The medical bill was lying with the mail on the table. The boy and I share the same first name and, not recognizing the billing organization, I assumed it might be his, so it waited for his next visit. He opened it today. “Dad, this one’s yours,” he called out, apparently happy that he wouldn’t have to pay out any of his own hard-earned money this time. I took the paper from his hand and perused the information it contained. As soon as I saw the date, a day in early August last year, my mind darted back to that late night bicycle ride and its disastrous consequences.
The cool new LED light set the Lovely Lady had picked up for me was exactly what I was needing. Most of my daylight hours are taken up with work related projects, so I was finding myself exercising late in the evening and the darkness prevented bicycling from being one of the options. I enjoy the bike, and the trail which spans our little town is a great route for riding on. I do, however, need to see to be able to navigate and the lighting, while adequate for walking and jogging, just isn’t enough for these old eyes to see where I’m going. The lights were going to eliminate that problem for me. “I’m going out tonight!” I told her gleefully. Installation was a snap and I was out the door about ten-thirty, expecting to be back in forty-five minutes or so. Things didn’t go according to plan.
I have a good idea of where the accident happened, since I remember clearly the moments before I started down that steep hill. I don’t remember actually descending the hill at all, nor anything about the accident or the hour following it. I can only assume that the darkness caused me to misjudge one of the steep slopes and sharp curves, although it has been suggested that some of the wildlife which frequents the area may have figured into the disaster. Regardless, I had a good bit of road rash and several lacerations, along with a concussion to show for my first night ride. I have no idea how I found my way back, but somehow, after an hour and a half of being gone, I rolled my bicycle into the backyard, only then becoming aware of my surroundings. I staggered into the house, suggesting to the Lovely Lady that we should visit the emergency room. She jokes about my insistence that I change my underwear before going, but I’m kind of proud that my mother’s lessons weren’t completely lost in the fog (“Always put on clean underpants, in case you have to go to the hospital…”). The bill received this past week was for one of the technicians who was involved with the CT scan.
Many of you are aware that I was emotionally unable to face the bicycle for a number of months, but I will admit today that my biggest challenge was still to come, after I finally mastered the fear of simply mounting the beast once more. On several occasions, I approached the path that lead down that hill, but turned around before descending it again. Down that way lay potential disaster and, even a little of the unknown. I couldn’t face it. I knew that I had to ride that route again, but each time, the emotional turmoil began anew, causing me to turn back. Eventually though, I did ride down that steep, curving path, taking the hill and curves like an old woman, I’m sure, but it was accomplished! Since that day, I have ridden the path numerous times, but I wonder still if I will ever ride it again without the fear or emotion. Only time will tell.
It may seem like a non sequitur, but you might be interested to know that I called my Mom tonight. I wanted to be sure and wish her a Happy Mother’s Day. After the phone has rung several times, I hear her voice. “Hello.” It is the same voice I’ve heard for years, but it has a different tone to it. Each time I’ve called her lately, it had been so. Normally, all it takes is a word or two and she recognizes me, but I have talked with her for several minutes tonight before she asks, “I know I’m supposed to know who you are, but I can’t recall your name.” Although not completely unexpected, this is the first time she hasn’t known me after a few minutes. After another exchange or two, she asks the question again, “What did you say your name was? I’ve forgotten already.” The thirty minute conversation that follows is like being in a room with a two-year old child who is fascinated with the light switch. We are in the light for awhile, but in the dark for just as much of the time. The cognizance is intact one moment, but the next, she wants to know where I live, making an unrelated comment in reply to my answer. She has visited many times in my home here, and there was a day she could have made the eight-hundred mile trip from her home to mine without the aid of a map of any kind. Now, we are hard put to navigate a short conversation without being lost numerous times. Oh, at times, we seem to be on an even keel, with her even asking questions and remembering the names of the subject of her queries, but just as quickly, bewilderment returns and she is a-sea once more.
When we finish our conversation and I have said my goodbyes, I am overcome with emotion. My Mom, the same woman who taught me to reason and maneuver through the mine-field of conversation, can’t be the person I have just spoken with. I miss her quick repartee, her humor, and her concern for all the people in my sphere of relationships. The doctors won’t say that she has any particular disease, but it is obvious that little by little, her mental capabilities are eroding, leaving her, in appearance, the same person she always was, but taking away who she really is and has been. It is sometimes called, when applied to Alzheimer’s patients, the long goodbye. Many of the folks who suffer the disease are painfully aware of what is to come and, in moments of awareness, are overcome with sadness and anger at the thief who is stealing their relationships and their minds. It can be a long, dark road, a road that no one would choose to go down. I don’t want to walk it with my mother. There is nothing down that road but disaster and pain.
Just like the bicycle path however, this is a road I know must be taken. My Dad walks it with her every day. As much as I want to avoid the pain, this is my Mom. She needs me to be there, if only for the moments of coherence. She will not remember tomorrow that we spoke, just as she has forgotten my visit there a few short months ago. The next time we speak, even my name may not open doors for her. Still, I think I’ll keep going down that way as many times as I can, pitfalls and all. Love demands it. My faith does too. “Honor your father and mother.” The rules haven’t changed.
How about you? Do you have a road you don’t want to travel, a little path you avoid like the plague? Maybe it’s time to head down that way again. Relationships with estranged family or friends, apologies needing to be made, deeds long unaccomplished which lie waiting still. We each have our own bike paths which must be conquered, our own hated roads we must face.
They don’t have to be faced alone. We are reminded of our Shepherd, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear nothing, for You are with me…” We are given companions to help us along the way, and friends who are there to cheer us on.
Let’s head down the road together. It’ll be less lonely that way.
“Two are better than one…If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up.”
“If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.”
(Frank A Clark~Columnist and cartoonist~1911-1991)