Grief

Get Some Pollyana In Your Life with The Glad Game!

 

Do you remember Pollyana, the eternal optimist from 1960 Walt Disney Productions film of the same name, and based on the novel by Eleanor Porter? Pollyana always saw the bright side, and although at first, she got on the nerves of cynics, she ended up endearing herself to them and enriching their lives. As caregivers, it’s easy to lose a sense of optimism, or to see the bright side of life. I remember waking up and dreading what the day might bring. A day without a crisis was a great and welcome surprise, but I didn’t dare expect or anticipate it. I did hope for it. Grief carries that same tug of emotions. I have a lot more good days now, so it hits me hard when I am caught off guard by something that triggers tears or sadness. I sometimes try to avoid things that I think will make me sad, but I cannot anticipate what might cause the grief to surface. It occurs to me that in these down times, I need a little Pollyana in my life!

There’s always a pressure to be in the holiday spirit, and that can be stressful for anyone. I’ve been feeling a little down since Thanksgiving. It bothers me because I’ve been feeling more empowered since I went to London. I can intellectually understand the grief, I can analyze it, I can say that what I am going through is completely normal. Grief, however, is sneaky and unpredictable. And, I have become more  self-conscious about grieving. People ask how I’m feeling and I’m not sure how I should react. If I say I’m fine, they either respond with “really?” as if I am betraying my loved ones or could not possibly be fine, or they have a sense of relief. Of course, there are the people who are genuinely interested and are happy for my good days, but sympathize with my bad ones. But, there are also the people who have given me a time frame for grief, and are impatient if I do not appear to have “moved on,” or those who have lots of inappropriate and unsolicited advice, and, for those people, I am never anything but superficial in my responses. I don’t see any point in foolish discussions or being defensive about my feelings. I do, when necessary, rely on the wisdom of Scar (click here for that post).

I do love the idea of the holidays, and I do love my decorations, although now they hold memories that are bittersweet. Since I was a young girl, I have loved being in NYC during the holiday season and I have so many fond memories of looking at all of the department store windows with my mom and my aunt Eleanor. The streets here are vibrant, with holiday windows, pretty lights and holiday craft markets. I try to focus on those good memories, but I can’t seem to keep my thoughts from drifting to the winter of 2014, when the only lights I saw were from the car window as the taxis brought me to and from the hospital, where I visited my dad until he went to the hospice, and then I saw lights from the Long Island Rail Road train. After he passed away, I was Ben’s caregiver, so there was little time to wander the streets. Last year, after Ben passed away, I had the time to the see the holiday windows and I even wanted to feel the excitement. However, I quickly realized that it was too soon after losing Ben and I was hurting from the loneliness of my first holiday season without him. There were simply too many thoughts of recent sad holidays.  Having the time did not mean that I had the desire or the motivation to enjoy things, and certainly not in the same way. Those thoughts began to plague me again during Thanksgiving. I had the opportunity to view Bloomingdale’s holiday windows a couple of days ago and I used a little Pollyana enthusiasm, and was even proud of myself for not avoiding a potential trigger of sadness, but I found myself just going through motions without the excitement I used to have.

Watching Walt Disney Productions’ Pollyana recently, I was reminded of her wonderful world view and of the “Glad Game.” This was a game that Pollyana’s father taught her to deal with disappointment. You turn every bad situation around and think about something you’re glad about regarding that situation. What a gift to be able to always see a good side of things, even if it signals a bit of naivete. I was inspired by watching this sweet little orphan tirelessly bring cheer and optimism to everyone.

