Author’s note: Several weeks ago, Mahopac News printed “The Long Goodbye,” an essay that described my mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s and its impact on her family. I received nearly 100 messages from readers, an act that was comforting, as well as informative, showing me that Alzheimer’s touches and affects almost all of us in some way. I hope the observations in this essay comfort some of those readers as they have comforted me.
A mama deer with her two beautiful spotted fawns strolls through the ravine that borders the bike path entrance at Mud Pond Road. It is 11 a.m. and church bells ring out the hour as my walk begins. I soon pass a white-haired woman on the path who pleasantly answers my “good morning” (not everyone does).
Looking ahead, the bike path flows straight, with many shades of green forming a canopy — in this moment it seems to symbolize my future, moving ahead but an empty path reflecting the emptiness I feel in my heart today. Tears come even as I will them away.
It is early August and yet the path holds green acorns here and there, another reminder of my mom. For some reason she loved acorns. She had saved acorns in tiny boxes, the type a jewelry gift might come in. She labeled each box: “Acadia National Park, Maine,” “Nova Scotia bus trip 1988,” “Oak tree in Jean & Joe’s yard.”
I continue walking, with two out of three walkers returning my “good morning.”
A gentle breeze provides a soft yet audible swoosh through woody reeds that sway 10-feet high, their silky tassels blooming grayish purple on top. I smile at ripe wild cherries lying scattered on the paved path as I think of the wild cherry tree that was part of our yard when we moved to Pennsylvania. For a 10-year-old it was very cool to have a cherry tree in your own yard, even if they were sour and had a pit as large as the fruit.
I see movement in some weeds and a bunny reveals himself just a bit, peeking between leaves before hightailing it deeper into the undergrowth. Soon after that, I see a doe lying under a tree on the hillside, glimpsing her silhouette first in the sunlight. She sees me too, but calmly continues her meal of grass, and maybe acorns. The chestnut brown of her coat again reminds me of mom, an artist who instilled in me a deep appreciation of nature’s colors.
I turn around and continue my walk in the direction from which I began. I notice a patch of deep yellow wild rudbeckia (black-eyed Susans) that I had failed to see the first time I passed by. Again, a reminder: Her favorite flower.
I know that many people find comfort in thinking that the appearance of a cardinal or a butterfly means their loved one is “visiting” them. And I am genuinely happy for those who receive comfort in this way. But for me, it does not work that way. I know that all these colors and flowers and wildlife and breezes would be here on this path today whether or not my mother had just passed away. But I am comforted by knowing it was she who instilled in me the power of observation and appreciation of nature’s beauty.
And then guess what happened? I stopped to admire a red-spotted purple admiral butterfly and within seconds a bright red cardinal lit upon a branch next to the butterfly.
So, even though the tears still flow, my meditative walk provided some of the comfort and healing I sought. I hope you find the same comfort when you need it. Because as a good friend said to me recently, “isn’t that what we so often seek as humans, to just know we are not alone?”