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Raleigh Hero Has Compassion, Hope and Purpose

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RALEIGH — Working with people who are dying and who, in the process, may be losing their dignity is a difficult, often heart-wrenching commitment. Alice Watkins confronts that struggle every day.

Watkins is one of five people named a local hero this week in Raleigh. Their portraits were unveiled on a public mural painted on the back wall of City Market.

Watkins is with theAlzheimer's Associationin Raleigh. She started as a volunteer, planning to stay just 12 months; that was 11 years ago.

Watkins is now the executive director, helping patients and their families. Many of those families have some heart-wrenching stories.

Alzheimer's, she says, is not really life or death, but rather a cruel trap between two worlds.

"We don't know what causes it. There is no cure," says Watkins. "There isn't anything that you can do."

The faces of people with Alzheimer's stare from the books on Watkins' shelf. It is a face she has known before.

"A cousin... we grew up together. I said 'Are you afraid?' and she said 'No, not really.' I said 'Is there anything you want me to know,' and she said 'Just love me, just love me.'"

Alice Watkins taps an inner strength. Her thoughts and prayers pour out in notes to families coping with such a cruel disease.

She writes:"Notes like these are never easy. Alzheimer's is so insidious, taking lives like a tidal wave with illness and side effects for caregivers.

"Although we think we have said our goodbyes, I don't think we are ever prepared for the toll death takes on us."

"And what keeps me doing it is every day, there is someone who says thank you," says Watkins. "This was God's way of saying to me this is your way of giving back."

Watkins says there are some very difficult days. But she comes back every morning knowing that she can offer some comfort and guidance, and maybe one day there will be a cure.


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