You’re going on a journey through Alzheimer’s. Or rather, you’re helping a loved one navigate the journey. No one recommended this trek to you; in fact, people tell you they’re sorry you and your loved one have to make the trip. But here you are.
As you start out, the terrain looks tough but not impossible. The trail is faint, though, and you wish you had a map. You tried to purchase one, but people told you maps of this territory are sketchy at best. It’s a different trip, they say, for everyone who makes it. So you pray for guidance and start walking.
In the beginning, things go relatively well. Your loved one moves slowly, but the two of you talk about what you see around you. You have plenty of food and water and stop now and then to refresh yourselves.
Before long, though, you find the stops are more frequent and they last longer. The trail is getting narrower, brushier, rockier. For your loved one, it’s slow going. So you extend your hand to steady her, and you pray it gets easier. It doesn’t, but you have to keep moving forward.
As you walk, the truth slowly dawns: this land is wild, but it has its own beauty. You listen and hear birds singing. Your loved one stops and smiles as one flits across your path. You point up at the sky and she lifts her face, admiring, you hope, the colors of the layered clouds: off-white, light gray, dark gray. Only clouds overhead, but they’re easy on her eyes and she stares so long, she sways a little and you take her arm.
The trail continues upward. It’s easier to see it now as it runs alongside a little stream. Tripping lightly down from the heights you’re trying to reach, the water sings as it goes. You wish you felt like singing, but your own breath is running short and your loved one stops again, and again, and again. You find logs for her to sit on, or rocks.
You sit beside her; you breathe together. It’s hard in this thin air, harder for her than for you. But looking around, you see that life has been hard up here. The old skeletons, deformed and bent, wounded by the work of living, litter the landscape with broken white bones.
Yet, even with the steep incline that makes traveling across it so difficult, the land has rewards for those willing to search for its beauty. Wildflowers wave on tall stems or cuddle against tree trunks or stretch fragile roots toward the streams. Some thrive in the austerity of a boulder field. All become more diminutive as the trail climbs higher.
It’s a gift, you understand, this ability to keep your eyes open to the magnificence of small, beautiful things dwelling in a harsh environment. Each new discovery gives you hope and keeps you looking for the loveliness hidden among sharp rocks and fallen trees.
You continue up. Your loved one is tired, but she’s been called, so you keep going. The trail becomes cruel; each steep rise leads to another, even steeper. You cry silent tears while you put your loved one’s feet on the steadiest rocks and lift her step by step.
You know you’ve been called, too. This trip is ordained. For your loved one, the destination will be freedom, new life. And for you the joy is simply helping her get there. The thought of her traveling this road alone is unbearable. Even now you wonder if she’s really still “with” you. Her face is pale as the clouds; her eyes are glazed like a frozen pond; if she speaks, her words are as sharp as the rocks sliding under your feet.
At last you near the top. But the scene you expected to be lovely and life-giving is stunningly cold and barren. With one arm around your loved one’s back and the other holding her arm, you crane your neck to see beyond the rocky trail and the bare mountaintops. You keep looking, believing: It’s there. Keep going. It’s there.
A few more steps, over the last rise and then down, you’re startled by the sudden beauty of your loved one’s smile. Following her gaze, you too behold at last the beauty of the heights.
Water, life, drop by drop, has been collected by the wind-swept mountainsides. Held in an ancient cup formed by primordial fire and ice, the water is green, like fresh ferns and newborn seedlings and spring leaves. An island of rock thrusts its primal shoulder up from the depths; trees, even greener than the water, grow in the steep stone soil.
Stay awhile. Reflect on the trip. Did you take the shortest path? Perhaps so, perhaps not. Did you show your loved one every wonder she might have seen? Only the Lord knows.
But think about these things, too, as you gaze on the lake of new life: When your loved one was unsteady, you were there to hold her up. When she was afraid, you were there to keep her safe. When she was lost in confusion and chaos, you found her and led her back. You showed her wildflowers. Birds. Streams. And you smiled with her on the heights.
Makes every step worth it, yes?
For who is God, except the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? God is my strength and power, And He makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of deer, And sets me on my high places (2 Sam 22:32-34 NKJV).
Father, you know the Alzheimer’s road. You know our loved ones are weak and confused and you know we’re weary. We rely on Your help every minute, every day. Show us the way, please, Father, and show us the beauty of the journey.