Guest Voice: I’m honoring our loved ones by boosting awareness
How one man is raising Parkinson's disease awareness in honor of his late mother
George Ackerman is from Brooklyn, New York. Now residing in Florida, he works in the fields of law, police, and education. Ackerman lost his mother, Sharon Riff Ackerman, to Parkinson’s disease and dementia. Today, his family’s nonprofit, TogetherForSharon, reaches thousands of individuals across the country for Parkinson’s disease awareness. Ackerman interviews individuals throughout the Parkinson’s community, including various foundations, caregivers, and Parkinson’s warriors, to help share their stories and causes.
My mother suffered for a year in stage 5 of Parkinson’s with no positive quality of life to speak of — a terminal stage of life for months with no escape. When my mother begged for the nightmare to end, we couldn’t help her in her darkest hours. There is no cure, and doctors couldn’t save her, despite their best efforts.
Helplessly, I watched my mother deteriorate. Media and memories from that time continue to haunt me every day of my life. She was 69 years old when she died Jan. 1, 2020, from Parkinson’s and dementia.
She had Parkinson’s disease for a decade, but it didn’t affect major life abilities significantly until she was about four years in, around 2014. On Sept. 24, 2017, my mother was rushed to the emergency room for the first time. After that day, her health declined drastically. It got worse and worse every day.
Before then, she was still able to function and spend her favorite day of the week, Sundays, with us in the backyard, blowing bubbles with her grandkids, and eating the best meals we could find for that day while already arguing with everyone about what to eat for the next meal. I miss those funny arguments. Toward the end, she mostly only spoke of her grandkids and how much she loved them. (Even when they would all scream and cry at the same time for no apparent reason all day long!) She always had so much love to give.
We were only a few days away from all of the family moving into a new house together. That’s the only thing I’ll regret not having the chance to complete. I’d dreamt of us all being under one roof so she could finish her life with me, together. But I know she is at rest now.
Forging a legacy that will strengthen our community
My main focus in life today is Parkinson’s disease awareness and striving for a cure in memory of my mother. I’ve created awareness videos to share and have been featured in podcasts, articles, television, radio, and blogs to ensure my mother’s story is never forgotten.
On the date of her death, Jan. 1, 2020, my family started a nonprofit, TogetherForSharon. That month, we created a wristband as a tribute, and we’ve since sent more than 1,500 free bands around the United States to those who want to help keep my mother’s memory alive, support awareness, and hope for a cure. We also started the website as a hub where people could find the information I couldn’t when I needed it most desperately.
I’ve partnered with organizations around the world, determined to reach more individuals globally together. Through this, I’ve met so many incredible people who are caregivers or are directly undergoing the brutal effects of this horrible disease. TogetherForSharon has raised funds and participated in events for the American Parkinson Disease Association Optimism Walks, the Parkinson’s Foundation’s Moving Day, and the Michael J. Fox Foundation’s Team Fox. Like our nonprofit’s statement says, “It’s a movement … no one is alone in this fight!”
I’m confident boosting awareness will lead to a cure someday. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my mother’s story. I’m just the son of an incredible woman who deserved better. If we had a cure, she’d still be with us right now. She was too young to pass away, and she’d already missed out on 15 years of her life while struggling with Parkinson’s disease.
I miss my mother every second of every day. She was my best friend. Today, I’m also working for the good of other people’s best friends and family. I hope you’ll join me.
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