Matthew Vorstermans and his grandmother had a very special bond.
“My Oma lived in Pittsburgh during most of her life and I only saw her about once or twice a year,” Matthew explains. “Despite the distance between us, we maintained a great relationship. We wrote letters to each other and talked on the phone all the time. There was never a time where we’ve held a grudge or anything; we’ve always gotten along.”
Matthew was born with Cerebral Palsy, and sites his Oma as a great role model and support as he grew up. “She didn’t care that I had a disability. She was proud to have a grandson—before me she had only had granddaughters. The fact that I am disabled, she was indifferent to that. She said, ‘I finally have a grandson and I love that.’”
“All my life, Oma had always been right there to give me comfort, reassurance and companionship.”
The signs of dementia started to present themselves slowly. She struggled to recall details about her life, and her own family. That’s when Matthew decided to reach out to the Alzheimer Society, to help him understand the disease that was impacting his grandmother.
It was not long before the disease began to take a toll on his grandmother’s short term memory. Eventually she didn’t remember Matthew at all. That, along with the distance, took a toll on Matthew.
“As the disease progressed, in the last six years of her life, she moved to Nova Scotia. I wasn’t able to see her as frequently. I felt guilty. It was very painful.”
“I wanted to do something about the situation.”
Matthew contemplated how he could turn the feelings of sadness and helplessness into positive action.
“It took me a while to arrive at the conclusion, but I finally decided that as much as I’d like to be with and comfort Oma, I can’t, but I can do that for somebody else.”
Matthew contacted the Alzheimer Society of Simcoe County and began to volunteer, fundraise, and actively seek out opportunities to speak about his experiences. He began participating in the Walk for Alzheimer’s in 2007. Since then, he’s single-handedly fundraised $27, 815.36 for the Alzheimer Society.
“I’ve met a lot of people, particularly at the Walk for Alzheimer’s, who tell me that they like what I’m doing. They may have lost their husband or wife only a couple months ago, which is why they’re walking. I think it’s important to realize that, as painful as it is, you don’t have to wait until your own personal experience is over. You can turn that pain into positive action whenever you feel like it. It may even be therapeutic for you. It certainly was for me.”
“It is never too early, or too late to get involved.”