Does it bother you to be in a dark room without so much as even a little nightlight? Do you enjoy being outside at night without any lights to help you see? Are you afraid of the dark? Many of us are.
When I was a teenager, I used to walk home from my job, in down-town Tecumseh, to our house which was on the edge of town. It was about a two mile walk and I would get out of work around ten p.m. It was dark but I knew the way and there were periodic streetlights which helped. With sidewalks and streetlights to guide me I really didn’t have any problems walking home in the dark.
I cannot think of a time in my life when I’ve been afraid of the dark. My parent’s house was on a long one-acre lot with a small apple orchard in the back. We used to camp, build fires, or just walk out there after dark to look at the stars and watch for meteors. In the dark things were mysterious, beautiful, and exciting.
However, once when my Dad, my nephew Eric, and I were deer hunting, on Dad’s fifty-acre lot near Hudson, Michigan, I stayed in the woods too long. By the time I started to walk out it was pitch black, the moon wasn’t up, and the stars were hidden by thick clouds. I forgot to bring my flashlight back out after lunch. (This was before everyone had cell phones with built in flashlights.) I wasn’t afraid of animals, there were coyotes, fox, deer and squirrels, nothing really dangerous. Plus, I was carrying a 12-gage pump shotgun. Like it says on some T-shirts, “Yea, Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. Because I am the Meanest SOB in the valley.” What did concern me was walking into a branch, because some of the thorn apple trees had big thorns on them or tripping over a log or root. I had on heavy snow mobile boots and I really didn’t want to fall over something and break my leg. The woods didn’t have any real trails through them, every morning we walked through the woods to our hunting spots and hunkered down and waited for the deer to come our way.
In a situation like that you can do one of two things: you can sit down and wait until someone with a flashlight comes looking for you or you can slowly and carefully walk out to a safe place. I decided to walk out. You couldn’t get really lost because the woods were only twenty acres and it was surrounded by fields that the farmers had planted with corn or soybeans. Even though I am directionally challenged and have been known to walk in circles, I started out toward the pickup truck. I knew once I got to the field it would be an easy walk to where the truck and camper were parked. This was because Dad always got back to the camper before anyone else and had the lights on and the hot coffee brewed. Once I was in the field, I would have the camper lights to direct my walk.
I got slapped in the face a few time by branches, (luckily none had thorns on them), and tripped over a couple of roots, (I didn’t fall, just danced a little,) It wasn’t too long before I was out of the woods and in the camper sipping some nice hot coffee.
Obviously, I was never in any real danger. If I fell and broke my leg, I would have called Dad and Eric on my walkie-talkie and they would have come to my aid. However, walking in the dark adds a certain amount of danger to any walk, because if you can’t see where you’re going, you could wind up falling over something and injure yourself.
Catherine Marshall, in her biography of her husband entitled, A Man Called Peter, tells of the time when Peter was taking a short cut in the dark which almost cost him his life.
Peter was born and raised in Coatbridge, Scotland, which is near Glasgow. One summer he was working in the English village of Bamburgh, just a little south of Scotland. He spent the day with some friends and decided to walk home in the dark.
“Walking back from a nearby village to Bamburgh one dark, starless night, Peter struck out across the moors, thinking he would take a short cut. He knew that there was a deep deserted limestone quarry close by the Glororum Road, but he thought he could avoid that danger spot. The night was inky black, eerie. There was only the sound of the wind through the heather-stained moorland, the noisy clamor of wild muir fowl as his footsteps disturbed them, the occasional far off bleating of a sheep.
Suddenly he hears someone call, “Peter!…” There was a great urgency in the voice.
He stopped. “Yes, who is it? What do you want?”
Thinking he must have been mistaken he walked on a few paces. Then he heard it again, even more urgently.
