By Pennie Hunt, Columnist
My brother and I just returned from a trip to see my sister. We experienced snow-packed roads with stop-and-go traffic, missed flights and long security lines – all the things that come with travel. We just moved forward one step at a time to reach our destination.
For two days we visited our sister. It wasn’t a visit filled with normal family activities. It was two days of my brother and I talking while my sister watched us.
My sister suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
As we sat with her, I could not help but replay memories in my mind:
Memories of our childhood and growing up as the youngest in this line of three. Memories of summer days riding our bikes to the local swimming pool. Family camping trips and vacations to see our grandparents. Memories of sharing a room with her until I was 15, and the day I taped a line down the center of the room to mark the sides we should each stay on.
As children, we were at the bottom of a tall ladder. Climbing above us were our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. We were excited to climb higher and grow into the life above us. It seemed like a long, long way to the top.
Over the years, the stability of that ladder weakened for us as one by one great-grandparents and grandparents passed. As every generation passed, we moved forward one step at a time, one level higher on the ladder.
Then my dad passed. Years later when we said goodbye to our mom, I remember thinking it was just the three of us now. How odd it was to realize we were now on the last step, the top level of that very high ladder. We became the stability that held the ladder tall and strong for those coming behind us.
As my sister stared at us unable to comprehend our stories or remember who we were, I realized that even our foothold on the ladder is weakening. Seeing my sister in a fragile state is shaking the top of our ladder. There is no guarantee when a shift in the ladder will occur, but it is clear that one of us from the top level may be leaving soon.
Our climb to the top happened so quickly.
It was just yesterday that I was on solid ground looking up and anxious to climb the ladder. Now looking down seems scary. I see the faces of those climbing the ladder below and remember the excitement and challenges of the climb.
Looking up, I think of all the reasons the generations before us left. Disease, accidents and aging have forced us to climb one level at a time to reach this view from the top. What seemed like a forever climb wasn’t. It happened in a blink.
We said goodbye to our sister for what may be the last time. Again, we experienced snow-packed roads with stop-and-go traffic, delayed flights and long security lines – all the things that come with travel.
It didn’t feel much different than the climb we have had on this ladder of life. Always climbing through the difficult times and grateful for the easy times – all the things that come with life.
We just move forward one step at a time until we reach our destination. Until we reach the top of the ladder.
November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. I have become deeply aware of the devastation this disease causes to those afflicted and the families that love them.
According to Johns Hopkins, there are more than 6 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s Disease with 3 million new cases diagnosed each year. There is no cure for this progressive, deadly disease.
Unless you or a loved one is touched by Alzheimer’s it is hard to understand the pain of this disease. I hope you never do.
Pennie’s Life Lesson: We are all climbing the ladder of life. Hold on tight. It goes quickly.