Why I Walk: Sharon Milford’s Story
by Tiffany C. Chaney
Sharon Milford was blessed with an awesome grandmother and who she describes as a bonus grandmother.
Sharon grew up on a small farm in Millbrook, where her dad’s mother Fannie McKeithen lived in the house next door. Mother to seven children and grandmother to eleven grandchildren, Sharon describes Fannie as a woman who was everything to everybody. She was a resourceful, motherly type who could be found on the farm picking blackberries with Sharon and then she would go inside and make a pie.
When she was in her 50s, Fannie survived breast cancer. Sharon says she was strong throughout the battle, never stopping her care for everyone else. However, later in her life, it was Alzheimer’s Disease that eventually slowed her down. In the two or three years Fannie lived with the diagnosis before dying at age 72, Sharon remembers looking out of her window at her grandmother’s house every night before bed and praying someone would find a cure for Alzheimer’s that would make Fannie well again.
Sharon recalls that forgetfulness was not one of the first things they noticed about Fannie’s declining health. Instead, it was unusual occurrences, like Fannie looking at the television and thinking the people on TV were watching her, signaling something was wrong. Eventually forgetfulness set in and Fannie began thinking people in her current life were people from the past. But, Sharon, age 12 at the time, says her grandmother never forgot who she was until the day she died.
Sharon has many great memories with her grandmother. Among those was Fannie’s love for music; specifically, they discovered she was a Lionel Richie fan within the year before she died. She was the happiest when she listened to her Lionel Richie tape, including her favorite hit, “All Night Long.” Also special to Sharon is remembering Fannie teaching her “Amazing Grace,” which Fannie still remembered word-for-word.
Several years after Fannie’s death, when Sharon was 17 years old, Sharon began dating her husband Broderick. It was, then, that she met her “bonus grandmother,” Martha Ann Milford. From the day they met, Sharon says Martha Ann took her in like she was her own.
Sharon describes Martha Ann as the perfect Southern hostess. On any given Sunday, Martha Ann’s house would be full. Every Sunday was like Thanksgiving; people would be enjoying her dressing and fried chicken for which she was famous. And, Sharon says Martha Ann made sweet potato pie that no one could touch. Martha Ann loved watching people enjoy her food. She had just one rule – get as much food as you want; but, if you’re not going to eat it, don’t get it. Knowing how many people go without food in the world, Martha Ann would not allow food to be wasted.
Alzheimer’s Disease progressed quickly for Martha Ann. Doctors said it was one of the fastest progressing cases of Alzheimer’s they had ever seen, attacking her bodily functions faster than her brain. Within three weeks she went from fully lucid and conversant to non-communicative.
At Martha Ann’s funeral, Sharon learned even more than she imagined about her humble bonus grandmother. Sharon knew Martha Ann was always the first person to show up for anyone in her family if they were sick or had needs; but, at her funeral, Sharon learned Martha Ann cared for many people in this way. Person and person, including non-family members Sharon did not know, stood up at the funeral and told stories about how Martha Ann was there for them when they needed her. Not one to seek attention, Martha Ann didn’t talk much about this; she just showed up, wherever needed, always with food in hand.
Sharon says God really blessed her with an outstanding grandmother and an outstanding bonus grandmother, both who died with Alzheimer’s Disease. This is why she supports the Walk to End Alzheimer’s and continues to work for the cure she’s been praying for since she was 12 years old.