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When time is the greatest gift, every day can be Christmas

Alan Herman, who was diagnosed with ALS two years ago, visits his wife, Cathy Herman, at her Laurel salon, Sassy Scissors.
Alan Herman, who was diagnosed with ALS two years ago, visits his wife, Cathy Herman, at her Laurel salon, Sassy Scissors. (Nikki Kahn)

In the past year, Alan's physical deterioration has continued, first taking his shoulders and then his forearms, wrists and most of his fingers. September brought the worst blow of all: A problem with his gallbladder sent him to the hospital for surgery and left him weakened and struggling at times to breathe.

"We've lost a lot this year that we'll never get back. For example, he can't really hug me anymore," Cathy said, sighing. "But when I hug him, I can feel him trying to lean his head toward me. And he still makes me smile and laugh every day. It's made these small things so much more precious."

The greatest gift

Returning from his trip to Costco this week, Alan pushed the controller on his wheelchair with his one good finger, stopping next to the Christmas tree his daughter Mary had decorated.

"Sometimes, I think about how much time I have left," he said quietly. "You can't help it. You go to bed thinking about it. You dream about it; you wake up thinking about it. If you're not careful, it can consume your mind."

But he's also been thinking a lot about what's ahead. The biggest present he and his wife are giving each other this year is a trip next month to a hotel in Las Vegas with a super-accessible room, one that has a lift to move him directly from the bed to the bathroom, where for the first time in ages, he'll be able to soak in a tub.

Then, in July, he and Cathy will mark their 25th wedding anniversary with a huge party. After that, another Christmas will be around the corner.

But, he quickly added, he tries not to focus too much on the future. He wants to live in the present, surrounded by family, playing with his new grandaugther, Celia, and still able to talk and joke freely with his executive assistant and to go to sleep holding his wife's hand.

"Any day you can wake up and get out of bed, that's Christmas already."


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