‘Life Is Pain’: Living Day by Day With ALS
How one caregiver copes with 12 years in a 'space of no resolution'
Months after my husband, Todd, was diagnosed with ALS, our church’s worship leader asked us to participate in a Sunday morning service with “Cardboard Testimonies.” We watched an example on YouTube in which music played while people stood in front of the congregation and shared their stories.
Presenters didn’t talk. They just took turns holding up pieces of cardboard with words written in thick, black marker. One side named a hard situation the person had experienced, and the other side declared the resolution that God had provided. A couple might write “infertility” on one side, then flip the cardboard over to reveal “adoption.” A person might turn from “addiction” to “sobriety.”
But ALS has no cure, so the worship leader suggested we might write “Diagnosed with ALS; 3– to 5–year life expectancy” on one side, and on the resolution side write “My home is in heaven.” At the time, I didn’t find much comfort in the idea of Todd being in heaven. We had two young children who needed their dad here, on earth. Instead, I wrote, “Learning to live day by day.” That’s all the faith and positivity I could muster.
Perhaps when Todd is gone, I’ll find comfort in eternity, but for now we are here. After 12 years with the disease, I’m glad he’s outlived the early prognosis and has been here for so much of our children’s childhood. But living with ALS is hard, and especially now that Todd has difficulty breathing.
Living with progressive disability is isolating for both Todd and me. Todd has lost his independence, and he has to tolerate aches and itches. I’m his caregiver, and in the United States, there’s little caregiving support for a disease that’s so demanding. It feels like we’re living on the edge of death. I never know when I’ll need to clear his lungs with a manual assist cough so he can breathe. We’ve been through years of trauma, and yet the hardest times are still to come.
How do we live in this space of no resolution?
In the movie “The Princess Bride,” the Dread Pirate Roberts tells Buttercup, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
We live in an often pain-filled, broken world, but it’s the only one we’ve got, so we navigate the best we can. Can we find value in living, even with suffering? Can we still find ways to contribute to society and love those around us? Can we find bits of joy in the midst of sorrow?
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