My friendship with Sue is a sisters-in-arms story. As men become brothers in times of war, Sue and I became sisters on the battlefield of caregiving. We first met at our church in a small group that was studying finances from a Christian perspective. The group bonded well and decided to move on from finances to Rick Warren’s study called “The Purpose Driven Church.” During the course of the study, we were challenged to be open to new ministry or service opportunities in which we might become involved. One night I shared that I was considering starting a caregiver support group. Sue caught my eye from across the room and mouthed, I want to do this with you. That’s when our friendship really began.
Sue is a caregiver, too. She and her husband share a home with her mother, so right away, we were kindred spirits. For the next couple of years we facilitated a group, meeting once a month with other caregivers to offer support to one another and to work through the heartaches and troubles of our situations. We discovered that we had more in common than just caregiving, and we got together at other times, too, along with our spouses. We shared family times with our parents, and we enjoyed the kids-out-of-school freedom caregivers experience when they can manage to get away for a little while. But most of all, Sue and I enjoyed breakfast. Every two or three weeks, we slipped away for a couple of hours and met at a local coffee shop where we shared our hearts and our hurts, our successes and our failures. We laughed and cried and prayed – and ate. Calories didn’t count on those days, and we often indulged in artery-clogging skillets of potatoes and eggs and sausage accompanied by stacks of pancakes with real syrup, none of that sugar-free stuff.
Sue always has a beautiful smile, but sometimes a certain sadness in her eyes hints at the burden she carries. One morning, though, there was not a hint of sadness. There was a sparkle and an excitement in her eyes that perfectly matched the smile. I couldn’t wait to hear what was up.
“I had the most wonderful experience this week while I was walking with Sophie,” she said after we’d settled into a booth and given the waitress our orders. Sophie is Sue’s championship Schnauzer and (almost) constant companion. “We were taking our normal route through the neighborhood, and we were approaching a section of the sidewalk that always irritates me. There are crepe myrtles on either side of the walk, and the owners don’t keep them trimmed. The branches hang out so you have to push them aside to pass, and some of the lower ones cover the walk so you have to step over them. I’ve always approached that section of the walk grumbling and complaining about inconsiderate people and irresponsible homeowners, but this morning was different. This morning I looked up as I approached the crepe myrtles and was startled at how beautiful the rose-colored blossoms were, at what an elegant archway they formed for Sophie and me to pass through. And in the background, a little behind the crepe myrtles, was a tree covered with morning glories. I love morning glories, but I had never noticed them because I was so preoccupied with the crepe myrtles.”
Her enthusiasm was contagious and we spent a good bit of the morning talking about what a difference a change in perspective can make in your attitude. That was several years ago, and I’ve thought of that conversation often since then. Alzheimer’s is an insidious disease, but in some cases, it can have a “bright” side. Mom has lived a lot of her life in fear, fear of rejection, fear of criticism, fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. There were times when she shut herself off from friends and all but a select few family members, turning down invitations, eventually isolating herself from almost all social interaction because of her fears. But as her memory faded, she forgot to be afraid. Her love of people and human contact emerged, and if anyone said “go,” she was ready. She’s not able to go much now as her body begins to weaken, but her fears are still gone, and her sweet smile and generous hugs still make her a favorite of those around her.
I’m not a Pollyanna, and I don’t see the silver lining in every cloud. I’ve lived long enough and am realistic enough to realize that there are bad situations in life that no amount of perspective can change. But there are those times, those times when you raise your eyes from the untrimmed, almost impassable walkway and say Oh, there are morning glories. I love morning glories.