Facing the road to Hell with love and courage

I was given a gift the other day, but I don’t think it was intended for me.

By Mark Harvey

I was given a gift the other day, but I don’t think it was intended for me.

Here’s what happened:

A gal I work with — a colleague, a friend, a volunteer — confided in me. She’s youngish, which I guess means she’s old enough to know better, but young enough not to care too much. Suffice to say we have similar generational experiences, but her smile and her energy and her enthusiasm for helping people contribute to the impression of youngish.

What she confided, with her voice low and the kind of “sad smile” that we all know, was that her husband had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I said the only thing that I could think of to say: “Oh, I am so sorry.” It was true enough, just woefully inadequate.

She said something like, “Well, that’s OK. It’s just the next leg of the journey, although it isn’t the journey we were expecting,” sad smile still in place.

No, I’ll bet it isn’t. And I can’t get her — them! — off my mind.

I don’t know him, so I imagine what it must be like to be her right now. I imagine that it must be like standing one step this side of the threshold of Hell, knowing what’s on the other side, and knowing that you have absolutely no choice in the matter — knowing that you can’t not go.

I imagine what this journey will be like. Sure, you know the general road well enough, but you don’t know the twists or the hairpin turns or the hills or the valleys or … how long the trip will take.

I imagine there will be laughter and intimacy and … grace. Closeness. Trust. Love. Courage.

If it were me, I’d have to remind myself that courage is not the absence of fear.

If it were me, I’d have to soak up every moment of the “us.” Every minute of too-often disregarded “normalcy.” Just us doing life, no big deal.

But, now, it is — a very big deal.

There will be much to learn, and even more to digest, and never enough. Never enough information or insight to know if you’re doing it “right” — doing it the best. This is the one I love, so I have to make it the best!

It won’t be, because it never is — that’s how love works. But I know she will do everything humanly possible to make it that way, will make it what it needs to be — and what it needs to be is OK.

“OK” doesn’t sound like much, does it? “This is the love of my life, and the best i’m going to do is ‘OK’?!”

Probably, but remember that “OK” has meant so many things to most of us, for so long. “OK” is real life, every day. “OK” is how we live, and “OK” is how we catalog the hours and the days and the weeks and the months and the years — if we’re lucky. “OK” is normal, and I imagine that “normal” looks pretty good when you’re stepping into Hell.

So, now she is (or will be, soon enough) a “caregiver,” and people like me can go on about that for hours. We know how that works. And I so hope that this amazing lady will remember to take care of herself!

She might — sometimes, but probably not enough. She can call on me, and many others I know, and a treasure trove of information and resources — and that will help some. But the end of the day is still the end of the day, and there will be nowhere for her to go but straight ahead.

She won’t be alone, while she is utterly alone. I hope she lets some of us do something about that, but this is her journey — their journey — even if it’s not the one they were expecting. And maybe on the worst day, this is all I’ll have to give: “I understand.”

I said that I was given a gift that day. The gift was standing in the presence of that much love and that much courage, recognizing what is best about humanity.

I think I needed that.

Mark Harvey is the director of information and assistance for the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached by email at harvemb@dshs.wa.gov; by phone at 360-532-0520 in Aberdeen, 360-942-2177 in Raymond, or 360-642-3634; or through Facebook at Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information & Assistance.