Battling ALS with lessons from a hero named Bill Griebel
CHARLOTTE, N.C., June 18, 2017 — I have a new hero, though I never met him. His name was Wilfred Griebel of Ulm, MN. He was 86-years old when he died, he was diagnosed with ALS when he was 52.
As Griebel put it, the secret to his survival for over a quarter of a century was keeping busy.
“Work hard, play hard, have fun and keep a good sense of humor” was Griebel’s advice to anyone affected with the rare disease, better known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”
With that advice in mind, maybe I should take up bungee jumping, paragliding, and skydiving, just to ensure a longer life. And if the ALS doesn’t get me, then maybe one of my new hobbies will.
Griebel decided from the moment he received the ALS diagnosis that he was not going to let it stop him, and he was faithful to that promise. So much so that he was awarded the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s (MDA) Robert Ross Personal Achievement Award for Minnesota in 2008. He lived five more years after that.
Said Griebel, “I keep busy and make the most of every day.”
Wilfred Griebel was a living testimony that positive thought and remaining active are the best medicine possible. In fact, he not only made the best of every day; he made the most of every year and every decade.
Griebel had a slowly progressing form of ALS. He used a manual wheelchair more often as his disease progressed, and owned a scooter for longer distances. But until the latter part of his life, he was still able to walk for short outings with a walker.
The former World War II military policeman resided temporarily in a nursing home while his house was being remodeled to accommodate his gradual decline.
Despite his decline, Griebel remained an active member of his local American Legion and VFW, frequently attending meetings and other activities right up until his death in November of 2013.
Griebel’s friends, who knew him as “Bill,” attested to his enthusiasm for living with pastimes that included farming, watching NASCAR auto racing, playing cards, and antique Ford tractors. More than anything, however, Griebel savored his moments with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Griebel’s family became closer and stronger than ever before because of the ALS. In that sense, horrible and debilitating as the disease was to cope with, it was also a blessing. “Our family learned to deal with the hard times and make the most of the good times,” said Griebel toward the end of his life.
As anyone dealing with ALS will tell you, the disease is one of continuous and constant adjustment. There is no time to relax because each day brings new challenges and hurdles to overcome. And if anything, there is often more stress on family members than on the victim; the family must continue to present a positive demeanor, knowing full-well that they may recognize changes even before the victim does.
Added to that comes the constant progression of caregiving: running errands, driving, preparing meals and other daily chores which can no longer be shared by a couple.
Perhaps it would be easier if there were a way to pinpoint precisely when certain things were going to occur. There would be a way then to calculate the next major event and prepare for it. But ALS is a silent and erratic menace. It eats at its victims from within at its own pace, though they feel no pain or discomfort other than the knowledge that they are slowly eroding and there is nothing they can do.
Medical professionals, both in private practice and in Veterans Affairs, go beyond compassion and caring in the way they deal with their patients. Perhaps most difficult is the mental aspect of the struggle with the overwhelming number of minute details to be considered.
I am now in the stage of learning about remodeling the house and converting a van into a handicapped accessible vehicle. Such decisions take time, yet with each passing day, you cannot help but ask yourself how much time there is. Our days are finite in number, a number perhaps better left unknown.
People like Wilfred “Bill” Griebel, who somehow found ways to extend life to the fullest and to leave this world with dignity, pride and a sense of humor, do it against the unknown, taking each day as it comes.
The old saying goes “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” I have made out my will, now it is time to somehow find the way.
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up