“The last few years have been very challenging for us just because she was in the last stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s so there was very little recognition of us and her behavior was erratic,” Hawk tells PEOPLE at Verizon’s Mix & Match on Fios Event in New York City, Tuesday. “It’s just really hard to see someone that you know would not want to be living like that.”
Hawk, 51, adds that he and his family are “thankful that that pain and that confusion ended for her” and that “[his mother Nancy Hawk] touched a lot of people’s lives.”
“We’re having a celebration of her life, this weekend, actually, and people are coming out of the woodwork, to get invited. So it’s been it’s actually been a little overwhelming,” he admits to PEOPLE.
Alzheimer’s is an irreversible, progressive disease that causes brain cells to degenerate and die, according to Mayo Clinic. It is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States for the elderly.
In his post announcing her death, Hawk gave a brief overview of his mother’s life, noting that he wanted to “honor her with acknowledgement of the successes in her life” rather than “dwelling on the painful disease that took her away.”
Among those successes were raising her children “on a meager budget” and earning her doctorate in business management “at an age that most would choose to retire from work altogether.”
“She taught me to treat everyone equally, to embrace diversity and help those in need. She was constantly smiling, had a quick wit and made everyone around her feel special,” Hawk continued in the heartfelt caption, which appeared alongside several photos of his mother. “She touched many lives with her kindness and I believe she left the world a better place for countless others.”
Hawk, a father of four, says he was grateful that his family “got to talk about it together in person” following her death.
“That was sort of a comforting piece of it is that we were all together for the holidays instead of just scattered in different parts of the world like we tend to be,” he shares with PEOPLE.
To continue honoring her, Hawk adds that he is supporting Alzheimer’s research through several organizations, including comedian Seth Rogan’s Hilarity for Charity.
“That’s the best thing I can do is to just try to draw awareness to the problem and to the strides that they’re making in terms of research,” he says. “There’s a whole element of people that need support that are going through this with their family and Hilarity for Charity is there to help in terms of providing funding and care.”
Verizon’s Mix & Match on Fios allows customers more choices, and to only pay for what they want when it comes to Internet and TV.