Given my current less than upbeat mood, I decided to play the “Glad Game” like Pollyana, and here are a few things I learned:

  • Being a caregiver was difficult and heartbreaking, and the memories of those experiences continue to weigh on me. There were times of high tension, anger and resentment on my part and on Ben’s, which time has helped me to better understand, but which have also left me somewhat scarred. But, I’m glad to have been able to take the opportunity to show so much love and caring to him and to have had such a profoundly loving and rewarding experience. And, I’m glad that over the course of our 16 years together and while he was in the hospice that we shared great love and appreciation for each other.
  • I’m still sad that my dad isolated himself and did not let himself enjoy life while he could. I always hear that I was his whole world, and that means everything to me, but it was also a huge responsibility as well as an exhausting task to always try to motivate and cheer him up (I think my dad would even have been a challenge for Pollyana). But, I’m beyond glad that I made him so happy with the books and gadgets I brought him, our many daily conversations, hearing about my adventures, and my constant presence, caregiving and love. That’s a uniquely special feeling.
  • I’ve lost the people in my family I was closest to in this world and I miss them every single day. But, I’m glad to have had those deep and meaningful relationships and, in the case of my dad and Ben, that I could be the person they turned to as caregiver. I carry all of them with me in my heart and I know that their strong influence is reflected in the person I am.
  • During these family holidays, I have very little sense of family and very big sense of not belonging anywhere. But, I am very glad to have wonderful friends who include me as part of the family, and they have become my family.
  • My holiday ornaments bring back memories that are beautiful, but are also reminders of memories I can never relive. But, I’m so glad and lucky to have had the experiences that created those memories. I am glad that I am still able to smile when I look at them, even if I smile through tears. I’m also glad I found the strength and zest to begin to create new memories, even though I have not quite worked through how to weave together past and present.
  • My emotions are all over the place and I feel very vulnerable and unsettled. But, I’m glad that am a creative and resourceful person who can blog to help myself and engage with other people who struggle as caregivers or grievers. I’ve been inspired and comforted, as well as validated, by much of what I’ve read, and I hope that my words have a positive effect on other people.

So, did the “Glad Game” help me? For me, I think that the notion of “glad” is a little simplistic, and it’s more about gratitude. But, to get myself into the habit of trying to look at things from a different perspective, as the “Glad Game” does, serves me well.  I think it would serve most of us well. And, it might help caregivers get through difficult circumstances. When I was a caregiver, my feelings and emotions were very conflicted- I was satisfied yet frustrated, strong yet weak, giving yet resentful, optimistic yet pessimistic. Coming out the other side of that experience, and now in grief, I see that caregiving has changed me at my core. Some of the positive and negative ways are visible and I believe that there are other aspects that I have yet to discover. I feel that in some ways I found myself and for that I’m glad, or grateful. I see that I am comfortable as a caregiver and maybe that’s why I always loved the field of education and teaching. I do not romanticize the experience, or forget the extreme hurdles, but I treasure the unique relationships that developed as a result of caregiving. I am even pursuing certification as a caregiving consultant beginning in January 2017. I have a heightened sense of gratitude that has improved my outlook and sense of myself. I am a compassionate person, and the compassion I’ve seen in others has shown me that compassion will reveal itself where least expected. I am most assuredly glad about that, because that is the kind of magic that keeps me believing in pixie dust and wishing on stars. Maybe I do have a little bit of Pollyana in me after all!

Try the “Glad Game.” And watch Pollyana. Please get back to me and post your comments in the space below.

For those of you who remember the TV series Bewitched, the woman in this clip, Agnes Moorehead, was Endora!

Film clip: Pollyana, 1960, Copyright © Walt Disney Productions

 

‘Tis the Season to be Emotional

Disney,ALS,grief,Christmas,Chanukah

Our last family Christmas/Chanukah, 2014. We got matching Mickey and Friends pajamas- even Disney! (She liked the pajamas, but not the picture-taking!)

Thanksgiving has come and gone. My second Thanksgiving spent without Ben. My second holiday season now begun without Ben. I’m sad to say that I’m finding this year to be getting off to a very rocky start. I wasn’t expecting that. I guess I also wasn’t expecting to feel worse the day after the first anniversary of Ben’s “leaving,” as he would say (click here to read that post), so I guess I need to abandon my expectations.  Grief. If only it came with an instruction manual. I understand some of it, and can predict and gear up for bad days like anniversaries of various events.  But, when I’m unprepared, the sadness really shakes me.

