by Shelley Peterman Schwarz
I'm not sure exactly how or when Judy and I met. All I do know is that when she entered my life, a ray of sunshine broke through the clouds. At a time when my world was shrinking, Judy saw the opposite possibilities and gave me the spark I needed to create a new life... a life after MS.
In 1979, I was diagnosed with primary progressive MS. It wasn't long until I began retreating from all but essential family activities. My energy level was poor. Getting dressed required a 2 hour nap. When I could no long stand up on my own or transfer, I was devastated. The things I could do for myself were dwindling. My world was getting smaller and smaller by the day. By 1984, I was using a scooter full-time because I had no use of my legs or dominant right hand and arm.
But all these changes in my life didn't scare Judy off as it did some of my friends. She didn't care that I couldn't baby-sit her kids or take my turn driving car pool. She just cared about me and what I was going through.
One of the many things Judy did for me was to encourage me to write. Before raising her own children, she was an English teacher. After reading a couple of things I wrote, Judy saw something that I didn't see... that I could write. She mentored me and cajoled me through years of self-doubt. Her gentle prodding was always sensitive and understanding. She could see the toll MS was taking on my life. But she didn't give up on me. So many times she'd help lift me up when I was down. She gave me hope that there was still something important that I could do.
It was not surprising that Judy had a wonderful circle of friends and those friends also accepted me. When Judy was about to turn 45 years old, the "girls" wanted to celebrate in a special way. They wanted to drive from our hometown of Madison (Wisconsin) to Milwaukee for lunch and meet two other friends who had recently moved to Milwaukee. The girls wanted me to join them.
My initial response was to say I couldn't go. Milwaukee was an hour and a half from Madison and I could never be gone from home that long without using the restroom. No one besides my husband, David had ever helped me in the restroom before. And, who would lift me in and out of the passenger seat of our full-size, wheelchair accessible van and help me into my scooter? Only David had ever done that. What if the restaurant everyone wanted to go to wasn't accessible? And, most importantly, would I be able to handle a whole day of activity without my daily nap?
I'm usually a positive, up-beat person, but this time I was afraid the adventure would be too much for me. Then Judy called. Her lilting Oklahoma twang always made me smile. She said it wouldn't be a party without me. They had selected a restaurant that was accessible and it had an accessible restroom. The girls had talked and would do anything necessary to help me, including helping me in the restroom. Wouldn't I please reconsider and come along?
For days I vacillated between going and not going. Then, one-by-one the girls called to talk to me about the birthday adventure. The more we talked, the more I began to believe that maybe I could do this. We had shared so much, the girls and I, births, deaths, marital problems, the challenges of raising children, and aging parents. For years we had been each other's "family away from home." These women knew me, my limits and what they were offering. Why couldn't I accept it? Was my pride getting in the way?
For years I had been giving up pieces of my life. And once I gave something up, like working, driving, dressing myself, standing, transferring, it was gone forever. It never came back. Was this a chance to put something I had lost back in my life?
I think what tipped the balance was my love and respect for my friend Judy. This was something I could do for her. With everyone's help and encouragement, I was willing to take the risk and join in the celebration.
To prepare, I rested for days prior to the party. When the day arrived, Dave lifted me into the van passenger seat while the girls watched. Then he put the 110-pound Amigo scooter in the back storage area. We talked about how to get me out of the van in Milwaukee and then how to get me back in again for the ride home. Two or three of the women would help me with each of the transfers. Nobody was fazed. Their attitude was, "Tell us what we have to do and we'll do it." We discussed how they would help me in the restroom. Two other women would help with that task. I was glad that everyone was sharing in helping me. I didn't ever want to be a burden to any one person.
With instructions given, my husband gave me a good luck kiss and we were off.
The trip to Milwaukee and the party was a huge success! We laughed, joked, reminisced and made new memories. I returned home tired but exhilarated. I'd had a wonderful time and that night cried tears of happiness because I had done something I never thought I'd be able to do. Giving myself permission to accept the help I needed was the single most important thing I could have done for myself.
It may have been Judy's birthday but I was the one who received the greatest gift.