17: He Led the Way

17: He Led the Way

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living with Alzheimer's & Other Dementias

He Led the Way

Reason is our soul’s left hand, Faith her right.

~John Donne

I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t remember people’s names. I couldn’t figure out how to do things that I had done every day forever. I’ve been a nurse for more than thirty-five years, but it felt like I could no longer do my job. I thought I must be stressed or tired or maybe burned out. After meeting with my boss, I had no choice but to admit what she had already witnessed. Something was wrong and I needed to find out what it was.

After a multitude of tests and several brain scans, I sat in my doctor’s office awaiting the results. “I just need some time off,” I assured myself. “Then I will get back to normal.” But it wasn’t to be.

At age fifty-five, my doctor informed me that I had younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease. I can’t remember much else he said that day. I walked out of his office with a prescription in hand and a book called Surviving Alzheimer’s.

When telling my grandsons, Sawyer, ten, and Hudson, seven, I tried to say it in a way they could understand. Hudson assured me, “Don’t be afraid, Gramma. I know you forget sometimes, but I think your memories are in a box in your brain and we just have to find the right key to open the box.”

I had always enjoyed walking the boys to school, but as my illness progressed, I found that sometimes I would get turned around and find myself lost. It was difficult for me to ask for help, so instead I explained to the boys that I couldn’t walk with them anymore.

“Wait, I have a solution,” Hudson said. Yes, he used the word “solution”! The next day as we walked to school, every time we turned a corner he would make an arrow with a magic marker on the sidewalk showing me the way home. Sometimes I would cry just from the joy of these little boys.

After my diagnosis, each Thursday my sister Colleen and I attended an Alzheimer’s Association support group. I would meet in one room with others who had the disease while she would talk with other caregivers.

As I was sitting with my group I started to feel cold. I could see our car, where my nice warm sweater was, from the window. So instead of asking for help, I thought I could quickly run down to the car, get my sweater and come right back.

Obviously I wasn’t thinking clearly because when I got to the car of course it was locked. Then when I turned around to head back every building looked exactly the same. I didn’t want to panic. I tried to stay calm. But I got confused and couldn’t even remember if I had crossed the street.

I started to walk from building to building, hoping to find a sign that would help lead me back to the Alzheimer’s Association. Unfortunately there was none. Which way to turn, I didn’t know. What I did know was that I was cold and lost.

If I were to describe how it feels for me to be lost, I would say that my body and mind are wrestling for control. My body thinks it knows where to go, so my instinct is to keep walking. But my mind knows better. It wants to think and make a plan. For me that part is blank. I feel it in there but I can’t seem to coax the information out. It’s like having your memory, your decision-making skills, and the ability to go the right way always on the tip of your tongue.

I wasn’t thinking anymore, so I kept walking. It was getting colder and I had no idea how long I had been gone. It seemed like it was a long time and I was certain my sister was worried sick.

I started to think about God and how He has been by my side giving me strength to get through so many obstacles. As I continued to walk, it finally dawned on me to ask Him for help guiding me to safety.

As I kept walking I saw a building up ahead. Once I got close enough I could see that I was looking at the back of the building, and when I looked up I noticed a small white object on the roof. I couldn’t make out what it was but it seemed to be glowing. By now I was so confused I didn’t trust my mind or my sight. But sure enough, as the building drew near, I saw a small white star glowing on the top of the roof.

If I hadn’t been looking up, I might have missed it. A sense of calm came over me as I walked toward the star. I still didn’t know what the building was but I continued on.

As I turned the corner I realized it was a church. I found a door and quickly opened it. The warmth hit me first, making me realize how cold I was after my long walk. A woman with a kind smile stood from behind her desk and asked, “Can I help you?”

I was crying. I couldn’t speak. Not sure of my words or my name. The only words I managed to get out were, “I saw your star.” She got a quizzical look on her face and said, “Just a moment.” Another woman came in and she introduced herself as Reverend Snowden.

A few more jumbled words came out in between my tears and they finally figured out where I had come from and quickly called the Alzheimer’s Association. After an emotional reunion with my sister, I went to thank Reverend Snowden.

She said, “Although it is very frightening to lose your way, it always feels better knowing that the road back is easier if you ask for help.”

“I finally realized I had to ask for help,” I said. “Once I accepted that, God was there to help me. And miraculously the star on your roof led me right to your door!”

“What star?” the reverend asked.

~Ann Marie Skerl

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