I am grateful for so much, including having wonderful friends who include me with their families. But, I think that last year I went through motions and was either sad, numb, distracted, or any combination of those feelings. This year, I took the time to think about what I would like to do over the long holiday weekend, and I chose to decorate my apartment for the holidays and to get together with friends.

Thanksgiving is a family holiday, and I’ve lost my parents, closest relatives, and Ben. My aunt Eleanor has Alzheimer’s disease, and although she seems to recognize me as familiar and we relate very much as we always did, I’ve lost her, too. My friends are my family, and I am so fortunate for that, but it’s also been a harsh reality and an adjustment. I think it’s also part of the process of grief, and of life.

Last year, I set up the sparkly pink and silver tree that Ben got me a few years ago, when a real tree and the lights became too much to deal with, given his caregiving needs and our limited space. Ben always left decorating the tree to me, because he said he’d never seen anyone get so excited about decorating a tree. But, he would occasionally chime in on where he thought ornaments should be placed. I missed him while I was decorating, but I missed him no matter what I was doing. I didn’t get any new ornaments and kept everything as it had always been. I even put his favorite ornaments in the same places on the tree, where he was able to see them from his desk. I remember that the tree did not bring me a lot of joy, but it didn’t make me especially sad either. I was struggling with so many emotions at that time that the holidays were just one more emotional episode to add to my list.

grief,ALS,Disney,Christmas

Ben loved Sully (top right). The high-four balloon had symbolism (see my birthday post). The French girl from It’s a Small World was also a favorite- ooo la la!

This year, although I miss having a real tree, I felt like I wanted to keep the pink one again because it was a gift from Ben. I expected to set it up on Thanksgiving with our ornaments, most of which are from Walt Disney World. Last winter and spring, I repainted, recarpeted and got some new furniture and I was actually looking forward to seeing my holiday decorations in my “new” setting. It didn’t turn out to be the positive experience I thought it would be. Instead, I’m feeling down and defeated because decorating has been a laborious and sad process. The bride and groom Mickey and Minnie ornaments that we got when we became engaged just reminded me of a happily ever after that didn’t happen as planned. On the other hand, I still love to look at the photo ornaments that we had made after each trip. I can see the way he changed over the 6 years that his ALS progressed, and yet I also feel so grateful that we could make those trips after his diagnosis and that we are so happy in each photo. And, I remember how we pored through photos to pick the ones that would become ornaments.

ALS, grief, Christmas,Disney

It’s a Small World (my favorite song!) at the top and to the left of our photo ornament is the Hawaiian girl from that attraction- we loved her.

Again, I placed his favorite ornaments on the tree where he would have been able to see them from his desk. It’s where they belong.  I did get some new ornaments in London. I thought they would be nice, new additions to reflect a favorite place and new things in my life. But, when I placed them on the tree, I immediately felt that they didn’t belong. They interfere with my memory of what is still, in my mind, our tree.  My tree is a wonderful visual representation of my life- the wonderful memories of times with Ben meshed with the addition of new memories I’ve created as I’ve taken my first baby steps on a new path. By including my visit to London, which was a big step for me (click here for that post) I’ve also shown that I’ve made progress in my grief and my life. However, I did not anticipate that I would also see a jarring clash of past and present. I spent so much time trying to keep things the same- even continuing to arrange things for Ben the way I used to- but things are not the same. The beautiful ornaments that I found in London change what I seem to want to keep frozen in time, as if Ben is still here. I did not realize that until I saw all the ornaments hanging on the tree.

ALS,grief,Disney,Christmas

Disney ornaments, one of our photo ornaments, one from Liberty and one from Harrod’s in London. There’s also a Schnauzer I got with Ben- I grew up with Schnauzers.

