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Nearing Life's End, A Mother Reflects On 'The Most Important Thing I Did'

Patricia Mishler, with her daughters Suzanne (left) and Janette Lynch.
Patricia Mishler, with her daughters Suzanne (left) and Janette Lynch.

A years and a half ago, Patricia Mishler was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease. The condition, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, attacks the cells that control muscle function — and it is considered terminal.

"Most doctors will tell you three to 10 years, but nobody really knows," Mishler, 73, tells her two daughters, Suzanne and Janette, in a StoryCorps conversation for Mother's Day.

With that diagnosis comes a sense of impending loss, she says — not simply the prospect of death, but the loss of many abilities once taken for granted.

"It's a mourning process. You mourn the things you can no longer do," Mishler says. "Mostly, I like to do things with my hands, and this disease took my hands first. So, something like gardening — I can't do that anymore. And that is the most frustrating thing: You lose the ability to do the things you love best."

That physical decline is incredibly difficult. Mishler says it has forced her to think of herself — and those in her life — differently than she once did.

"The things you thought were so important [are] not as important as you thought they were," she laughs.

Then, she tells her daughters: "Having you two was probably the most important thing I did in my life. I was so proud of having a child and then I was fortunate to have two. I'm glad to see the young ladies that you've developed into."

"I never knew fear," says her daughter Janette, "because you always told me, 'You want that, go do it.' There's no way I would have accomplished a fraction of what I did in my life without you."

"And I don't think I could have got through my first year of motherhood without you," Suzanne adds, laughing. "You know, I was doing it by myself so it was nice to know that I had your support."

Mishler says she's not afraid of death. Rather, what saddens her is simply having to leave her daughters behind when that time comes.

"But I'll tell you, first and foremost, the next person that tells me, 'Oh, we're all going to die of something,' I'm just going to hit," she laughs. "That's about the worst thing you can hear from anybody."

That said, when she does go — whenever that may be, in one year or 20 — Mishler knows how she'd like to be remembered.

"That I love my family — and that I am just so proud, just so proud of that."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jud Esty-Kendall.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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