‘Once Upon a Time’ Becomes ‘Once When He Still Could’
My office offers retreat, in that it only has wall décor we acquired before ALS upended our lives.
Over my book case is a framed painting of Maine’s Bar Harbor that my husband, Todd, and I bought on our honeymoon. We purchased the piece from a local artist who then invited us to sit on the property of his oceanside mansion and wave at passersby as if we were living the dream life.
On either side of my window, I have framed photos of our two kids from when Sara was 3 and Isaac was a newborn. The photos were taken on the back patio of our 1925 bungalow in Racine, Wisconsin. Todd laid the brick pavers himself, and he was restoring the house room by room to its original craftsman charm.
On another wall hangs a hand-painted wooden heart that I purchased at an art fair in Siesta Key, Florida, two months before Todd’s ALS diagnosis. It had been a part of our daughter’s room décor, but at 14, she’s outgrown it. A border of flowers surrounds the words “Once Upon a Time.”
Once upon a time, we built castles of white-sugar sand on the Gulf of Mexico with our young children. We imagined a bright future and a life of possibilities.
Once upon a time, we had a life before ALS.
Or rather, before my husband had ALS, we had a “once upon a time” life loaded with possibilities and an expectation that our story would end “happily ever after.” Joy before ALS was grounded in delight of the present and anticipation of the future.
I sit in my office, remembering those days before the diagnosis.
In the rest of our home, we have a variety of wall décor, some acquired after ALS. Those are also precious, each in a different way.
In the hallway, I have a fabric wall hanging a dear friend made for me after Todd’s diagnosis. It features hand-stitched lyrics from the hymn “Be Still My Soul,” and was a gift of support during such a difficult time. Seeing it reminds me of the pain I felt in those dark days. It also brings back memories of my friend’s love.
When is love greater than when providing comfort to those who suffer?
In the master bedroom, there are framed photos that Todd took on a wooded trail at Michigan’s McLain State Park, when he could still walk. They are treasures because they have Todd’s signatures on the mats. He can’t handwrite his signature anymore. He has to use a stamp.
A nautical chart of Lake Superior hangs in our living room. Todd had met an officer from the U.S. Coast Guard Station Portage and asked him if he could give our family a tour. Todd struggled to walk at the time, so he didn’t feel safe boarding the 47-foot Motor Lifeboat. The kids and I explored the boat while Todd sat in a manual wheelchair on the dock. We all went into the building, where an operations specialist gave Todd the map as a souvenir. It shows depths in fathoms on a grid of latitude and longitude. I had it framed for Todd’s birthday six years ago.
We try to delight in the present, because life with ALS only gets harder. I no longer bank “once upon a time” memories with our eyes set to the future; instead, my memories since he’s had ALS are framed with “once when Todd could still …”
Once when Todd could still board a plane, we took one last trip to California.
Once when Todd could still transfer into a bed, we visited his parents’ lake house one last time.
And now because Todd can still get outside in his wheelchair, my mother took a family portrait of us in a field.
The framed family photo hangs on the wall opposite the “Be Still My Soul” lyrics. Every year, I insert a new photo, wondering if it will be the final framed picture of our family.
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