This year, I feel sharply the pain and the loss, while I’ve also accepted that I need to shape a life. It’s a difficult balance, and maybe that’s why this year is harder. I have heard that sometimes the second year is harder but I don’t think there is a steadfast rule. That’s the problem with grief. There is not a one size fits all way to experience it. Last year everything was a mess. This year, just as I felt I’ve made some progress in adjusting to life, I was caught off-guard with tears and loneliness when I was doing something I looked forward to doing.

ALS, grief, Christmas, Disney

Ben’s little Disney fiber optic tree. It was always on the corner of his desk. I got a new table, but I still keep the tree in the same place.

I wrote this blog post because I thought that sharing my own experience might help other people in grief and struggling with not knowing how to handle the holidays or where they belong. Maybe you can relate or maybe this is not your experience. I do think that part of grief is accepting that there are going to be good and bad days. I am grateful that I do have more good days now. My very whimsical tree still shouts a love of Ben and our memories and love of Disney. I have faith that as the season progresses and I continue to adjust to my tree, and, beyond the holidays, my life, that I will find a balance that respects my memories and traditions but also welcomes new ones.

Feel free to share your experiences or ideas or advice in the comments section below.

Superheroes of Caregiving and Grief: Gratitude and Perspective

Ben and I at Walt Disney World, July 2014

Ben and I at Walt Disney World, July 2014

A little more than a year has passed since Ben left this world, and it’s almost 3 years since I lost my dad. Grief is filled with ebbs and flows of emotion, and I do, at times, unapologetically allow myself to give into the loneliness and memories of the ugliness of cancer and ALS, the messiness- emotional and physical- of caregiving, as well as the profound sadness over my losses. The sadness is magnified around a holiday like Thanksgiving, which reinforces that I’ve lost the family to which I was so close. Thoughts also resurface of Thanksgivings spent in the hospital with my dad or at home with Ben, when he was understandably down about so many things regarding his ALS, including not wanting to eat pureed versions of traditional holiday dishes. And yet, although it was easy to lose sight of it at the time, I did have things for which to be thankful. I still do.

“The more you are in a state of gratitude, the more you will attract things to be grateful for,” said Walt Disney. In theory, I agree with Walt (OK, so no surprise there!) But, when I was watching my loved ones deal with ALS and cancer, and I was struggling with caregiving, and then grief, although I was appreciative of people and things, I can’t say that the state of gratitude was where I lived, or even where I wanted to be. It took too much effort. Ben lived in a state of denial about the progression of the disease, and I lived in a state of anxiety, more relieved than grateful for any day without crises. To me, saying I was in a state of gratitude would have implied a sense of peace and contentedness that I did not have. As time has passed, however, I’ve learned that “being in a state of gratitude” did not mean to naively ignore or diminish the impact of the bad experiences, or to try to “push Sadness into a corner,” like Joy from “Inside Out” (click here for that post.) To be in a state of gratitude gives me the very important power of perspective. There were times that I could not get beyond the chaos and sadness, and that was and is fine and genuine, but I can also shift my perspective to focus on the many aspects of these experiences that were filled with love, compassion and caring, and those do compel gratitude and invite more of these thoughts. That’s also genuine, and it’s a good and humbling feeling.

My dad and I

My dad and I

I feel very fortunate to be able to share some things I’ve discovered in my state, or perspective, of gratitude.

At the top of my gratitude list is gratitude to have been the caregiver for two supremely important people in my life. Caregiving was the most heartbreaking and challenging thing I’ve ever done, but it was also the most important, valuable, loving and rewarding thing I have ever done. I could not save my dad or Ben, and I wish we did not have to take these journeys, but I am so thankful that they knew that I was completely devoted to them, and that I would love them, care for them and provide a sense of security to them until they left this world. It didn’t always feel like it, but it was a gift to be able to feel and express that depth of love in such tragic circumstances. And, I treasure the knowledge that they loved me.

