When Jim returned from Vietnam, he was stationed at Fort Riley, and we spent about a year and a half living in Manhattan, Kansas. With barely enough money to get by, we often took drives in the country for entertainment. We explored the back roads, and often toured tiny towns that were barely blips on the maps. Not that it mattered to us, because we never used a map.
Jim had a good sense of direction, and eventually, we’d wind up at the small apartment where we lived. He always said, “All roads lead to home.”
One summer day, we headed down this long, winding road through the middle of nowhere just to see what we could see. Our car didn’t have an air conditioner, so we drove with all four windows down and breezy hot air gave us the illusion of bearable heat.
After driving for about an hour, we rounded a corner to see a big sign that said, “Dead End.”
“Wouldn’t you think they would have put that sign several miles back?” I grumped. It didn’t help that I was pregnant and couldn’t seem to get comfortable. Jim, on the other hand, handled the situation by merely turning around and going back the same road.
Life’s bumpy road has significant, unexpected detours, and dead ends, that change the course of our lives. My life’s journey, of course, was forever altered when Jim developed dementia.
Sometimes, when life gets about as bad as it can possibly get, it takes a turn for the better. I had to remind myself of better days ahead last Saturday when I went to a memorial service for Linda Newkirk, a woman who became my mentor, champion, and my friend.
On the drive over, I thought about Linda and the positive influence she had been in my life. When I came up with the idea for Alzheimer’s Anthology of Unconditional Love, Linda was the Executive Director of our local Alzheimer’s chapter.
In my memories, I could still see her smile and appreciated her wholehearted support of the project. She, Joetta, and another staff member selected the stories. Linda helped me promote the book and offered her encouragement throughout the entire process.
Because of Linda, I had the audacity to believe I could gather up slice-of-life stories and publish those stories in a book. Publishing the Alzheimer’s Anthology was one of those pivotal moments that launched more than a book—it launched a new and exciting chapter of my life.
During an invitation to share memories, several individuals spoke about how Linda had been a positive influence on their lives. Her sons talked about how much courage she showed in the face of a terminal illness. Her main concern during her last days was not that she was dying, but her worry that her family would be devastated. Linda was a woman of strong faith, and she rested easy knowing that God was good, and He would hold her in His loving embrace.
I felt compelled to share my memories of her. The enormity of losing a woman who had done so much for me threatened my composure. My voice was a little shaky as I fought back the tears, but in a couple of minutes, I paid homage to the pivotal role Linda played in my life. I don’t remember my exact words, but I ended with “I will never forget how she completely changed my life, and I’ll never forget her.”
Throughout life’s journey, we encounter people who have more confidence in us than we have in ourselves. Because of them, we have the courage to leave the familiar path we’re traveling, and go into the unchartered territory of a new direction. We take a chance on navigating the route without an itinerary or a map.
I left the memorial and headed home with gratitude in my heart that Linda had been part of my life’s story. With her radiant smile, dignity, encouragement, generosity, and kind heart, she provided a living example of how to walk through this world. Through courage and faith, she demonstrated that she knew the way to her Heavenly home. She broke the chains of earthly tribulations and embraced the joy of God’s amazing grace.
Copyright © August 2016 by L.S. Fisher