Today’s blog post is the first in a recurring monthly series from our good friend Gregg Ratliff. In 2009, Gregg’s wife Nancy was diagnosed with ALS, and he became her full-time caregiver for the next seven years, all while still actively fundraising and advocating for people with ALS and their families. In his series, “Perspectives: It’s All in How You Look at it,” Gregg will share his insights on ALS and the impact it has on families.
By Gregg Ratliff
Those of us that have met the curse of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis face-to-face whether it is first-hand as a patient, second-hand as a caregiver or so-called third-hand as a friend or family member we know the cruel reality of this scourge! This disease slowly strips away most of the vestiges of life – movement, speech, swallowing, breathing, self-care and freedom. Yet, the mind and feelings remain totally intact. How fair is that? As my children know one of my sayings to them when they were growing up was “Life is not fair.”
For seven years I had the absolute honor of taking care of my wife Nancy. I often shivered at the mere thought of acquiring “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”. I would ask myself “Could I handle ALS with the same grace and courage that Nancy did?” Usually my conclusion was “No. I don’t think so. But, I do hope that I would have the same strength of character. ”
We are a family, those of us that have experienced this affliction. Once ALS has personally affected our inner circle we are never the same. Thus, we often reach out to help and encourage others outside our circles, whom are experiencing the hardships of this ill-fated existence. I have done so. You probably have too. So, have you discovered what I have? Those that have personally encountered this disease often demonstrate strength beyond what we could imagine. Their bodies may be weak but their mind, emotions, their constitution becomes like steel. They demonstrate a resolve that causes me to feel ashamed of the miniscule challenges, which I fret about in my own life. Is that a gift they received from God? For some, I think, “Yes!” “For all? I do not know.”
“We are a family, those of us that have experienced this affliction. Once ALS has personally affected our inner circle we are never the same.”
I have recently been re-reading the book by Viktor Frankl, *“Man’s Search for Meaning”. For those that may not have read the book, Dr. Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist imprisoned by the Nazi’s during WWII at the Auschwitz concentration camp. In a nutshell, as a survivor of most horrendous circumstances, Dr. Frankl discovered the following:
- * “…Those prisoners who gave up on life, who had lost hope for a future were inevitably the first to die. They died less from lack of food or medicine than from lack of hope, lack of something to live for.”
- “The greatest task for any person is to find meaning for his or her life.”
- “You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you feel and do about what happens to you”
- “…We must learn to see life as meaningful despite our circumstances.”
- “Yes, a man can get used to anything, but don’t ask us how.”
- “He who has a why to live for can bear most anyhow.” (Nietzsche) Dr. Frankl’s conclusion from “Man’s Search for Meaning” aligns with what I have found to be the attitude of most of my ALS friends. They have wings!
“Sustineo Alas” which is Latin for “I sustain the wings”. God bless you our ALS friends. For now you have wings of the mind and spirit but you will someday trade them in for a new pair of wings.
The Ratliff family turned their grief into action when they started the Kimmswick 5k in 2010, shortly after Nancy Ratliff’s diagnosis with ALS. Nancy was a daycare teacher and director, dedicated wife and loving mother, grandmother and friend. After Nancy’s death in 2016, the race became rededicated in her memory, and honors all of those people living with ALS.