ALS and Poker?

An extended version of this article was featured in the Vancouver Sun and Province on April 4th

Written by: Terry-Lynn Dryfhout

Many of you know that my husband Ralph died from Lou Gehrig’s disease while I worked at Elim. The physical and emotional support that our entire family received from this unique community, continue to stir my heart to this day.  I’d like you to know that the way residents and staff at Elim practice ‘Community’ was witnessed well beyond the borders of our Village and was a beautiful witness of Christian ‘love in action’ at its best.

Some may say that ‘no good’ can ever come from a diagnosis of ALS; but I can say otherwise, and would like to share just a short chapter of our family’s journey.

This past month marked 10 years since my husband passed away from this devastating disease.  And it’s true what they say; time does lighten the heaviness of grief.

Our journey began a little over 12 years ago. Symptoms that included muscle weakness, along with months of intricate testing eventually led to what we had been prepared for; a diagnosis of ALS.

Ralph was lean and fit and worked a physically demanding job.  He also enjoyed playing volleyball.  Let me rephrase that; he ‘loved’ playing volleyball, and for many years played weekly or more if the opportunity arose.  He played for recreation, was challenged by the competition and loved the community it offered.

There is so much I could share about Ralph and how he walked so bravely through the two years he lived with ALS.  Of how he grew in his faith and prayed that he would not become depressed,  but instead might experience some level of joy in each and every day in spite of the burden he carried.  It was his faith that gave him the patience and the desire to make his experience one that would encourage others to live well while they had the opportunity.  Throughout his illness, he welcomed friends into our home and when the time came, to his bedside so that goodbyes could be said.  His willingness to let those he loved stand with him through his illness, was and continues to be remembered as one of the special gifts of light that came out of such a dark season in our lives.

Another of those blessings came in the form of a good old fashioned poker game.  When Ralph could no longer play volleyball, his good friends arranged a weekly poker game.  The poker was mainstream with a $10 buy in, but the conversations that took place around that table were anything but.  Over the months, Ralph took the opportunity to ask each of his friends how they felt about what was happening to him.  He wanted his friends to be able to verbalize what they were feeling.  It was also important to Ralph that they try to understand what he was going through.  While cards were being dealt, he would ask if they had a plan should something like this happen to them.  “Do you have your wills up to date?  Do you want to be buried or cremated?  Have you got enough life insurance should you die suddenly?”

At the same time there was laughter, cold beer and a level of competition common between men, especially when the winner would take home ½ of the winnings.  Together they agreed that the other half would be put aside for the Home Equipment Loan Program offered through the ALS Society.  We had experienced first-hand the benefits of this program.  Within just a few short months Ralph’s mobility had deteriorated significantly and it was the ALS Society that came to our aid.  They fitted and supplied Ralph with a motorized chair which allowed him to get around the house and to spend most of his day in an upright position as opposed to lying in bed.

10 years later, these men are still meeting on a monthly basis.  The goal of course is to win the game, but they also do it to honor the memory of their dear friend.

To date, this ‘poker game’ has collected more than $7,000 for the ALS Home Equipment Loan Program. These men loved Ralph and showed their support during his life and continue to do so today. They are thankful for the hours spent around that table and the laughter and tears they shared. And yes; each has an up to date will, sufficient life insurance and has made their preference known regarding a burial or cremation.

Ralph died at home on March 28th, 2008.  He was 53.