It’s TEASER time! A Long and Winding Road: A Tale of Life, Chaos and Love by Linda Brendle will be released on July 1, but you will have the opportunity to get a sneak peek at her first pages of the book. We hope you enjoy!
Thursday, September 9 – Change
Psalm 55:22 (KJV) Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.
There it was–a dump truck, coming straight toward me on a road with no shoulders and no place to go. The Department of Transportation’s motorcycle safety course teaches you to look where you want to go, and the bike will follow your line of vision. That would probably have worked, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the truck. Instead, the world shifted into slow motion, and one thought trailed across my mind: I’m going to die.
Avoiding a collision should have been easy; slow a little, push a bit harder on the right hand grip, and then swing back into my lane. Filled as I was with a full rush of adrenaline, nothing was easy, and I leaned hard into the right-hand curve. With a death grip on the throttle, I revved the engine, straightening my trajectory and sending the bike straight into the path of the truck. I heard the right footrest screech against the asphalt, and I felt it give way under the weight of the 700-pound motorcycle. I pulled my left leg up toward my chest; rubber crunched metal as both the front and back wheels of the truck hit the bike.
I don’t know what happened next. I don’t know if a heavenly hand reached down and plucked me off the bike or if I tucked and rolled, bouncing up at the end like a gymnast after a tumbling run. The next thing I knew, I was standing in the middle of the road, surrounded by bike parts: a headlight;
the footboard, where my left foot had rested; and various, unidentifiable
bits of chrome.
The bike was a blue 2002 Harley Heritage Softtail that I called the Blue Angel. She was beautiful, loud, and had chrome in places where most bikes don’t have places. When I rode her, I felt powerful and beautiful and shiny, just like her, and I rode every chance I got. Now, she was lying on the side of the road with a trail of broken bits and pieces behind her.
In a daze, I wandered over and said to no one in particular, “I guess my riding days are over.”
My husband David was leading the ride. Out of sight around the next curve and deafened by the roar of his pipes, he was unaware of what was going on. James and Peggy, our neighbors and riding buddies, were bringing up the rear. James pulled up beside me and made sure I was still breathing before speeding away to catch up with David.
I watched him until he was out of sight, and then I sat down in the weeds to take inventory. Unlike my Angel, I was bruised and shaken, but not broken. My helmet was scraped, and the visor hung from one snap. There was a slight cut on the bridge of my nose from my glasses. My left foot hurt, so I took off my boot to check the damage. I didn’t find anything major, but my instep was swollen and turning blue, so I put my boot back on before my foot outgrew it. My elbows were skinned, and the length of my right thigh stung from road rash. A dull ache on my left hip presaged a huge bruise–but I was alive.
Peggy and the truck driver had just dragged my bike out of the path of oncoming traffic when an Arkansas Highway Patrol car arrived. The next few minutes were a blur of activity. I watched it all from the cocoon of numbness that surrounds you after a traumatic event. I answered questions when they were asked and signed my name when it was required, but mostly I thought about what had just happened.
I had been following David like always. He rides a black 2000 Harley Road King Classic. As we had been winding through the trees and hills on a beautiful two-lane road, I’d felt good, enjoying both the memory of David’s compliments about what a good rider I was becoming and the elegance of his riding style. Even after a couple of decades as a civilian, he still had his military posture, and he looked almost regal in the saddle. He had pulled ahead of me a bit, so I had given the Angel a little more gas–a little too much as it turned out. I had gone into a right-hand curve a little too hot and swung out just over the yellow line.
If I could just hit the rewind button and take that curve one more time.
Once the formalities were done, I watched the shiny, twisted remains of the Angel being towed away on a flatbed trailer. I climbed onto the buddy seat of the Road King, back where my bike-riding days had started, riding two-up behind David. Our shrunken caravan rode off in search of a place to eat dinner and lick our wounds.
Sitting on the back gives you time to think and pray. I thanked God for His mercy, amazed at what I had survived. I also asked why it had happened and if my riding days were really over. The only response I received in those moments of quiet meditation was a sense that I’d know when it was time to ride again. So far, I’m still riding two-up behind David.
The day wasn’t over.
Back at the condo, I took some pain reliever and soaked in a tub of hot water to ease the aches and pains I was beginning to feel. The pills and hot water worked on the physical woes, but they did nothing for the shock and horror I felt as images of that truck coming toward me played in my head again and again. I joined the rest of the group in the living room and snuggled up next to David, looking for the warmth and comfort of his touch.
I was starting to relax and feel a bit less edgy when the cell phone rang. I felt a flutter of anxiety as it rang a second time. Only a few people had that number, so when it rang, it was usually serious. My first thought was of Mom and Dad who were over two hundred miles away.
In the fall of 2003, Dad had a mysterious neurological infection that landed him in the hospital for two weeks and in a rehab facility for three more. With her world turned upside down, Mom had an emotional breakdown, so she had stayed with us temporarily. She had delusions that Dad had died or run off with another woman, and when she saw him at the hospital, she called him “Mama.” Their snug two-bedroom house was not her secure little nest without him there, but she was afraid to be anywhere else.
