Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Life and Death

We live in a world of life; children playing on a beach, families laughing over dinner in a restaurant, workers building and artists creating, the wind blowing warm life across an open field, the rain bringing needed moisture to a parched land. We live in a world of death; children born with death as their only end point, families mourning the loss of loved ones, the icy chill of a killing winter wind, floods destroying needed food. There are two parts to every life story; the living of it and the dying of it. Yesterday was a day of two parts.

Yesterday morning I went to visit Ellen. She is a vibrant, funny, intelligent, artistic woman whose body has failed her. Ellen was diagnosed with ALS just five months after the birth of her twin daughters, siblings to her older daughter, then just three years old. At that moment, in the face of this devastating diagnosis, Ellen made a tough choice. With three small children and a disease which she knew would steal her body and her life, she made the powerful decision to live for her children, to leave her bucket list, her dreams of travel, her personal wants and needs, and to commit to doing whatever was needed to see her children grow.

Ellen is fully confined these days; the disease has taken her legs, her arms, her voice, her movement, even her ability to breathe. It has not taken her spirit, her smile, her love of her daughters. Her hospital room is a patchwork of carefully arranged photographs and children's drawings. Her bookshelf has one small box entitled "Ellen's Stuff" and the rest is given over to toys, books, stuffed animals and everything else three precious children could want when spending time with their hospitalized Mom. Five and a half years have come and gone while Ellen has endured and fought to be with her children. She is truly brave. She is truly giving, truly alive.

The middle of my day was spent visiting with my niece and having dinner with my daughter. Both of these young women are at the start of their lives, the beginning of careers. Both of them are energetic and intelligent. Both of them are filled with dreams and ambitions. Both of them have a family member living with ALS.

When I got back to the apartment where I am staying in Toronto, I checked my email and Facebook only to discover that my online ALS friend, Jean Kent Unatin, had died. Her death took me by surprise. I had been chatting with her just a couple of days ago. She was online talking with friends just the day before. There was no indication that death was imminent. Yet she is now dead.

Life is in all of us; death comes to all of us. Jean lived, loved, had a son, got ALS, and died. This is the cruel order of things. It does not tell her story, illuminate us as her art did. Ellen is alive, living vibrantly in her spirit and mind. Her story will continue, as will Jean's story. Life is a new beginning of things, one that we all are blessed with. Death is not the ending of things, it is simply a passage, one that we all must make.


  1. Richard you are philosophical today. Have you decided to go on with your trip?