About 50 people gathered in a Hilton Head Island park Sunday to light candles for family members afflicted with Alzheimer's disease.
One by one, the people in attendance at the Jarvis Creek Park dock lit their candles and announced whom the candle was for: mothers, husbands, sisters and countless others.
Hilton Head-based Memory Matters -- a nonprofit offering support services to those affected by Alzheimer's and their families -- organized the candle lighting. The majority of those in attendance were connected with the organization: caregivers, volunteers, and even some suffering from Alzheimer's.
Several people spoke at the ceremony, which lasted about 30 minutes. The Rev. Greg Kronz told the crowd about Memory Matters' beginnings as the Operation Alzheimer's Respite more than 15 years ago, which was founded by Kronz and two women in his office inside St. Luke's Church.
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"It's wonderful to see how it has grown," he said. "It needs to continue to blossom, and research needs to continue to grow so that one day there might be a cure."
Board member Cathee Stegall read a poem she wrote about her mother, titled "I Have No Pockets." Stegall said she wrote the poem earlier that day, based around an often-told anecdote about shopping for pants with her Alzheimer's-stricken mother, Dorothy.
Stegall said her mother ran out of a clothing store dressing room yelling, "They've stolen my pockets," not realizing she had put a pair of pants on backward.
"You need moments like that," she said. "They're difficult in the moment, but they bring you joy afterward."
Andy Kohlhepp, a mental health studies master's student interning with Memory Matters, called the candle lighting "uplifting."
"It connected a body of people with a common cause and a common burden and lifted them up," he said. "There were lots of tears and lots of smiles. Two of the three people who spoke lost spouses to Alzheimer's. It was pretty cool to see them have a sense of confidence and a sense of purpose."
The candle lighting served as a lead-in to Tuesday's National Memory Screening Day. Memory Matters executive director Edwina Hoyle said the organization is offering free, confidential mental health screenings Tuesday and Thursday at its center at 117 William Hilton Parkway.
Sunday was the first time Memory Matters had held a candle lighting, an event many other members of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America typically hold. Hoyle said raising awareness about Alzheimer's and Memory Matters' support services was a key reason for the event.
"There's been a push to raise awareness because the baby boomers' population is starting to get older," she said. "One in eight are expected to develop Alzheimer's. It's starting to reach epidemic levels."
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.