Staying Grounded in a New Year While Living With ALS

A tender moment in nature helps this columnist refocus

Kristin Neva avatar

by Kristin Neva |

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On Saturday afternoon, I was feeling apprehensive that 2023 would be an even harder year for my husband, Todd, and me than previous ones. Todd’s breathing continues to weaken due to ALS.

The beginning of the year is often a time when people take stock of their lives; they resolve to make changes and start anew. But with ALS, it’s hard to remain optimistic. In the best-case scenario, we’re looking at another challenging year, but it’ll likely be more difficult than that, and I can’t help but wonder if it will be Todd’s last.

Over a decade ago, I reached out to author and psychologist Marilyn Wedge for advice on how to help our young children navigate our new life after their dad’s diagnosis of a terminal illness. “The way you handle the situation will be an important influence on how your children feel about it,” Wedge wrote. “You need to do whatever it takes to give you strength and spiritual nourishment.” Her response is something I’ve carried with me through the years.

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The power of nature

One way I stay grounded is to immerse myself in nature by going on walks or cross-country skiing. When I’m feeling down, I can usually lift my mood with about a half-hour of exercise, although sometimes it takes a little more than that.

This year, feeling the New Year’s Eve blues, I headed out on the Michigan Tech ski trails. College athletes from across the country were out in numbers that day, ahead of the U.S. Cross Country Ski National Championships.

On one of my favorite trails, I skied through a grove of birch trees. I’ve always loved birch — so much so that it was a theme of our wedding decor. We printed invitations with a background of birch bark. My dad made an arch with birch boughs for the entrance to the church’s sanctuary, and my mom crafted heart-shaped pockets from birch bark and filled them with white roses for the ends of the pews.

I stopped and sidestepped off the ski track and over to the tree line. I looked up and down the trail to make sure I was alone, and then I wrapped my arms around a birch tree.

Years ago, I took a workshop with a craniosacral therapist who talked about the grounding effects of hugging trees. I occasionally do this, and it’s calming. But I don’t hug trees when I have an audience.

I held the tree in my embrace and felt its sturdiness. I thought about the root system below that nourishes it and keeps it anchored.

Then I heard the swish of skis behind me, so I hopped back onto the tracks and skied vigorously. The skier gained ground on me, and my cheeks became heated. I hoped it wasn’t one of the competitive skiers in their sleek outfits.

Moments later, the skier was next to me. I glanced over as a man in an orange, plaid, woolen jacket and knitted hat said a friendly hello. He looked more like a fellow nature lover than one of the cool kids. Phew. He passed me easily and slid into the track in front of me.

Soon I was alone again, thinking that in the new year I’ll resolve to stay grounded, even at the risk of being caught in a tender moment with a tree.

Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.


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