State of Mind: A Will to Persevere & More News Here

“I have heard it said that our culture suffers not so much from the forces of darkness, but from the forces of shallowness.”

—Kathleen D. Singh, “The Grace In Dying”

Source: The O'Brien Family

Bike trip of a lifetime: Greg O’Brien (left), Paul Berry (proper), Coast Guard Beach, Eastham, MA.

Source: The O’Brien Family

Paul Berry is aware of one thing in regards to the state of thoughts. Nothing shallow about this man.

My shut pal earned a grasp’s in social work from Boston University in 1978—first working with the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health and the Department of Social Services, then as a training licensed impartial social employee (LICSW) within the Boston space and on Cape Cod.

Paul, 71, has devoted his skilled life to serving to others discover peace—typically a touch to daylight by a dense fog.

Paul himself has been an avid runner most of his life, together with two Boston Marathon appearances. His greatest time: a good three hours, 48 minutes, averaging eight-minute miles on a 26.2-mile course.

Now Paul is operating for his life.

In July 2021, he was identified with bulbar onset ALS, a fast-track, difficult variant of this horrific illness that reaches far deeper than the somber symbolism of an ice bucket problem.

ALS, additionally referred to as “Lou Gehrig Disease,” can strike in two methods—limb onset and bulbar onset. Limb onset initially impacts limbs (legs and arms) and accounts for almost all of all ALS circumstances. With bulbar onset, signs first befall from the neck up, a far sooner demise than limb onset.

Stephen King couldn’t have designed a extra horrific plot.

After affirmation of the prognosis at Mass General Hospital, Paul’s hopes have been dashed, however his religion persevered. Yet, he was devastated and was searching for a parole from this loss of life sentence. But there’s none. The realization surprised his spouse Fran Schofield and two sons, Ben, 31, a paramedic in Virginia, and Ross, 27, a union organizer for the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

Today, Paul has misplaced most of his speech, typically speaking by a laptop computer keyboard and a voice-activated machine comparable to the one utilized by the late theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.

Paul not can swallow, nor can he devour strong meals. Doctors at Mass General have fitted him with a gravity-fed gastric feeding tube, a tool that provides very important diet to the abdomen by an incision within the stomach.

He lifts his shirt to present me.

A brave fighter, Paul nonetheless counsels shoppers, through Zoom, as he can; he nonetheless has use of his limbs. Tenacity defines Paul, although he counts his future in months, not years.

On a latest cloudy, misty day, Paul met me within the privateness of my studio on Outer Cape Cod to speak brazenly about his prognosis, his development, his religion, and his love of household. He used a spread of methods to talk. I’ve recognized him for shut to 30 years; the second for us was solemn, tearful—two outdated mates, one with ALS, the opposite with identified Alzheimer’s. I felt responsible, figuring out that I might survive in my Alzheimer’s longer than his ALS: one slowly robs the thoughts; the opposite consumes the physique in speedy kind. Paul’s thoughts continues to be sensible within the swift decline of bodily features.

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Days earlier, Paul and I took a motorbike trip up the highway to Coast Guard Beach. In his intestine humor, he has given each of us a nickname: “Al.”

“It’s a code,” he says, “for ALS and Alzheimer’s.” I inform Paul midway by the bike trip that if we get misplaced, we’re each screwed. He laughs heartily.

Back within the studio, Paul tells me that he’s encouraging his spouse and sons “to walk in acceptance of this situation.”

Faith has performed a vital function in Paul’s closing laps. A sturdy Christian, he recurrently attends Brewster Baptist Church with me, and on some days the close by First Parish Brewster Unitarian Universalist Church. He’s additionally energetic with a Buddhist meditation group.

“My faith and understanding of God is central to my life,” he provides. “The teaching of Buddhism brought me back to my Christian faith.”

I ask Paul if he’s afraid of dying.

“Strangely, I’m not,” he says. “I’ve accepted the fact that death is coming faster than I wanted. Dying is just part of life. It matters so much what one does on the way out… ALS has brought me to a closer experience with family, friends, and even strangers through love.”

Paul displays on the “Iron Horse,” New York Yankee Hall-of- Famer Lou Gehrig, whose energy and endurance is a task mannequin in all seasons of life.

“I felt confusion as a boy listening to the words of Lou Gehrig at Yankee Stadium,” Paul says. “Despite having to retire earlier than expected due to his ALS, Gehrig declared himself to be ‘the luckiest man on the face of this Earth.’”

“I understand now,” Paul provides, “in ways most people wouldn’t imagine”

Still, his household and mates, those to be left behind, are attempting to absolutely grasp.

In a separate interview, his spouse Fran, a political and environmental activist and a Cape Cod Realtor, says: “My husband has accepted the terrible hand of bulbar onset ALS with a spirit of energy, endurance, and dignity. These have been huge presents to our household as we work to settle for Paul’s situation and our collective future. Christian religion and Buddhist teachings—classes Paul imparts to shoppers—have enabled this spirit. We are grateful for his energy and braveness.”

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So are Paul’s shoppers. Notes one of them, who has been a shopper for a number of years, “It was an easy decision for me to continue working with Paul after his diagnosis. As I knew, this would require a significant degree of letting go—also that it would require me to practice accepting the way things are in the present moment.”

Writes New York Times best-selling novelist, Lisa Genova, Harvard-educated neuroscientist and creator of the award-winning ALS novel Every Note Played, Still Alice, and others, “I’ve borne witness to the quieter heroes (like Paul) of this illness…

“If we don’t ignore, delegate, resist, or panic over our dying, if we can appreciate that we are still living while dying, we have the opportunity to die with grace.”

Grace in dying comes full circle again to religion. Notes Paul’s pastor Doug Scalise at Brewster Baptist Church, “I have such deep respect for who Paul is as a person and how he has handled a very difficult situation. None of us is getting out of this world alive, but to accept the reality of death is still difficult, especially when it approaches sooner than we’d like and in such an insidious manner.”

It is now late within the afternoon; Paul is drained—tons of emotion expended right now. He’s prepared to head dwelling. Leaving the studio, he palms me a printout of one thing he had written for the interview: “Though God is beyond my mind’s capacity for understanding, my faith provides comfort and hope that life is meaningful, and that it truly matters that I—or any of us—have been here at all.”

Paul pauses, then quotes from scripture, “So loss of life, the place is thy sting?”

Greg O’Brien, a profession journalist, is the creator of On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s and co-producer/author of the Alzheimer’s documentary Have You Heard About Greg?

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