder of your life with is the color brown.

That’s why I walk. We know how devastating Alzheimer’s is emotionally, physically and even economically, especially for the caregiver. But we don’t know what it really feels like to go through something as cruel and unforgiving as Alzheimer’s. We don’t know what it’s like to lose parts of ourselves and eventually not remember what we’re missing.

So, I walk for Mr. Brown and the countless people who remain silent victims as their memories (their box of crayons) are depleted until there’s nothing left but that single color they cling to so dearly. No one should have to live or die that way. We shouldn’t have to fear a life that’s devoid of color or vibrance. We should all get to keep our lives as colorful as we please.

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