Love Never Fails: Hope for Tough Journeys
by Amaryllis Sánchez Wohlever, MD
A few months ago, my husband and I took our kids out for milkshakes at our favorite local diner. I had spent the morning copyediting When Your Grandma Forgets: Helping Children Cope with Alzheimer’s and Beyond. While waiting for a table, a man walked in with a shuffling gait, the classic description for the slow, deliberate pace of some people with Parkinson’s disease. He looked a bit out of sorts and confused until he settled in his spot in line right next to me. Literally – right next to me – with little regard for personal space.
I was pretty sure that he had a neurological condition. Perhaps he was recovering from a stroke, or maybe he had a form of dementia. Such were my thoughts, a doctor fully engaged in the task of diagnosing, until he awakened the human being in me with a full-faced grin.
Robert is his name. He was raised in a small town in Michigan and came to Florida to visit his three grandsons. He transformed what would have otherwise been a long and boring wait in line. He’d just returned from watching Dolphin Tale, a story about hope, perseverance, and love. A dolphin named Winter loses her tail, and eleven year-old Sawyer befriends her and assembles a team to help her swim again. “You have to see it,” he kept saying, his eyes gleaming with excitement and hope. Having taken a step or two back in the first few minutes of our conversation to regain some personal space, by the end I wanted to hug Robert and invite him over for dinner.
This is only one of the many faces of Alzheimer’s. Some have few symptoms, like early memory loss and intermittent confusion. Others have more severe problems that affect their ability to relate in healthy ways, remember loved ones, and perform essential tasks like cooking and bathing. As with most chronic illnesses, Alzheimer’s steals something. Yet, I’ve learned something beautiful about life’s trials. There are things that have enduring value; some things stay, no matter what. And those are the things that we must rely on and nurture when facing loss.
What are these things that endure? What things must we hold on to? Faith. Hope. And love. And “the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
As I spoke to this lovely man, his wife was with him, watching his every move. When he took a trip to the restroom, she held his arm, gently guiding him, respecting his dignity every step of the way. On their way out, I overheard her telling a stranger, “Please forgive him; he has Alzheimer’s.” I’m not sure what happened in the bathroom, but she was there to help. He was not alone.
While in line, his grandkids briefly stopped giggling and fidgeting to kiss him or share a quick joke. At their table, one boy climbed onto his lap and combed Grandpa’s beard while Grandma looked on, smiling, perhaps pondering the future. I pondered right along with her. How quickly will his symptoms progress? Will he soon forget who they are? How long will he remember their names?
As these thoughts raced through my mind, their interactions made me smile and filled me with hope. Having just met them, I was blessed to recognize that this family would be there for him.
In life’s trials, it makes all the difference to walk with someone hand-in-hand and know that you are not alone. Perhaps Robert felt a bit like Winter, the dolphin without a tail. In the movie, someone remarks, “That dolphin’s taking us all somewhere. We can’t give up on her.” When we persevere in loving those who need us, we are one of God’s best blessings. And every loving choice “takes us somewhere,” too. We discover new things about ourselves. We become more human and more fully alive. Our own hearts are transformed when we love.
“Love never fails,” says 1 Corinthians 13:8. For this family and countless others, the gift of love in action is a fountain of hope. Is there a Robert in your life? Love him. Help him. Don’t give up on him. Like Sawyer and his friends did with Winter, you can help teach your Robert to swim in a new way. Small things are big things. Your love matters.
Dr Mari is the wife of a pastor, the mother of three terrific children, and a Board-certified family physician. She is also the copyeditor and Spanish translator for Hope Matters. In her writing and speaking ministry, she seeks to stir hope, ignite faith, and inspire positive action in others. For more inspiration and resources, visit her blog.