3-21-11: Preparation for Illness
In November 2010, the writer Dudley Clendinen was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, more popularly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. There is no known cure for ALS, and once a person is diagnosed, they usually live between 1.5 to 3 years.
Over the past few weeks, Dudley has been discussing the experience of living with the illness with the host of our show, Tom Hall. He talked about dealing with the diagnosis in the first conversation, and then in the second, discussed the experience of giving others the news. The series is called “Living with Lou: Dudley Clendinen on a Good, Short Life.”
In the third conversation, he speaks about how to make the best of the diagnosis: “It gives you a choice between dying a sourpuss, or doing the better thing, and making lemonade, and a positive attitude, and it’s essentially a chance to make a gratitude list. I’m a very lucky man, in that I’ve had a lot of preparation for this.”
One of the experiences that prepared Dudley is caring for older members of his family, which allowed him to get used to the idea of old age and decline, and the choices people have to make. He documented his mother’s time in Canterbury Tower in Florida, where the average occupant is 86 years old, in his book A Place Called Canterbury: Tales of a New Old Age in America.
Dudley also says that working through alcoholism has been helpful: “The great thing about getting sober is it allows you to think clearly and to feel your emotions about things: other people and you, and your issues for the first time, and to be able to deal with them.”
He says it’s helped him figure out how to talk with others about the disease in a gentle way: “The lesson of the thing is to not try to protect people you love. Keep them informed…It helps to curl up on the couch when it’s quiet with a place with a lot of books and art you love and some music in the background, and talk, and be relaxed. Don’t spring things on people. Lead them along gently if you can, but be clear and be honest, and don’t set them up for a good result when you know there may not be one.”
The music that ends this segment is the song “Smilin’ Must Mean Something,” by the Hackensaw Boys.
You can listen to all of our conversations with Dudley Clendinen at this link.