He stopped dead still, trying to peer into that impenetrable darkness, but suddenly stumbled and fell to his knees. Putting out his hand to catch himself, he found nothing there. As he cautiously investigated, feeling around in a semicircle, he found himself to be on the very brink of an abandoned stone quarry. Just one step more would have sent him plummeting into space to a certain death.” Pg. 14*
YIKES!! My story about walking in my Dad’s woods after dark seems pretty lame compared to Peter Marshall’s brush with death.
When we talk about being in the dark, we can mean literally, like the stories above, or we can mean figuratively. How often do we hear about a trusted employee who, while keeping coworkers in the dark, embezzle money from the people they work for? In Dr. Phil McGraw’s book, Life Code, New Rules for the Real World, he tells the story about his Office Manager Theresa, who was embezzling money from him and did everything she could to keep him in the dark.
Theresa reminded him of Aunt Bee on the Andy Griffith show. She was always singing Christian songs and speaking about her Lord and Savior Jesus and what a great church she was a part of. Imagine his shock when it all came into the light. Dr. Phil had been out to lunch with Theresa’s husband and when he went to pay his credit card was declined. He couldn’t imagine why since he always payed the balance every month. Theresa’s husband threw some money on the table and said, “Let’s get out of here.” Back in his office, Dr. Phil called his accountant Danny and was put on hold. He writes, “While I was on hold with Danny, all of a sudden I heard another conversation taking place on my phone, My line! It was like I had “bugged” the other line. I was on line 2 and line 3 was the only other line lit up at the time. This had never happened before, and it has never happened since. But on that day, in that moment, another conversation was bleeding over to my line while I was on hold. It was tinny, had a little static, and was electronic sounding, but I could hear it plain as day.’
What I was hearing was Theresa on the other line with her husband, whom I had just had lunch with, and he was screaming and yelling at her in an absolute rage. He was calling her every name in the book:” You B—-! You are lying C—-! Are you doing it again? Don’t you lie to me! If you’re screwing with this man’s money, I swear, I will put you in jail myself! Tell me you’re not doing it again! I Swear I will kill you dead! Oh my God, what have you done?” “Aunt Bee” my foot! She confessed it all to her husband as I listened in shock. She was embezzling and embezzling in a massive way. I was stunned. I looked at the phone as I broke out in a cold sweat. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and moreover, I couldn’t believe I was hearing it.” Life Code, The New Rules for Winning in the Real World. C. 2012, Bird Street Books, Los Angeles, California. Talk about walking in the dark! Theresa kept Dr. Phil in the dark, while she embezzled huge amounts of money.
If we talk about walking in the dark, either literally or figuratively, the expectation is that someone is going to get hurt. We like to see what is coming, and where we are going at all times. It gives us the illusion that we are in control.
For me, being Harriet’s Caregiver is like walking in the dark. Most of the time, I don’t know where we are, in this whole process. I do know where we are going however, and I would just as soon not go there.
I am a part of about six different support groups and a common complaint concerns walking in the dark. Either we talk about the lack of progress and the feeling that we will be in this situation for the next twenty years, or someone shares their shock that their Loved One With Dementia has died so quickly. You could sum up most of the stories with, I hate the fact that I’m in the dark and don’t have any idea where we are.
I often hear about Caregivers whose LOWD does everything possible to destroy their relationship and they don’t think they can go on much longer. Even worse they have little hope because the Dementia has been plateaued for about five to ten years. The Caregiver is sure that they’re going to die in this miserable relationship.
I also hear about LOWD who seemed very stable, with no progression in the dementia and suddenly, things speed up and the caregiver is sure that death is at the door. How often have you heard a caregiver say, “He was doing great but came down with a UTI? The infection spread throughout his body and he was gone.” Or the Caregiver says, “She was doing so well just two months ago. At our Son’s birthday party, she was able to walk around and interact with people. She needed a little help in the bathroom but mostly she took care of it herself. The next thing I know she had no idea what to do in the bathroom and makes a mess everywhere. Two months ago, she was walking, then, about a month ago she needed to use the wheelchair, and now she cannot walk at all. Two months ago, she was interacting with people, but now it’s like she’s a zombie, she has this blank look on her face and doesn’t say a thing. I don’t know how much longer we will have her with us.”
