(WJHL) — Losing a loved one is so difficult. But, our last Remarkable Woman finalist turned her grief into action.
Inspired by her mother’s spirit, Mary Edwards found healing in raising awareness about a disease that takes so much from its victims and their families.
Mary is nothing short of a firecracker. She is thriving as the head cheer and dance coach at King University, and her energy is infectious.
“At the end of the day,” she says, “I want to create a fun environment where they can go, work on their skills, and at the end of the day, walk off happy and upbeat.”
Happy and upbeat is her usual demeanor. But Mary has gone through some dark times, starting with her mom’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease.
“When I went through it, I felt very alone,” she says. “I was in my late 20’s when it started, and not a lot of people understood what I was going through.”
Mary and her young children moved home to take care of her mother. It was a labor of love, but it was difficult to see her slowly fading.
“At the same time, you don’t show your cracks. You do what you have to do and you go home and cry and try to figure out what’s next,” she says.
Mary pressed on, volunteering to coach a cheer team for at-risk kids gave her focus, and perspective.
“It was so cool to see these kids who never thought they would have that opportunity. And I’m just a vessel to get them there. They did it on their own. They worked so hard,” she says.
As she was taking care of her mother, Mary’s daughter was asking questions.
“She would often go, ‘Mommy, what is wrong with my Nana? I don’t understand,'” she remembers.
That sparked an idea. To help her understand, Mary wrote not one, but two children’s books to help explain the effects of Alzheimer’s, concepts that can be difficult for young children to understand.
“When they open my books, it was put in a way where you kind of have to remember the person you love is still there, it’s the disease you’re mad at,” she explains.
After two years, Mary’s mother started to decline.
“That’s when she forgot who I was, how to tell me she loved me,” she says. “It’s a horrible, horrible thing to watch someone lose who they are.”
After almost three years, Mary’s mother succumbed to the disease. Devastated, honoring her mother was the spark Mary continued to focus her grief into action.
“I knew I had to honor her and give back,” Mary says. “That’s what she would want.”
And that’s what she does. Mary organizes fundraisers benefiting Alzheimer’s Tennessee. From lighting the town purple, to drag queen bingo, and speaking to groups about her experience, Mary is determined to educate, raise money to help people locally, and energize research to find a cure.
She says, “If I just sat around and didn’t do anything, the memory of watching my mom die would just continue to eat at me and eat at me and eat at me. And, I can’t imagine where I would be.”
And this firecracker hopes her work shines a light on an awful disease that is stolen so much.
“Oh, man. That woman. I have some big shoes to fill,” she exclaims. “But, I’m going to keep going.”