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, actually — 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 it to say, we have similar generational experiences, but her smile, energy and enthusiasm for helping people contribute to the impression of young-ish.
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.
Imagine what this journey will be like. Sure, you know the general road well enough, but you don’t know the twists, the hairpin turns, the hills or the valleys.
Or how long the trip will take.
You have to imagine, I imagine, that there will be laughter, 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 because that’s how love works.
But the fact that she will, I know, 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, the days, the weeks, 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 often enough.
She can call on me — and many others that I know — and a treasure trove of information and resources for help.
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 I was given was to stand 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 director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].