More than a Number

Finding love when you feel like just another statistic

I am a statistic. In 2012, at 57 years of age, after almost two years of worsening symptoms, I was diagnosed with ALS. Being a white male at my age, in many ways I was the “typical” ALS patient. Of course with a disease like ALS, there really is no such thing as a typical case. Each of us is unique, each of us is different. This disease attacks men and women, young and old, of every race and religion. This disease attacks rich and poor alike. And yet it is a rare disease, so rare as to be deemed “orphaned,” at least until the Ice Bucket Challenge.

I am another kind of statistic. In that same year of 2012, 10 months prior to my diagnosis, my now ex-wife filed for divorce. I don’t blame her; I had told her I wanted a divorce just a few months prior. I didn’t know I had ALS. She didn’t know I had ALS. Yet there I was battling both this terrible illness and a bitter divorce at the same time. Needless to say, I did not do well in either battle. The divorce was finalized in August 2013, after many months of angry courtrooms and even angrier negotiations.

I found myself on the wrong side of two statistics, ALS and divorce, which merged together to leave me using a wheelchair for mobility, alone after 32 years of marriage, living hundreds of miles away from my children, needing home care, medical care and life care, struggling with losing my career, managing my ever-dwindling finances and still trying to enjoy my single life. My life, in a mere 12 months, had changed so dramatically as to be nearly unrecognizable.

For some time I struggled against these statistics, trying to meet women, date and build a future. I actually found some surprising success. As I would say to my brother, “Apparently being handicapped is not a handicap.” The problem was that most of the women I met were not interested, nor capable, of entering into a relationship with someone like me, someone with my kind of future.

Then I met Cheryl, a woman who showed me that I could be loved, even as I was. My problem was that I did not feel for her as she felt for me. It just wasn’t there. While we remained good friends, she moved on with her life while I continued mine. For more than a year, I simply gave up, thinking that it would never happen. Seasons passed and I was still alone, steadily becoming firmer in the realization that I was done with love, done with sex and done with passion.

What I didn’t realize is that there was someone with me on a regular basis who would become the very person I could be passionate about. I met Katherine, a woman I could and did fall for, a woman who could and did fall for me. Once again, I am a statistic. How Katherine and I met is so common as to be a cliché. She was one of my caregivers.

This situation did not happen right away. In fact it nearly didn’t happen at all. While Katherine was one of my caregivers, I was completely circumspect, not wanting to behave inappropriately, all the while thinking of her in a more and more romantic way. For nearly a year, she did range-of-motion exercises with me, not knowing how I felt about her. I had truly given up, and I had neither the courage nor the energy to take the risk of losing an excellent caregiver.

What I didn’t know is that she was developing feelings for me as well. Over time, as she cared for me, she came to admire my approach to life, my willingness to keep working, my open way of sharing my life with her and listening to her as she shared hers with me. Just as I was constrained by her role in my life, she was constrained as well. She would not break her professionalism. She would not be inappropriate with a client.

Then a miracle happened. Katherine fell and broke her arm. This may not seem like a miracle to you, but to me it was heaven sent. You see, as soon as she fell and broke her arm, she called to tell me she could no longer be my caregiver, or at least not for the foreseeable future. My response was immediate; I asked her if she would like to come over for coffee. She said yes. 

Needless to say, I was surprised. Things moved forward, quickly. We went from seeing each other to dating to being in a relationship in a matter of weeks. Since that day, January 15, 2015, we have been together almost constantly, sharing our space, going out together and traveling together. We are a couple.

After giving up completely on having someone to share my life, here I am with a terrific woman who cares for me, supports me and spends time with me. Here I am even after I had given up on this aspect of my life. I’ve learned a real lesson from all this: It is still possible to find love, passion, companionship and partnership, even with ALS. And that too is probably a statistic.

Richard McBride was diagnosed with ALS in November 2012 and shares his life and experiences through his blog, richardislivingwithals.blogspot.com. He lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. 


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