Turning Stone Press (2018)
Reviewed by Kimberly Luyckx for Reader Views (10/18)
This is a small story that packs a big punch. It is true to its description as a memoir/caregiver themed book. “Without a Map: A Caregiver’s Journey through the Wilderness of Heart and Mind” is the perfect title for Lisa Steele-Maley’s story. In it she faces the uncharted territory of caregiving for her father who has dementia.
Before her father’s illness, Steele-Maley embarked on several wilderness journeys that took her to Alaska and Washington’s remote forests and high mountain regions. She planned routes, prepared necessities and stayed flexible for any deviations or unexpected surprises along the trail. Little did she know then that the tools she developed in these wilds would assist her greatly in her new caregiver role.
As her father gradually shuts down - limiting his outings and connections - he chooses to remain at home in order to avoid the confusion that the outside world has become to him. Steele-Maley visits her father monthly to set up bill payments and general household upkeep. Eventually this assistance converts to more basic methods of organizing his daily routines and preserving his safety and health. Along with her brothers’ assistance, Steele- Maley eventually transfers her father to a center that can support and protect him as his mental health declines. Steele-Maley continues the journey as her father’s main caregiver seeking and discovering new ways each day to provide the comfort he needs as, together, they navigate the unknown territory of dementia.
It is refreshing to have the juxtaposition of Steele-Maley’s previous outdoor adventures to her current experience of trekking into the arena of mental illness. The descriptions of each are unique. Snowy peaks and campfire cooking vs. doctor visits and the aspects of assisted living. Despite the apparent differences between these two scenarios, they both contain twists and turns of unexplored terrain that lead to the same lesson - all you really have is the present. By living each day realizing the vulnerability of the situation and confronting the challenges that come with uncharted terrain, you stay in the moment.
Unfortunately, Steele-Maley has to discover the heart of life through many trials and tribulations. The loss of her father’s memory, his identity and place in the world are traumatic yet place him permanently in the present moment where he can experience life as it truly exists - new, fresh and zestful. Many memoirs I have read in the past communicate difficulties and journeys that are specific to someone’s problem. And, unless you are experiencing the exact issue, the journey is not always relatable as a whole. “Without a Map” is different. Steele-Maley’s memoir is reflective of a greater life lesson, maybe the greatest of all. Connection. One such example is when she uses the smooth rhythm of her words to relate the foundation of our lives to the roots of nature’s trees - “long and strong, stretching deep into the earth and reaching out to one another.” All throughout her book, the author relays a universal message that infiltrates and transcends the reality of her situation. Her circumstances present a larger perspective of life. Being in the “wild” she is granted with a view often described as awe-inspiring and infinite.
Even if you aren’t the primary caregiver to an ailing parent, you will benefit from “Without a Map.” Lisa Steele-Maley’s self-help tips are constructive and reassuring. From discovering how and when to assist a once independent parent to letting them go when the time comes and ways to stay grounded along the way. As a reader, you get a true sense of Steele-Maley’s evolution as she cares for her father through his dementia. Towards the book’s conclusion, each line written is more significant than the next. In the end, the author’s wilderness journey grants all of us with a panoramic view of life that honors the journey and not the destination.