Finding Strength to Keep Going
On most days, I walk three laps around the fields on my mom’s property next to my home. My stress diminishes as I drink in the natural beauty while exercising.
I stop and smell apple blossoms in the spring. I pause to snack on early summer sugar snap peas from my mom’s garden. By late summer, I eat juicy blackberries from a patch that my dad transplanted years ago from the wild. And now, during Upper Michigan’s glorious autumn, I break to allow the spectrum of colors to flood my eyes — the deep green of the pines and the red, orange, and yellow of the deciduous trees.
Lately, I’ve challenged myself to run for a portion of my trek. I start off with a burst of energy, but then tire. To stay motivated, I tell myself to run to a small birch 100 yards ahead of me.
I’m still in a steady jog when I pass it, so I pick another tree perhaps 50 yards away — a willow next to the pond. My only goal now is to keep running until I reach it. I stop under it to take a picture of a mountain ash with leaves brighter than its clusters of orange berries.
I walk past the hand pump and sauna and through my mom’s yard. And then, once I catch my breath, I see if I can run until I get to the hill in the field where my son rides his dirt bike.
Breaking the run down into manageable chunks motivates me to keep going. I find myself using the same strategy when I have a tough day of caregiving.
In addition to the many tasks of caregiving, another difficult thing about being a spouse of somebody with ALS is not having backup. My husband, Todd, used to take over daily household tasks and care for the kids when I was down for the count. There are no sick days for spouse caregivers, so I have to push through to keep up with all that needs to be done.
One evening this past week, I had a headache. My head throbbed, and I wanted to curl up in bed, but I had to cook dinner. I couldn’t wait to see if the pain reliever I had taken earlier would kick in, so I broke my to-do list into small steps, focusing on just getting the next thing done.
Squash and chicken take the longest, so I worked on getting them in the oven. I cut the squash, scooped out the seeds, and seasoned each half with salt, pepper, and oil. I prepped the chicken, put it in a cast-iron pot, and then in the oven.
Once they were baking, I felt as though I had made it past the first tree.
I started a load of laundry because my daughter needed a clean face mask for band the next day. Another tree passed.
I started cutting the plantains.
The phone rang.
It was Todd calling from his office. In a garbled voice, he said he needed help. His lungs had filled with mucus.
I hurried to the other side of the house to give him an assisted cough. The pounding in my head matched my rhythmic compressions on his abdomen. “One, two, three, push.”
“Again,” he said.
“I just need to make it to the next tree,” I told myself. “One, two, three, push.” Again and again, I pushed myself to make it from tree to tree, until I felt as though I couldn’t go any farther.
“That’s enough for now,” he finally said, his voice still somewhat garbled. “We both need a break.” His stomach gets sore after too many attempts.
I went back to check on the food in the oven, finish the plantains, and slice fresh veggies.
With the food off the stove and out of the oven, I checked on Todd. I pulled his wheelchair away from his desk so I could perform the assisted cough from in front of him. After a few more compressions, the mucus came up.
After eating my dinner and feeding Todd, it was time for my daily walk. The pain reliever had kicked in, but I wasn’t up for running. I had run past enough metaphorical trees for one night.
I took a leisurely stroll in the autumn twilight.
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