Have you ever thought about how life is a story and although you are the main character, you have a full cast of supporting characters? As your supporting characters move in and out of your life, they shift your trajectory, sometimes slightly, but other times turning it into a new direction. Our heroes (unless they fall from grace) affect us positively and put us on an upward course. The villains, sometimes disguised as friends, can sink us to abject misery.
Of course, there are walk-on characters who are so unimportant that they don’t make any impressions. Occasionally, these casual passersby will play a pivotal role in your story.
In all good stories, you need a romantic lead. Of course, that would be Jim. He had so many characteristics that made him perfect for the role. Our backgrounds were similar in some ways and polar opposites in others. We were both from big musical families, but I had lived in one house throughout my entire childhood, Jim had lived in several states and numerous houses—or even under bridges and under trees. Jim was intelligent, musically talented, generous to a fault, highly principled, honest, and had a big heart. Our story took a Nicholas Sparks turn, ending with a flood of tears and sadness. Jim was the character in my story that taught me that love could endure through good times and bad.
Jim’s life, dementia, and his death catapulted my story into a different genre. I had been living a dull, routine life: waking up, going to work, spending my evenings at home doing a few chores, watching some TV, reading my book, sleeping, repeat, repeat, repeat.
I literally walked into a new chapter of my life when Jim and I went to our first Memory Walk on a hot September day in 1998. And there, I met a feisty seventy-some-year-old ball of fire named Helen Hanneford. As we proceeded to walk from Liberty Park to the downtown area, Helen would occasionally blow her hunting horn. We walked into the VFW and a man told her if she would blow her horn, they would take up a collection. She was happy to oblige. I only saw her one other time, but I never forgot her. I opened our local newspaper earlier this month and read a death notice for Helen Hanneford, Slater. She passed away at age 93 on January 30, 2020, at her home. Yes, I would just imagine she still lived at home and occasionally blew that hunting horn. Helen was the character who taught me that volunteering could be joyful.
Being a part of the Alzheimer’s Walk community of volunteers brought another inspiring character into my world, Ted Distler. Ours began as a friendly rivalry—Sedalia Walk VS Jefferson City Walk, but rivalry aside we wholeheartedly supported each other’s fundraisers and walks. Ted was one of those guys who always had a joke, a hearty laugh, and hugs for his friends. Ted was in survival mode as he cared for the love of his life who had Alzheimer’s.
We talked on the phone frequently as we kept abreast of how things were going in our separate lives. Ted and I would occasionally “meet in the middle” for breakfast and conversation. “Have you seen that movie The Notebook?” he asked me one time. I told him I had—another one of those sad Nicholas Sparks’ stories. “I hope it’s that way for Norma and me,” he said. He wanted them to die at the same time, so he wouldn’t have to know life without her. As his story ended, he passed away a short time before his beloved wife. He came close to the Notebook ending he wanted. Ted was the character that taught me to treasure my friends because they leave a gaping hole in our lives once they are gone.
In 2001, I became an advocate on the national level. At my first Alzheimer’s Forum in DC, I met Jane, Kathy, and Sarah. I immediately felt a connection to these three women unlike any friendship I had ever had in my life. Our individual journeys connected into a shared journey. We are truly sisters of the heart. Each year, our secret radar allows us to find each other quickly in the crowd of more than 1,000 advocates—all dressed in purple. It seems that we can pick up our conversations from the previous year almost in mid-sentence. These three characters have taught me that the closest friends can live the farthest away.
Life just wouldn’t be a story without all of the amazing characters who walk in and out of our lives.
Copyright © February 2020 by L.S. Fisher