November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to recognize and honor the tremendous contributions of family caregivers. Throughout the month we have been sharing stories of caregivers in the ALS community. Caregiving is a full-time job, and many caregivers also maintain full time jobs while dealing with the financial and emotional stress that comes with being a caregiver.
Bill Dodge, who served as a caregiver to his wife, Laura until her ALS journey ended earlier this year, remains a passionate advocate for ALS funding and public policies. We sat down to talk to him about why he continues to fight earlier this year.
As Bill talked about some of the challenges that a caregiver faces, he also shared a poignant anecdote that illustrates how caregivers can support emotional wellbeing.
Laura, Bill told us, loved gardening.
“Whenever we sold a house it would sell fast because she had managed to give it such curb appeal. We did that on two or three occasions, even the house that we rented she made look better and the neighbors complimented,” he said.
Laura’s devotion to gardening factored prominently in her ALS diagnosis.
“She used to mow our two-acre lawn in New York all at once, in one fell swoop. She wouldn’t stop until she was done. It was often dark before she got in from gardening, and she’d spend hours and loved it,” he said.
The family eventually settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan. When Laura became unable to tend to her landscaping, they knew something was wrong.
Laura’s ALS journey lasted only 360 days after her diagnosis.
“There were times when it was tough,” he said.
“There’s times when we would literally fall down, and she fell several times. It always scared me, and yet it was never a matter of I’m defeated from this. It was a matter of, okay, now what do we do? We get up and we figure something else out. We do it differently. So every time you have to make an adjustment, it’s a win,” he added.
Caregivers, Bill said, have to juggle anticipating all the challenges on the horizon with the things that have to be done today.
“We knew at some point there would probably be a hospital bed involved, but we didn’t know when. So you could worry about that for the next three months, or you could wait until the time comes, and there’s plenty to do in the meantime,” he said.
And one of those things was tending to Laura’s garden.
“One of the things I didn’t realize upfront is that caregiving didn’t just involve me taking care of her. It involved helping me to find ways that would emotionally support her,” he said.
Bill called together friends and loved ones who planted flowers in the garden at Laura’s direction.
“You don’t think of gardening as a part of caregiving, but you think about the benefit that there is of looking at flowers in your own yard, and how good that feels just in general, how much more of an encouragement it was for her who worked so hard and loved her garden so much. This was part of the way we provided care for her, that wasn’t related directly to the disease. It was something that she could look at and forget about the disease for a little while, and that’s really important,” he said.
Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to The ALS Association and help give hope to people like Bill. The key to a cure for ALS starts with you.