The road wasn’t even visible on my car’s GPS map. Yet my phone’s map was directing me down this road to lead me home. Traveling this road after presenting and attending the WI State Alzheimer’s Association Convention last week reminded me of a lesson from both my GPS and those with Alzheimer’s. We don’t always know where the road will take us, but we can certainly enjoy the journey.
I anticipated portions of my usual path would be under construction and potentially unpassable on my way home. I detest detours so searched for a route I vaguely recalled. I used my phone’s GPS thinking it was more up to date than our car’s system. I glanced at the route on my phone, confirmed it would get me home, and set off on my way.
The path started off right instead of my instinct to go left. It avoided the highway and took a back road. It then veered off my car’s map entirely (yes I was using it as back-up) directing me down a ‘Rustic Road’. I know enough about driving in WI that these roads can be beautiful but are off the beaten path. A bit hesitant, I still followed.
Soon I was in the middle of a nature preserve. Parallel to the familiar highway and going in the right direction, I pressed on. What I heard earlier in the day definitely influenced my decision to continue down the road less traveled.
Hours earlier I listened to those in the throws of young-onset Alzheimer’s disease. They were 60-70ish-year-olds already years down their own roads of this devastating disease. Uprooted in the prime of their lives, careers, and families, they were blind sighted with this diagnosis. Their worlds were instantly turned upside down. Yet ALL of them spoke in some way of the blessings found in their journeys.
Don’t misunderstand, nothing about their Alzheimer’s is easy, wanted or wished for anyone else. Nonetheless, they all had a sense of hope and peace to share with us. Which I think is why I kept going down that road less traveled. Hearing from them confirmed my own experience with dementia in family and clients. Even if we don’t know exactly what’s next, keep moving forward and somehow, enjoy the journey.
In the midst of the uncertainty of Alzheimer’s these people are:
- speaking in front of hundreds and lobbying for more research
- donating their time and talents to those less fortunate
- giving back to their community
- welcoming and mentoring others with the same diagnosis
- making new friends
- reminding us their lives are still meaningful, even if they cannot manage alone and have dementia.
Their insight was powerful and confirmed what I already knew. None of us knows what’s around the next corner of the roads we travel. We can make all the plans we want, but roadblocks and unpassable paths may still creep in. We can make alternate plans and still won’t know what’s next. But even in moments of uncertainty, unfamiliar surroundings, and unwanted paths, beauty and joy can be found.
Let’s not forget, life with dementia isn’t the end, it’s just a new normal. There’s still joy and peace in the journey even amid frustration, memory loss, failing health and as of now, an incurable prognosis. May we all learn from their examples and appreciate all that’s around us every day. Because none of really knows what’s coming down the road.