Driving From Houston to Anchorage

April 06, 2015
Jean Mesendick

road

I just met Richard Taylor! Well, not literally, but figuratively. I was introduced to his comments and his written words in Atlanta last week at Eden At Home training. Kim McRae and Walter Coffey gave us the gift of Richard Taylor along with the incredible curriculum for EAH.

I have been devouring Dr. Taylor’s book, Alzheimer’s From The Inside Out. The pages are flying by and my bright yellow highlighter is nearly dry. Every page holds at least one pearl. But I was stopped in my tracks by what he wrote on page 15. In answering the question, “What is it like to have Alzheimer’s disease”, he wrote:

“What is it like to drive your car from Houston to Anchorage? The answer depends on many things: the type of car you will drive, the age of the car, how well you maintained it, where you are on your trip, if others are helping you with the drive, if you have enough gas or access to a gas credit card, if you have accepted the fact that you must drive to Anchorage, whether or not you are afraid of arriving in Anchorage.”

Alzheimer’s From The Inside Out, Richard Taylor

I read this passage three times, highlighted it and drew arrows pointing to it. Then I flagged the page with a sticky note. Still, as I typed those words here they struck me, again, as so powerful. It is true, as they say, that when you know one person living with Alzheimer’s you know ONE person living with Alzheimer’s. This disease has it’s own unique and individual impact on each person facing it. My family lost our father to Alzheimer’s and it was so clear that for the last six months of his life he was terrified of arriving in Anchorage. He was fortunate to have many loving friends and family who were helping him on his journey, yet still the fear was overwhelming.

It occurred to me that this analogy also has very real meaning for those, like my husband, who are living with Parkinson’s disease. So I shared it with him to see if it resonated with him as well. He listened thoughtfully and then said, “This is about growing old, not about a particular disease.”

By golly, he is right!

Isn’t Dr. Taylor’s analogy of this long journey true for each of us as we face the road to Elderhood? As we get further down the road don’t we all contemplate how we did (or did not) maintain this vehicle we are using? I sure have been paying more attention to the health newsletters, AARP articles, and documentaries about Omegas, the benefits of walking, playing brain games, getting enough fiber, the ever conflicting reports on caffeine and wine.

Have you been more aware in your later years of the value of those deep and personal relationships with friends, family members, and fellow congregants? I find more and more value in these connections, in volunteering, in social activism than I have in the past. I desperately want others to share my journey, and I want to share theirs. And please, it is important that my dog to be able to come along!

As a society we are in the midst of much discussion on what Dr. Taylor refers to as “having enough gas”. What resources will we all want and need on this journey toward Elderhood? Will the system support us? Being a change agent becomes more urgent with each passing year. We all see how far we have come but recognize that the road ahead is by no means certain. Won’t the inevitable potholes and detours be more tolerable when we have accepted that we must make the journey?

I am so, so grateful to Kim and Walter for introducing me to Dr. Richard Taylor and his writings. I am so grateful for Dr. Taylor’s embodiment of the definition of Elder. He, by virtue of his life experience, has much to teach us about how to live.

 

 

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