Thursday I had the priviledge of being asked to be a Keynote speaker at the Alzheimer's Association's Education Conference. I was given 30 minutes to speak, and I wasn't sure if and what I would say. I worked on my speech for weeks and felt I had gotten it just right, AND it was only 20 minutes in length. I didn't want to go on and on because I know how boring it could be to listen to someone for so long.
The morning Keynote speakers were John and Denise (photographer/reporter) who did the amazing story in Newsday. John presented videos and pictures of the six families they reported on and I was SO thankful that I didn't have to speak right after that. The presentation was emotional, not only for me, but for many of the approx. 1200 people in the room. You could hear a pin drop, then came the sniffles. There was not a dry eye in the house. A few people got up afterwards and asked if John & Denise ever thought of presenting the piece on a national level. They felt that even though it touched Long Islanders, it would serve a greater good if people across the US could experience the story. I didn't disagree.
Soon it was lunchtime and time for me to speak. I was announced, took a deep breath and walked to the podium. What I saw took all the strength from me and made it difficult to continue. Before I even opened my mouth, I got a standing ovation. It seemed to last forever. Every bit of resolve that I had dissipated. I thanked everyone, but at the same time asked how they expected me to speak after that. I broke down a few times, but I got through it and when I was done, I received another standing ovation. As I started to walk off the stage, the Chairperson of the Long Island Chapter, asked me to stay where I was. She explained to the crowd that after she spent 3 days in Washington DC with me and my children, she felt like she needed to do something for us, but wasn't quite sure what. She hoped that we would like what she did. She then proceeded to tell the crowd that LI Chapter developed The Mike Henley Advocate of the Year Award, and it would only be fitting that the Henley Family be it's first recipient. OMG - I lost it, I was SPEECHLESS. What they did, was worth more than anything in the world to me. Mike's legacy will live on, and in his honor every year, they will present this award to the one person they feel went above and beyond in raising awareness for Alzheimer's Disease. I'm not sure anything could ever top that in my eyes. Mike deserves SO MUCH, and this award, in his name, will insure that he will be remembered forever.
Yesterday was emotionally draining for me. Beside the award, I can't tell you how many people came up to me and approached me to thank me for all that I am doing. Some people just wanted to hug me. I had an actual line of people waiting to speak to me. Quite a few people came to me and just cried on my shoulders. Not a few tears, but sobbing for their LO's that were suffering from this disease. I couldn't walk 2 feet without someone stopping me to tell me their story. Numerous people told me that they learned so much from my speech - and for that I was grateful. That has ALWAYS been, and will always BE my #1 goal. The conference was geared toward professionals (doctors, nurses, aides etc) to help teach them how to deal with Alzheimer's patients. It also focused on caregivers, and how to handle their LO at certain stages. I couldn't have been happier and I left the Conference feeling strong and empowered. In fact, when people were speaking to me about how strong I was and how amazing the children are, I told myself that I needed to remember all that love and support when I have those days that I feel REALLY low. It's that support that will carry me through.