Love & faith see sisters through ALS
The first symptoms Arlie Auch started experiencing last summer didn't seem frightening at first.
The 53-year-old elementary school teacher from Coon Rapids, Minn., wife and mother of three grown children, began to limp, then had trouble walking, started to shuffle and fall and had overwhelming fatigue.
It was difficult to get a diagnosis at first but when it came, it was the worst news possible -- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's Disease." It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. There is very little in the way of treatment and no cure, and it is generally fatal within three to five years of diagnosis.
The news was devastating for Auch's family including her sisters, Jan Dahlin, Pat Stevens, a retired Hudson elementary and middle school teacher and Judy Adam, who lives in Hudson.
Adam and Auch are the closest in age to one another, just two years apart, and their birthdays are only two days apart in August. Her childhood memories revolve around that relationship that began in childhood with hide and seek, summer camp and Twins games right through college, weddings and children of their own.
Adam said she has always been comforted by her sister's presence and love. As they grew up, she continued to be a source of strength. "Through miscarriages, divorce and then divorce again, I needed her and she was there...I never cried with anyone like I cried with her. Alone in a big empty house, God used her to fill me with hope...Her heart broke for me and she called daily -- to pray, to talk, to listen and let me know that she loved me and needed me too."
Adam said things got better and she and Arlie started to laugh again together. But their daily walks began to take a turn. "I didn't catch it at first. In my opinion, she was always the one who had it all. Beautiful, talented, happily married, financially secure, a wonderful family and career in the same neighborhood where we grew up. I didn't know what to make of what she was telling me. At first we laughed at how clumsy she was."
When the diagnosis finally came, Adam said "so did the grief. Grief like I've never known." And Adam says that it is their faith that is seeing them through.
Love of God and faith in him has always been a part of the sisters' lives and never more so than now.
"It's where the rubber meets the road. We've talked all our lives about what Jesus means to us...but what do you do when you receive such hopeless news? Have hope? Put our trust in Him? Yes. It's what Arlie does. It's what I'm doing. It's time to ask ourselves if we really believe all that stuff...the stuff we've been so trained so well to say. It's time to say what we believe and believe what we say. But let's not just believe. Let's give it all we have."
Adam said the experience has caused her faith to intensify and reflect more deeply on her relationship with God. And Arlie is there to help her. "She and I have come to believe God will use this experience to make himself known to other people."
"Her faith and her desire is that the gospel of Christ will be furthered through her suffering. There would be a purpose to all this if one person would turn their life over to God because of her faith."
Adam says she shares her sister's trust that her illness is part of God's plan not only for Arlie but for all those she touches. And her reach is extensive. At a retirement party, hundreds turned out and have continued to offer her and her family support.
But for Adam it is all bittersweet. She said she cherishes a mug her sister gave her that says "Sisters are one of God's best ideas." She does not know how much time she has left with her sister but she cherishes all of their life together, past and present.
The two have always loved to dance together and they believe they will get that opportunity again. "I just know that one day we will dance tirelessly on a dance floor made of gold. Until then I will continue to hold her in the highest regard as someone who loves me unconditionally, strengthens me when I am weak, encourages me when I'm down and makes me smile.
For more information about ALS, go to www.ALSA.org.