How Maggie Broeren is dispelling fears and claiming wisdom on her ALS journey
Hearing the news of an ALS diagnosis is often a shock to the system that brings with it a myriad of challenges and feelings to be processed and reconciled. When Maggie Broeren and her husband, Michael Coffey, received this news 3 years ago and began to sift through their reactions and what lay ahead for them they had an advantage over their situation: their perspective on death and dying.
In their time leading up to this moment Maggie and Michael had both embraced Ignatian (Jesuit) spirituality which leads one to be free of attachments to anything that is not essential - including clinging to a long life over a shorter one. Subsequently, Michael has studied,and practiced the ideas and observations of Pulitzer Prize winning anthropologist and author, Ernest Becker; modern human cultures have refined themselves to help us deny or distract from the reality that we are mortal and will die. Maggie’s ALS diagnosis puts them in a unique position to share their practice with others in this journey.
“In this, such conditions become a gift – another of the Divine’s tenacious attempts to rouse us from our stupor of distraction from life’s inevitable end.” - Michael Coffey, Pilgrimages to the Edge
As news of Maggie’s diagnosis spread among family, friends, and their community, people began coming to visit. Michael shares that “this is not entirely unsurprising since Maggie has a magnetic personality, a public face as optimistic as they come, and she has spent her life convening folks — but this is different.” Visits with Maggie began to take on a different feel than they previously had. Inviting friends over for dinner or gathering outside their home to spend time with Maggie was less of a simple “good to see you” visit and more of a “pilgrimage”.
Michael further shares from his blog post, “I hold out much hope for these visits. At a time when many of our institutional sources of wisdom are foundering, shared moments in the presence of such immanency can be a place for growth.”
Maggie and Michael encourage everyone close to them and anyone else in a similar situation to open themselves to the deeper experience at hand. By accepting that mortality is and will remain entwined with life we become able to dispel our fear of death.
Maggie and Michael observe that avoidance is an unhealthy practice and when we have the courage to face something terrible that courage is rewarded with the gift of a deeper connection to our inner wisdom.
They encourage us to see persons with ALS not as patients or victims, but rather as a sage with perspective and wisdom that can help us develop a different humor about death and dying.
With this in mind, Maggie offers us three pillars of her hard-won wisdom. The first being that we take the deeper dive in these moments and have the courage to live outside of fear. That we be willing to be vulnerable and not hesitate to ask questions.
The second is that life is an adventure every day. Maggie has lost much of her independence and has now become more dependent on those around her to help her continue her adventures, whether they be outings to sunflower and tulip farms, a trip to the beach, or dinner in the backyard.
The third pillar is that we see the deeper message being presented to us in all things and ways. Take time to reflect. Listen to ourselves and one another and never be afraid to have a real conversation about death, but more importantly about life.