How hope is everywhere when our community gathers
Why I still support families, caregivers, and others living with ALS
This past Sunday dawned crisp and cool on the eastern shore of Maryland, with a hint of light rain falling from a few clouds dappled against an otherwise vivid blue sky. I dressed to be outdoors, making sure my orange Tim Lowrey Panel T-shirt was visible under my jacket, and set out for the morning.
As I pulled into a parking lot just outside downtown Centreville, a family walking by pointed at my license plate, which reads END ALS, and cheered. I smiled back, excited, and parked my car, joining the dozens of other people walking and wheeling toward a field at the Route 18 Park.
We were all gathered for the ALS Association’s Walk to Defeat ALS Chesapeake Bay, an event to build awareness and raise funds. It brought several hundred community members together to reiterate our shared commitment to finding ALS treatments and cures. Though the cause is serious, the atmosphere on Sunday was celebratory; we were all together and united in taking action toward our shared goal of ending ALS.
And community is what this walk was all about. As I approached the large, grassy field where the ALS Association had assembled tents and a stage, I immediately saw friends I knew, teams of supporters in colorful T-shirts, and walk participants in power wheelchairs and on foot. I saw teams with dogs, with young babies in strollers, and with kids on their shoulders. I was instantly happy that I’d joined; the feelings of love and hope were palpable.
I was walking to support my friend Tim’s team. He was walking in memory of his wife, Mary Ann, who died from ALS on New Year’s Day in 2019. Upon arriving, I met one of her cousins along with a dearly loved caregiver, who were there supporting and remembering Mary Ann as well.
Because I wanted to share Sunday’s experience in this week’s column, I started exploring the grounds after I greeted Tim and his team, saying hello to other participants. That’s when I was reminded of the true power of this community. As I introduced myself and asked about those participants’ stories, I got (and gave) hugs to total strangers and had the chance to hear about their journeys and share mine. I met people living with ALS, family caregivers, their lifelong friends, and others who are united in their devotion to keep our loved ones alive.
Why I remain active in the community
One might think that after losing my late husband, Jeff, to ALS in 2020 that I’d want nothing more to do with the disease. Many surviving loved ones don’t, and that’s a choice I understand and respect.
In my case, however, healing is the reason I and so many thousands of others who’ve lost our loved ones stay in the fight. It gives me a sense of purpose and meaning to stay active in the ALS community, helping to advocate for awareness, treatments, and cures as well as to support others with ALS and their families. There’s nothing so meaningful to me as spending time with those who understand the ALS journey.
ALS is considered a rare disease, but in my opinion, it’s really not. Ask most people, I find, and they’ll know someone who’s living with or has died of ALS. Still, it’s not often that groups of us who’ve been affected by ALS have the opportunity to be together. When we are, I’ve found the atmosphere is comforting and kind, full of recognition and understanding. I think that’s one reason that Sunday felt so special.
The trait we all had in common that day, and every day, is shared hope. The ALS community is full of individuals from all backgrounds and walks of life, and what unites us is our fervent belief — and willingness to support one another — in ending a disease that takes so much from so many.
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