Trying to meet their needs without neglecting my job or my husband did a number on my world, too. My neat, orderly little life turned into a chaotic mess. My perfect daughter, super-hero alter ego took over, and I flew to the rescue.
I was the only one who could get Dad to eat, and I was afraid if I didn’t show up at the hospital three times a day, he would starve to death. I also spent hours with Mom, trying to calm her fears and cure her insecurities. This was when I experienced my first close encounter with the caregiver’s secret fear that it was my sole responsibility to see to the welfare of my parents. I thought that if I did everything right, my parents would get well and things would go back to normal. If they didn’t get well, it would be my fault.
After several months, Mom and Dad both recovered from the trauma of his illness, but things had changed. They were back in their own home, but I still dropped by every day on my lunch hour to say hello and check on them. The yard on their little corner lot had been, at one time, well-tended and frequently admired by neighbors and passersby, but now it was unkempt, brown, and weed-choked. The hedges that had once been neatly trimmed now sprouted wild branches in every direction.
Inside was worse. I was greeted at the front door by the smell of unwashed bodies and the sight of Mom and Dad sitting on the couch staring at the TV. The books and crossword puzzles that used to occupy their attention lay forgotten on the coffee table along with piles of unbalanced bank statements and unpaid bills. The pantry and refrigerator that had once been stocked with fresh, nutritious food were either empty or filled with pre-packaged meals and snacks or leftovers that looked like a science experiment gone bad.
“What did you have for lunch?” I asked.
Each looked to the other for a response.
“I don’t remember.”
“You did eat, didn’t you?”
“I don’t know. I think we had a sausage biscuit around ten o’clock.”
Answers to questions about medications and doctor’s visits were equally vague. I reluctantly began to research care options, arming myself with as much information as I could. Eventually, these decisions would have to be made.
The day was supposed to be a good day. We were on a motorcycle adventure with our neighbors, spending several days exploring new scenery and finding the curvy Arkansas roads that are like a Disney World thrill ride for bikers. The morning was beautiful, a perfect start to a day of forgetting about the real world for a while. Unfortunately, the day wasn’t so perfect after all.
When we stopped for a mid-morning rest, David whipped out his cell phone and called his buddy Roger, also a biker. Knowing Roger was at work, David greeted him with his usual taunt, Hey, man, where ya’ at? This morning, though, Roger had news. Delta Airlines, where David had worked for sixteen years, had announced that the DFW maintenance hangar would close and relocate to Atlanta in January. David was only fifty-six, too young to retire. He could relocate, but I wasn’t sure if I could work out a transfer with my employers. Starting a new career wasn’t appealing to either of us. Plus, what would we do about Mom and Dad?
The phone rang a third time, and I picked it up with a trembling hand.
“Linda, this is Mary.”
Mary and I were running buddies before I met David, and we were still closer than she and her twin sister. She explained that she had received a panicked call from Mom.
“Mary,” Mom said. “Could you go check on Elmer? He went to Linda’s house to pick up the mail and feed the dogs, and he’s been gone a long time.”
My heart was in my throat, unable to decide whether to beat wildly or stop altogether.
“Are they okay?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Mary, “but you need to know what happened. When I turned onto your street I saw emergency vehicles in front of your house. The EMTs were huddled around Elmer. A passing neighbor found him lying unconscious on the sidewalk and called nine-one-one. By the time I arrived, he was awake, but he’s refusing to go to the hospital. I think you should talk to him.”
My hand was shaking so badly I could hardly hold the phone. “Daddy, are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he said. “I don’t know what all the fuss is about. I don’t need an ambulance.”
“Maybe you could let Mary take you to the ER, just to be sure everything is okay. Would you do that for me?”
“Okay. I don’t see any need of it, but if it will make you feel better, I’ll do it.”
After I hung up, I sat with my head in my hands, feeling like I’d just been hit by another truck. As I fought back tears, the caregiver’s guilty mantra taunted me: I should have been there.
Mary called back a couple of hours later. “Linda, I took your dad to the ER. They didn’t find any real damage, so they sent him home. I’m going to spend the night with them and check on him periodically.”
He made it through the night with no signs of injury. A later check with his doctor showed no major damage, either, but he has not been quite the same since. None of us have.
A Long and Winding Road: A Caregiver´s Tale of Life, Love and Chaos will be available on July 1, 2014.
Sometimes reality really bites. Alzheimer’s has wrapped Mom’s brain into knots, vascular dementia has attacked Dad, and, instead of carefree retirees, we have become caregivers. Regardless, dreams die hard, and we somehow stumbled into the purchase of a forty-foot motor home. That’s when all four of us set out on this seven-week trek across sixteen U.S. states. Now, Dad stopped-up the toilet again, Mom wet her last pair of clean jeans, and David just announced that he was hungry. My head is beginning to pound, and I know this isn’t going to be the easygoing retirement we’d imagined for ourselves. Linda Brendle takes you on a roller-coaster ride of emotional and spiritual challenges that many families are facing right now. Co-dependency, mental breakdowns, and finding love after divorce are just a few of the issues weaved into this journey of caregiving. Whether you’re looking for an inspirational story to help teach you how to “let go and let God,” considering becoming the caregiver for one of your own parents, or are just looking for an entertaining travel book, this story is sure to strike a tender nerve.