I have said it before, but can never say enough, that I am grateful for my friends, who have shown me such kindness, generosity, compassion and encouragement, while I was caregiving and then, in grief. Their spirit extended to Ben as well. In Ben’s situation, when family didn’t step in -and there were definitely disappointments and dramas- we  could always count on friends. I consider it a precious gift to have these wonderful people in my life and to know that I am loved and that Ben remains in their hearts.

I am grateful that in June I was offered an opportunity to present at the annual memorial service of Mount Sinai Medical Center’s Visiting Doctors Program a public tribute to Ben and to the people from that program and the hospital who were so fantastic to him, and to me. ALS is a rare disease, and although it is difficult for me to speak publicly, I feel it is important to take any occasion to share Ben’s experience and, hopefully, contribute in some way to an overall understanding of what it is to live with ALS and why there must be tireless efforts to find a cure. If you’d like to read my tribute, click here.

I am grateful to find comfort in the arts and in my creative endeavors.  Blogging has been tremendously helpful, and it touches my heart to know that readers find comfort in my words. I’ve gotten back into my craft work with miniatures and into Pets en Voyage, the pet souvenir business Ben and my dad helped me develop and launch. I’ve also created displays of photos and memorabilia around my home, and looking at these things always makes me smile, if sometimes through tears.

I am grateful to Walt Disney for giving us all things Disney. I am simply in awe of his imagination and vision. I am grateful to Disney for amusement, consolation, comfort, life lessons, belief that dreams come true, perspective and incredible memories. And, because I am so grateful, I even named my cat Disney. I am thankful for her every single day for the love, cuddles and laughs that she gives me and for the love she showed to Ben, especially when she visited him in the hospice.

photo-7

I am grateful to be resourceful, and to have sought out support groups and resources that have guided, encouraged and motivated me, and let me know that I am not alone in my feelings.

Walt Disney also said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

I’m grateful that for the first time in a long time, I am cautiously optimistic about starting down a new path to see where it leads as I reshape my life, though there are and there will be setbacks. My memories, and desire to respect Ben and my dad and make them proud, will accompany and guide me on my journey and will always be a part of me, and that gives me great comfort and peace. This would also be a good place to add that I am grateful to have my mom’s child-like wonder and spirit, with an inner child that cannot be contained. It allows me to continue to wish upon stars for dreams to come true. I just keep reminding myself of what I learned from Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh: “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.” I know I’ll be okay.

Thank you for indulging this reflection and for sharing in my experiences in caregiving and grief. I hope that if you are reading this, and you’re struggling with gratitude and the holidays, that you will be true to your feelings but also consider a perspective that allows you to see and be grateful for love, compassion and good memories to carry you forward. And, take a bit of time (I do realize that time to yourself can be a luxury) to think, write, draw or in some other way acknowledge yourself.

Happy Thanksgiving.

With all good wishes,

Abby

11 Awesome Insights From Dory and Friends About Caregiving (and Life)

Finding Dory,Disney,ALS,Caregiving,Caregiver,Grief

Though she may have “short term remembery loss,” Dory is one wise little Blue Tang! She put into perspective for me a lot about caregiving and life. It’s not all about “just keep swimming!” but you can read about how that quote inspired me by clicking here.

  1. Some of the best help and support you receive will come from unexpected sources.

Finding Dory,Disney,ALS,Caregiving,Caregiver,GriefDory felt alone because she thought she would never find her mom and dad and have a family. She finally realized that Nemo and Marlin were also her family.  My friends are my family, too and they provided help and support for which I will always be grateful. So did some of the professionals who took care of Ben, and I will forever love and be grateful to them as well. Becky and Gerald may have seemed like they were not up to the task of helping Dory and her friends, but they also came through in big ways. Don’t automatically judge or dismiss people, especially if they genuinely want to help, because they may be the very people who will listen, assist and offer really good ideas and information. Teamwork happens in many ways. All kinds of people stepped in surprised us in wonderful ways throughout Ben’s illness, and they continue to do so. They have compensated for the people who disappointed us, because, of course, there’s that, too.  Knowing that Ben was in the hearts of many always touched me, and it still does. Never underestimate the power of compassion and always be open to delightful surprises.