If we only knew what was around the next corner it would go a long way in giving us strength. If the Caregiver whose LOWD’s goal in life was to harass, belittle, and hurt them, knew that the end was closer than she could imagine, she would cope by saying, “In a few months this will be over, and I will remember you the way you used to be, before the nice part of your brain died.” Or, “A few years ago you would’ve kicked someone’s ass who treated me the way you do now.”
On the other hand, If the Caregiver whose LOWD was sweet and kind and looked like she would live forever, but in reality, would be gone in six months, He would spend even more time doing things to bless her. Sadly, none of us have any idea what is coming down the road or how long the road goes on. We’re all walking in the dark and, to be honest, most of us hate it.
So how can we best walk in the dark without hurting or killing ourselves? I have a few ideas, take what you like and let the rest go.
First, it’s an old saying but it’s also true; Take one day at a time. When I was walking out of the wood, that dark November evening, I walked slowly and steadily towards the corn field. My goal was to get safely to the truck, but I wasn’t sure what was between me and the truck. In the same way our goal is to be healthy and alive on the day that Dementia takes our LOWD from us. I didn’t just barge ahead in the dark woods, I moved slowly and steadily and when I felt a branch in my face, I either moved it out of the way or backed off and went around it. One step at a time.
The thing about one day at a time is that it only works if we can start fresh each day. If you’re still carrying the baggage of all the mean, hurtful, and damnable things your LOWD has done in the past you won’t have energy for today. But, just how do you, lay that burden down?”
As someone who follows the teachings of Jesus the Christ, I have found that when I apply His teachings, to my situation, I can live in peace. However, if I don’t follow the teaching of Jesus, I live in bitterness, unforgiveness, anger, and rage.
Before I go on let me say that, I’ve come to realize that for many of you the mention of my religious faith makes you angry. However, I can only tell you what is working for me. Maybe some of you could tell us how you’re keeping such a good attitude while walking in the dark. Send me your ideas and I will put them in part two of this article.
Jesus has a lot to say about taking one day at a time. He understands that unforgiveness is like a poison to our life and will steal our joy, peace, and ability to trust and love another person. He teaches us that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, even when that neighbor is our enemy. Jesus, understanding that he has told us to do the impossible, sends us to prayer. He tells us to forgive others as we want God to forgive us. Moreover, Jesus tells us to bless those who curse us and pray for those who despitefully use us. This teaching can only work if I trust in, and rely on, Jesus to give me strength for each day.
Today at church our pastor taught us that God will give us grace to face each day, but we must cooperate with this grace. One example of that is found in 1 Corinthians 10, where St. Paul writes, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” NRSVCE. St. Paul says that when I’m tempted God will give me the grace to overcome the temptation by providing a way out. In order for this to work I have to actually want to not give in to the temptation, (I often jokingly, say, I can withstand anything but temptation.) and look for the way out of temptation instead of focusing on the temptation itself. This is how a person would cooperate with God’s grace.
The only way I know to love my enemies, to forgive their offences against me, and to bless those who curse me, is to have an active prayer life. In the morning I pray for grace for the day. Then when some memory of some offence, or Harriet does something that angers me, I will turn to the Lord and say, “I forgive Harriet for this and ask you to forgive her and bless her with your loving touch.” Then I will sometimes turn to Harriet and say, “God bless you, my dear. Don’t forget that, I love you.”
I can ignore the teachings of Jesus and live an angry, bitter life. Or, I can obey his teaching and live one day at a time, empowered by letting the past go. Even though this is impossible for me, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Next time I will finish this article about walking in the Dark and hopefully have a few suggestions and ideas from you.
Please continue to pray for us and be assured that we are praying for you.