Feb 092013
 

Mike and Beth at a winery in Washington state, 1998

Beth and I visited a winery near Seattle on a 1998 driving trip along the coast to celebrate our 24th anniversary. I had been diagnosed two years earlier and was still getting around using forearm crutches. Beth wouldn't be diagnosed for seven more years.

Over the past several months, I have spent quite a bit of time browsing forums that deal with loss. Loss of a loved one, loss of ability, loss of strength and mobility. It makes me sad to hear of so many people who feel that no longer being able to walk, or no longer having the companionship of a loved one, means that life is no longer worthwhile.

I went from being a low handicap golfer, avid hiker and runner, enthusiastic traveler, to being confined to a wheelchair and now being confined to an 11′ x 15′ room, especially when the weather is too bad to go out for a wheelchair ride. My wife of 38 years died in October, far too young, due to her own rare disabling disease (myotonic muscular dystrophy).

I definitely grieve the loss of my wife and loss of strength and loss of the life I once had. At least once a day that grief will be strong enough to make me stop whatever I’m doing and shed a tear. In fact, during the first couple of months after my wife died, the grief was so intense that it was quite painful physically. Rather than avoid it, I chose to accept that pain, experience it as deeply and fully as possible, and in that way let it help me heal. Years ago, a meditation instructor taught our class how to get rid of a headache. He said when you felt it coming on to focus on the pain as intensely as you could. Try to describe it, determine its focal point, trace it throughout your body. The remarkable thing was that once a person focused intensely on the pain it usually went away. It seems that pain is trying to send us a message and if we can pay attention, it won’t have to shout so loud. So that is Part One of how I deal with grief and loss; I embrace the pain and let it heal. In fact, I pick a fight with it by writing this blog and the new blog I have created celebrating Beth’s life.

Part Two is realizing that my life is about so much more than what I have lost. I have the comfort of feeling surrounded by family, even though many of them live far away. Beyond that, life is so exciting right now due to the advances of technology. My computer provides a window into a world that I could never have imagined when I was growing up. I can use Google Earth Street View and visit nearly any city or countryside in the world just by moving my mouse. One moment I can be “walking” beside the Eiffel Tower, the next I can be riding along the Pacific Coast Highway at Big Sur. Recently I have developed a keen interest in computer programming and have discovered the wonderful online courses offered by Stanford University. In fact I was just watching a lecture (on iTunes) by a Stanford computer professor and marveling at how much I felt like I was right in the room. That prompted me to add this article to my blog.

In a few minutes, the caregiver will deliver my dinner, attach my mobile arm support, place a bib around my neck, and I can enjoy my meal while watching the latest Batman movie on my computer. So yes, my life is populated by loss and grief, but they are joined by new sources of fulfillment. I hope that others in my situation are finding their own joy as we continue this surprising journey.

Jan 292013
 

Two and one half years later and no longer able to paint, I'm trying to learn how to use the iPad and iPhone from the inside out.

I hope those who visit my blog from time to time will pardon my recent lack of activity. Some of the earliest readers may recall my chapter that dealt with rewriting life’s script when things don’t go the way you expected or hoped. Well I am once again needing to tear up the pages, or maybe hit the delete key, and put in some fresh paper (or RAM space).

The recent death of my wife left a big hole in every day and in every concept of my future. Couple that with the recent severe decline of strength in my upper body which deprived me of the joy of painting and I have been in a bit of a bad space lately. I realized that I needed a new challenge, one that relied more on mental gymnastics than the other kind. So I gave myself the improbable task of learning to write applications for the iPhone and iPad. Of course as soon as I got into trying to learn about that, I discovered how little I really knew about programming. So for the past few weeks I have been trying to learn C, C++, and Objective-C, along with the Apple integrated development environment called Xcode.

Fear not, I have not wandered off into some digital wilderness, as I fully intend to use my new skills, once acquired, to develop an app or two related to disability and to assisted living. I also might try to develop something related to the two diseases that I know so well – myotonic muscular dystrophy, which claimed my wife, and inclusion body myositis, which is trying to claim me.

I even might have some fun with an art application. But, first things first, I still have a lot of learning to do. So these days and nights I sit in my room at the assisted-living facility and watch instructional videos and try to do the exercises. It’s sort of like being back in college except I’m not eager to graduate.

Although I can no longer physically produce tools and garments that assist with the life of a disabled person, I can still think about things that might be useful. I am also going to be doing more articles soon about life in an assisted living facility, as it is really quite an adventure.

I am enjoying getting to know more about my late wife's early years.

The new blog site I am creating in memory of my wife, Beth Shirk, is underway. You are welcome to follow its progress.

Mike