Yesterday, my husband and I went for a walk along the dyke that runs alongside the river close to our home. Although it started as an ordinary walk, it ended as a walk blessed by a divine intersection.
I was feeling thankful to be exercising with my treasured companion, in the mild weather and fresh air, feeling the warm wind on my face, excited to see all the birds and the new buds emerging on the bushes.
As we began the last leg of the walk, we started to pass by an elderly couple, the gentleman rather hunched over and using a cane. Saying hello, we commented on what a beautiful day it was. The gentleman responded, “Yes, winter is coming”.
The woman shook her head a bit, turned to us and whispered, “He has Alzheimer’s”. She need not have said anything. I know what the illness looks like. My father had Alzheimer’s. I too was forced to walk through the darkness of this illness.
My heart ached for the older woman. I knew she was beginning a difficult, despairing journey. Feeling helpless, as she watches her loved one’s capacities slowly disappear. Facing a disease that will progressively steal his ability, making him incapable of doing even the most simple of life’s skills such as eating, getting dressed, turning over in bed, or brushing his teeth. Where his words can’t be found, his speech will be lost, and silence steps in.
The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s leads only one direction. There are no u-turns. No hope for a recovery. There is only one pathway. It is a disease that moves inexorably forward, with a slow march to mental decline.
I was prompted by the Spirit to slow down and start walking alongside her. For the remainder of the walk I slowed my pace, matching our steps. My husband dropped back to speak with the gentleman, as he was a little slower and a few paces behind. This created space for us to freely talk.
I shared that I was familiar with the illness because of what I had gone through with my father. I told her that my heart went out to her because I could empathize with the grief of her journey. My comments seemed to open things up. She began to talk. We shared. And she cried.
She has many friends, all elderly, with whom she can share things. But because they had no children she has no younger people to rely on to help her or for her to talk to. She asked me some questions about things she was anticipating and fearing in the season that lay ahead of her.
So I shared some things from my experience – about the need for respite and people to share the burden with, where she might get some assistance, and some suggestions that might help her plan for both his and her future.
By the end of our walk, I got the sense she felt a little less lonely in her journey. And perhaps she felt a bit better armed for the battle ahead. She had a few things she now planned to put into action. I could feel that the burdens of our hearts had been eased through the connection of our stories.
I pray my comments were of some comfort and help, that our conversation had strengthened her even in some small way, because oddly enough, as her husband had observed their “winter is coming.”
As for me, I felt blessed with the opportunity to reminisce about, and grieve for, my beloved father.
What I am certain of was that this was a divine moment. Though it was a brief, unexpected encounter I could feel God’s hands and timing.
Since yesterday I have been thinking about this divine intersection and what joy the conversation gave me. I am grateful that by listening to the prompting of the Spirit to talk to her it allowed our lives to intersect, even for a brief moment of time. For me, it proves how diverse generations and strangers can connect if we are open to embrace the sacred moments providentially handed to us.