2. Be careful of the undertow.

Finding Dory,Disney,ALS,Caregiving,Caregiver,Grief

Caregiving is overwhelming for so many reasons. Aside from the demands of the job, there is an emotional toll of helping someone you love deal with any disability or illness and watching them struggle. The “undertow” can take a caregiver and/or a caree to a place of extreme sadness, depression, loneliness and helplessness.  It’s important to stay connected to the outside world, through your own network of friends and relatives, outside agencies, and social media support groups. Make lists of things and/or people that provide comfort, cheer, or assistance when the undertow starts pulling you down.

3. “I’m OK with crazy”- Hank

Finding Dory,Disney,ALS,Caregiving,Caregiver,Grief

Illnesses are unpredictable and caregiving needs are unpredictable. Our moods are also unpredictable, particularly when we are stressed, exhausted and our Tangled emotions are turning us inside out (what can I say? Disney references work for me!) You have to be ok with crazy when many things are happening at the same time that you have many conflicting emotions. And, you have to be ok with crazy when attempting to handle crises. I remember thinking that crazy was my new normal. Perspective helps! So does humor.

4. Not everything is easy to do, but there is always another way.

Finding Dory,Disney,ALS,Caregiving,Caregiver,Grief

Creativity, resourcefulness and a good sense of humor can help to determine new approaches and perspectives on how to deal with issues. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

5. “News flash! Nobody’s fine!” – Hank

Finding Dory,Disney,ALS,Caregiving,Caregiver,Grief

In the most planned and organized day, there will be crises. They can be physical issues but they can also be emotional fallout. Caregivers and carees are not always at their best, though we would like to be. It seems to me that our default answer to “how is everything? “ is “fine” and I’ve found that most people kind of want that answer because they don’t know how to handle anything else.  It’s ok to admit that things aren’t fine. That admission should not invite any judgment. And, it doesn’t mean that things won’t be fine again, even in a matter of moments. Remember, Dory taught us that we’re ok with crazy!

6. An octopus may have 3 hearts, but it doesn’t mean it’s nice.

Finding Dory,Disney,ALS,Caregiving,Caregiver,Grief

Yes, it’s a fun fact, but it also lends perspective to our expectations of people around us. Ben and I were very fortunate to have lovely people around us, but we also learned that not everybody has a big heart, and having three probably would not have helped them either. Also, professionals are there to help, but, like all humans, there are more and less helpful and invested people. We were surprised in good and not so good ways.

7. Let someone know you love, care about and value them.

Finding Dory,Disney,ALS,Caregiving,Caregiver,Grief

Marlin often gotten frustrated with Dory, but he realized that in her innocence, she was fearless and she got him to do “crazy things” like jump jellyfish and outsmart sharks to help find Nemo. His approach to problem solving became asking himself what Dory would do.

In the film, Marlin apologizes to Dory for not having told her how much she did for him. That’s not a regret anyone wants to have. Take any opportunity to share kind and loving moments and memories.  The frustrations and resentments will ebb and flow, but the appreciation and love we have for each other should always flow.

8. “What is so great about plans?”- Dory

Finding Dory,Disney,ALS,Caregiving,Caregiver,Grief

We certainly need to have plans in place, and even back-up plans, but when you’re dealing with illnesses and caregivers, you’re also dealing with human beings and unpredictable factors.  For example, I prepared to go to work every day, but there were days that I had to stay home at the last minute for a variety of reasons. I remember that on some of those days, my feeling Ben’s very loving appreciation and his feeling my unwavering devotion, made for beautiful days. You know you have to be prepared for anything, but expect the unexpected in good ways, too.

