Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Thanksgiving Tribute: To Don, With Love

Don & Roxie



My father-in-law (Don) was one of the greatest men I’ve known in my life. I would have liked more time with him. Unfortunately, he passed away this past February from cancer.

Question: What does Don have to do with Multiple Sclerosis?
Answer: Everything.

I witnessed courage, strength, defying odds, tenacity, etcetera in such a way that I think I will spend the rest of my life finding out all the ways that Don has impacted the way that I live with my MS.

There are two key philosophies that I can say I learned from Don, which are: 1) the mind is a powerful tool and 2) the way we live our life is our most precious possession, not the “things” that we accumulate.
~
The first time I met Don, he was sitting in his humble trailer. He spoke to Josh and me just as he would have if he were in his Sunday best. At first I wasn’t sure what to think of him. 

However, I could sense that I was speaking to a man who knows exactly who he is, immediately accepts me for who I am, genuinely wants to learn as much as he can in that moment, and he loves me, his son, his dog and his own life equally. I know that last one sounds a bit odd, but that’s part of the beauty of Don.

The Mind: A Powerful Tool
About a year after Josh and I married, Don was diagnosed with Inclusion Body Myositis (IBM) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inclusion_body_myositis. Doctors told him many things, but the main idea was that it would be less than a year before he would be severely disabled by this disease and in a wheelchair. 

He also was told that this disease, although a form of ALS (Amyyotrophic lateral sclerosis), would attack and destroy only the muscle with the exception of the heart muscle and that it could leave him a total vegetable but would not take him. 

With this devastating news he and his wife left the doctor’s office. From that moment, Don was determined to defy the odds of that disease… and he did.

Don never willingly submitted to his body’s decline. He relied on his faith and religious beliefs which told him he still had work to do in this life. He kept serving and doing. 

He complied with the doctors when the advice made sense to him. He followed his body’s own instincts into the realm of alternative therapies and was blessed. He filled his time with service and continued living life. The biggest point is that he was as proactive as he could possibly be.

“Things” Don’t Matter; It’s What We Do With Our Life That Counts
Though rapidly losing muscle mass Don predominantly walked with just the aid of a cane after his IBM diagnosis. He eventually used a wheelchair, but not exclusively – he preferred to get up on his own two feet. 

After a time it wasn’t safe for him to drive, but it wasn’t the collection of cars that he lamented; it was the journey and the company in the car that he missed. One day he decided that he would take his trusted dog Roxie out for a walk; well Roxie walked and Don supervised from his Jazzy wheelchair. 

After a time Roxie became so tired that she wouldn’t walk any further. To solve the problem and get her home, he had Roxie stand her hind legs on the footrest of his wheelchair and her front paws essentially hugged Don. 

That was a special time and memory that simply emulates the core of who Don really was on so many levels. Don loved, lived, did and made special memories out of most everything.

The last two years of his life required the use of a walker indoors and his body’s deterioration then forced him to a wheelchair when leaving the home. This did not stop him. He kept pushing to meet every commitment he had made. 

His great desire was to continue living life with his wife and his family. He did not want to leave that which he had come to love so very much.

In January 2009 Don called to tell us that he had just been diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer. He sure kept pushing though. Up until the last few days of his life, he used a walker to get about. 

In his fight with cancer he was unable to eat and went from approximately one hundred sixty-five pounds to about one hundred twenty-five pounds. Don had really no muscle on his body in the end, but he moved, he walked and was determined to engage.

Don never limited himself in the years that I knew him. When he believed in or wanted something, he went to work - even near the end. In fact, Don’s brother Ray and a friend took Don for a ride in the friend’s Humvee. 

The Hummer ride was kind of a “last wish” and hurrah. The Sunday before Don’s passing his brother and friend picked him up and put him in the vehicle to take him for a ride and off they went! They were gone for about five hours. 

They went off-road with him! Snow fell through Don’s window as he stretched his arm out as far as he could; laughing and loving every minute! When they got back Ray told me that Don’s only regret was that he didn’t have the energy to get under the vehicle and “see how it all worked...” He wanted to know how the tires inflated and deflated as needed according to snow depth.
During our six-week vigil, Don would just lie on the couch and listen to his kids talk about the good ol’ days and all the trouble they’d get into that Don didn’t know about. The last night he sat on the couch with us in the living room, then decided he was done and needed to go lay down. 

As usual, he refused all help to get off the couch, except for a strong and steady foot against his own to prevent him from slipping. After several attempts and many minutes he was able to steady himself at the walker and go into the bedroom. 

While watching him I saw pure nerve and determination move his limbs. It was raw nerve, not muscle, driving his ability. It was just a day or two later when he passed on surrounded by those he loved most dearly.

This next to last memory of Don as well as the entire six-week vigil will be one of the things that I will ponder for the rest of my life. I have many more lessons to learn from this experience alone. 

The impact has motivated me to take better care of myself, treat those around me with more respect and to live in the now despite how difficult it is to get off of the couch.

1 comment:

  1. What an incredible story. I wish I knew him. I hope to have a third of his determination with my life challenges.

    ReplyDelete