Sunday, 29 January 2012

Alzheimer's, Beads, and Alysha

This website is the result of almost a year of work from Alysha Wisniewski and her family. I am Alysha's father, and I am going to begin by telling her story in my words. Let me assure you that, though my ability to tell the story this way is mine, the story itself, and the inspiration for it, are Alysha's alone.

The first thing that you need to know, is that Alysha and Aunt Roz were very great friends. From the very first day they met, Roz simply gushed about how wonderful and beautiful Alysha was, and hung on every word she said. She would tell Alysha's parents and grandparents what a wonderful child she was, and how great it was to have her around.

Alysha was equally in love with Roz. Their meetings would be highly anticipated, Alysha asking at every holiday and family gathering if Roz would be there. They always sat beside one another at dinner, and cuddled up together while the family talked. Every chance they got, they were and inseparable pair. 

As time went on, Alysha grew up. From five years old, to six, and seven, she and Aunt Roz never wavered in their love for one another. As she grew older, the rest of our family had to explain the sad truth about Roz to Alysha. Her favourite aunt was sick. In fact, Roz had been sick for some time, most of the time that Alysha had known her. Crazy, flamboyant Roz was very slowly slipping away. Alzheimer's disease was taking away Roz's ability to function like a regular person, bit by little bit.

Its a difficult thing to explain to an adult what having Alzheimer's means. It is not an illness that shows its wounds in a way that grown people can cope with. This is doubly so for a child. When Alysha began to learn that Aunt Roz wouldn't remember things the same way anymore, she didn't shy away. Now, if Roz needed help finding her way to and from the bathroom,  Alysha was her escort. If Roz asked the same question three times in ten minutes, Alysha answered with a smile. If Roz let the wrong word slip out of her mouth, her first apology was to Alysha. Both of them were trying to make the best of a bad situation, and neither had the language to explain themselves, only hug and smiles.

Alysha and Roz's Story continues after the break....

If you know an Alzheimer's sufferer, you know that the story almost always leads to some even crazier stories about how little the person in the throes of the disease resembles the one who was there before hand. You know too, that as that person becomes harder for the family to understand and relate too, so too does the Alzheimer's sufferer have trouble relating to those people and things that used to be close to them. It is, in my experience, a gut wrenching kind of loss, even while the person is still standing and breathing front of you.

Often the patient goes to a home, and there is a period of time where nothing makes much sense, and then there are dark suits and dresses, and someone at the front of the room talking about life and death and memories. Roz is in a nursing home now, and her story might not have much more to it, except that nobody told Alysha that it had to be over yet. My girl was very sad and very lost at the idea of losing her aunt this way. After being told that Roz really didn't take any guests anymore, and wouldn't know her anymore, I can only guess what went through Alysha's mind.

What came out of Alysha's mind, after she thought about the sadness that came with thinking about aunt Roz, was that she should do something to make a difference. She had made a simple beaded bracelet on embroidery floss, some time before it had anything to do with any kind of 'project'. She brought this bracelet to us, her parents, and said 'Can we make more of these, so I can sell them, and give all the money to the people trying to cure Alzheimer's?" 

And that's what she did. She made some more. We printed her a sign. She asked permission to bring them to her classroom. Twenty-five cents each. She would put them in the class and tell her classmates what they were selling for, why it was important that money be raised for Alzheimer's. My wife an I thought if she ended up with maybe five, or ten dollars, we could take it to the Alzheimer Society of London. There she could meet people and find out a bit about what they do to help people who have Alzheimer's right now. A good lesson. Perhaps a way to grow a little bit from a difficult experience.

If that little project had gone as planned, I would not be writing about it now. Within two days, the twenty or so bracelets were all sold. Alysha summed up all her courage, got some help writing an announcement, and read it to the whole school in the morning. Now everybody wanted one. Alysha, and mom, and dad started making bracelets every night. Somehow, over the first weekend, we built up a reserve of over 100 bracelets. No problem. Then she came home with over fifteen dollars in the change jar by lunchtime, and the mad rush started again. 

Credit, at this point, goes to what happens when a family all chips in. Without mothers and grandmothers and aunts and grandfathers making an effort, the whole thing grinds to a halt for lack of any product to sell. With our family and Alysha's friends all volunteering to make a few (or a lot in some cases) of these simple little strings of beads, the story would have ended there.

But there was a frantic flurry of help for this cause. This new idea had taken on a life of its own, and no one who we told about it wanted it to falter. The end of February came, and all of the proceeds were tallied. Family, and friends, and teachers, and even a custom order from a custodian all added up. At the end of the month, the Alzheimer' society received $212.50. From a little tiny glass bracelet in the hands of my eight year old daughter, through over 800 more bracelets in the course of one month, we had reached the end. To all of us, this seemed to be a very big number. It was an amount that we were happy to present to our local Alzheimer's society and and amount they were happy to receive.

Alysha was the youngest volunteer they could remember, and over and over again, she would be asked who came up with the idea, and who wanted to do this. Over and over again, we would answer that it was Alysha's idea alone, and that she was very proud of what she had been able to do. And that's the end of the story. 

Alysha and her wares at the Walk For Memories
Actually, it's just the beginning. The rest of the story already has several more chapters, and you've already found the best place to hear the rest of it.

Come back to Beads For Memories, as it follows our daughter's efforts to raise money to help those with dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

If you are interested in helping out, special orders, or donations of materials for bracelets can be made at  If you would like to learn more about Alzheimer's and dementia, the Alzheimer's Society of London-Middlesex has their own website.


  1. WOW.
    Alysha you have a very good thing going.
    Keep up the good work.
    Love Mom

  2. What a special project you have chosen to remember your Aunt Roz

    and to help others suffering the same disease.

    Love Aunt Ann and Uncle John