Letting go of fear and living in the moment

by Keith Barber

When someone is diagnosed with an incurable disease, they never go it alone. Family, friends and loved ones all share in the suffering.

For the past year and a half, Catie Braly has watched her dear friend, Tim LaFollette, battle Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The past 18 months have served as a time of reflection for Catie, a member of LaFollette’s tight-knit group of friends and caregivers known as the “Often Awesome Army.”

Catie says over the past 18 months, her thoughts and attitudes have often centered on such existential questions such as, “What is the meaning of life?” “I have learned that life is about letting go of fear,” Catie says. “Especially the fear of the inevitable. When my friend first got sick, I was so preoccupied with the future. I was so afraid of what was coming, that every time I looked at him, I would not only see him, but what was coming.”

Catie says she was terrified by thoughts of the day when Tim would no longer be able to walk, play music, use his hands, hug her, swallow or even breathe on his own.

“Well, each one of those horrible days has come and gone,” Catie says. “And you know what? Each and every one of those horrific days has passed quietly. He’s still here and so am I. And these days would have come and gone with or without all of that fuss.”

Catie says the process of moving forward with her life has been a journey of self-discovery and daily insight about her thoughts on the meaning of life. In that spirit, Catie and local record producer/musician Britt Harper Uzzell, aka Snüzz, are currently collaborating on a song written by LaFollette for Catie’s band, the Popovers. LaFollette asked Catie and Snüzz to record the song, and they are determined to produce a song that does justice to LaFollette’s musical talents.

Last year, Snüzz was diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma known as Waldenström Macroglobulinemia, and it was Catie who organized two benefit concerts — Snüzz Fest and Snüzz Fest West — to help her friend pay his medical bills. If Catie emodies one life philosophy, it would be the meaning of life is found in acts of service, Snüzz says.

However, Catie says the meaning of life morphs on a regular basis. It certainly doesn’t hold the same meaning as it did before her friend’s illness.

“The meaning of life? I don’t really know what that phrase itself really even means anymore,” says Catie. “There is the collection of breaths still left to be taken, and the beats of the heart that are yet to be unleashed, but then there is the sum total of what you do in your life.”

“In this last year and a half, I have been watching one of the people I love most in this world slowly being robbed of the ability to do almost everything he loves to do by a horrific monster called ALS,” she continued. “I could recount myriad stories about the adventures that led to my deep and abiding love for this man, and the many personal moments I’ve had with him that have solidified said love. And it’s easy for me to say, in the face of his diagnosis, that Timmy’s whole journey has been one long lesson in how to grab life by the scruff of the neck and make it your servant, but I think that it would be a buffet of platitudes that are tired and cliché.”

Catie’s experiences have led her to believe that the aim should not be to search for the meaning of life, but rather to experience the feeling of being alive.

“I am sick to the back tooth of people saying to me, ‘Well, everything happens for a reason,’” Catie says. “That’s bullshit. I refuse to believe that whichever deity is in charge this week has chosen to punish one of the most incredible people I’ve ever known in order to teach me a lesson. That being said, I would be a fool to not learn from what I am going through.”