9. You can do whatever you put your mind to.

Finding Dory,Disney,ALS,Caregiving,Caregiver,Grief

Dory may have suffered from “short-term remembery loss,” but she dove in and figured out what she needed to do to find her parents. She enlisted her friends to help her and remained determined. She didn’t give much thought to consequences, which did create some problems for her along the way. But, she forged ahead. Caregiving can be very overwhelming at times, in terms of the actual tasks and in thinking about the future. But, I always come back to Christopher Robin’s wise advice to Winnie-the-Pooh: you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

10. Never underestimate the power of a cuddle party!

Finding Dory,Disney,ALS,Caregiving,Caregiver,Grief

A little bit of whimsy, sweetness, and cuteness can lighten any moment. For Ben and me, that came in the form of generally anything Disney. My huge collection of Disney toys to cuddle didn’t hurt either! They comfort me now in grief, too.

11. Sigourney Weaver rocks! You need someone like her on your side!

Finding Dory,Disney,ALS,Caregiving,Caregiver,Grief

Whether standing up to aliens or lending her voice to stand up for our marine life, she is a star! Sometimes I felt like that person for Ben, and at other times I felt completely inept. But I’m going to always keep reaching to be a rock star (well, maybe more of a Broadway show tunes or Disney star!)

All photos: Finding Dory, Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures, 2016

Finding the Pixie Dust

The following piece first appeared on the ALS Worldwide web site. Please click here for more information about this wonderful organization. I believe that those of us who have experiences with ALS need to share our perspectives to broaden awareness and promote involvement in helping to cure and manage the disease. 

groupmickey

Ben Carrasquillo was my husband, and since we shared a tremendous love of Disney, I think it’s fair to say that he was sometimes my prince charming and sometimes he was my monster. He will always beloved, as Buzz Lightyear says, “to infinity and beyond.” Ben died on August 26, 2015 after bravely fighting a six-year battle with ALS. Memories do give me great comfort, despite the tears they bring.

So many of my memories with Ben are from Walt Disney World (WDW). Our first visit there was Halloween 2001. It was our favorite holiday, celebrated the not-so-scary Mickey Mouse way, and we had so much fun, especially when trick-or-treating and trading candy like the little kids.

We went back many times and he even proposed to me on Halloween at WDW. Despite scooters, electric wheelchairs and assorted other challenges, Ben let his inner child shine and he indulged mine too. I loved that about him. The Disney magic gets you, and somehow we really did believe that Mickey could help. Maybe he did, because Ben did pretty well with the disease for more than four years. We were able to return four times after his diagnosis. Those visits really became about reliving and making memories that we could always hold in our hearts.

In July 2014, I took Ben to WDW for one last visit. I wanted to plan a trip that neither of us would ever forget. It had its challenges – we had to bring another caregiver with us – but Ben was determined to have an incredible time, and he did. We did some new things, like a nighttime cruise where we could watch fireworks and meet characters. I also worked with the fantastic WDW Floral and Gifts team to surprise him by having our hotel room decorated for Halloween. His face lit up when we arrived outside of our room and there was a big banner with a pumpkin and blinking lights. He was completely blown away when I opened the door – it was like entering the Haunted Mansion. We kept all of the toys and decorations, and I brought them to his room in the hospital to recall those good times.

Although I cannot deny that there are tears for the ALS struggles and for the times we won’t have anymore, I am so thankful to be able to remember him smiling and laughing. I love the simple memories: Ben playing air guitar while the band played in the England pavilion at EPCOT, his trying on character hats and choosing t-shirts in the souvenir shops, our holding hands as we watched the fireworks displays, and his enjoying the freedom of getting around with the electric wheelchair.

Though some people look at the pictures and see how he became very thin with very swollen feet, and that he was wheelchair-bound, I see and remember the joy on his face.