If you don’t believe me, ask my friend Alf. He’s easy to find; since he rarely leaves his nursing home bed. Alf had been a football star, an actor, singer, and script writer. He was a golden boy, a big man on campus. His curly blond hair, impish smile and bad boy personality got him into lots of beds.
He lived this life, pursuing success and pleasure for over twenty years, and he says he was miserable the whole time. “Why couldn’t I have my dreams? Why couldn’t the world see how great I was?” Then he developed multiple sclerosis (MS,) and started losing his marvelous physical abilities one by one.
Alf was desperate. It took years for him to be diagnosed. He had no idea why his hands wouldn’t work or why he could no longer run. Was he imagining it, or doing it to himself somehow? He didn’t know. He became more depressed and angry. When he finally got a name for his condition, he was able to seek help. I met him at our local support group and we became friends.
What saved him from poisonous depression was learning to accept. “I realized that I hadn’t done anything to deserve the gifts and talents I was given, and I hadn’t done anything to deserve the suffering and loss, either. I had to let go of all those unrealistic dreams and beliefs and accept myself as I was.”
Then he faced an even bigger challenge. For ten years, he had said that what he hated most was having to depend on others. When anyone helped him, he felt like a burden. Having others take care of him infringed his freedom. His worst fear was being forced to live in a nursing home. But his MS continued to progress, and now he is there.
Fortunately, it’s a really good facility, Laguna Honda Hospital (LHH), the public rehab hospital in San Francisco. But still, he is in bed 24 hours most days, has to be fed, diapered, washed, totally dependent on the nursing staff. He can still write, with a speech recognition program on his computer. He plays computer scrabble, watches TV. And that’s about it.
He is living his worst nightmare, but, like Lady Li, he has found it surprisingly good. He says he’s happy and feels lucky, even blessed to be where he is. He has restarted work on his essays about life and sex. He writes ironic poetry for the residents’ newsletter.
When I come by, we do a crossword together and talk; with other visitors he watches football or converses. He has quite a few, way more than most LHH residents, testimony to how much fun he is to be around. The nurses sometimes hang out in his room on their breaks. I know that Alf’s message of acceptance has helped many of his friends, including me.