Believing in the human spirit

September 23, 2014

“Is this approach our way of coping with and repressing the anxieties that a terminally ill patient evokes in us?”…

For a personal reason, I have been enjoying watching so many celebrities having buckets of ice cold water poured over them while it publicizes their donations to ALS research. Since my friend James Meagher died of this ferocious disease, I am always interested in anything that could ease the suffering and discomfort that ALS visits on its victims or even find a cure for this disease.

In an earlier post for this blog, I wrote about James and how I interviewed him for a book that I wanted to write about him. This was before the advent of blogs and I now hope to do a blog about my friend’s life some time after I finish or get closer to the finish of this one.

They say that sometimes death is a healing. I believe this was the case for James. This does not mean that we, the living, should avoid interacting with and supporting the dying.

This includes those in the medical profession. Here is an article I wrote outlining James’ views on this subject:

MSOS Journal
May 1994
Believing in the human spirit
by Tanya Lester

James Meagher is not out to condemn the medical profession. He’s not that type of man. Besides he recently read in the New England Journal of Medicine that a drug may someday be produced to slow the process of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), the terminal disease with which he is afflicted. But last May, when Meagher was diagnosed as having ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, members of the medical profession, he said, made him feel as if he was losing control of how he would live out the rest of his life.

“They weren’t interested in me as a person,” Meagher said. “They cared little for who James Meagher was, or is, or will be. It was impersonal and demeaning.”

Meagher first sought medical attention when he found himself incapable of standing on the ball of his right foot. He was referred to a clinic for a series of tests. These included electrical shocks which felt “like torture” through his legs, and a needle insertion into his leg muscle. It took 10 days to recover.

On the advice of his doctor, he sought a second opinion. Two physicians at the hospital asked Meagher how he felt about being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, but were not prepared to discuss dying, he said. “I guess death isn’t talked about in the medical profession,” Meagher concluded. Then they decided to repeat the electrical shock tests that had previously taken 10 recovery days.

That brought him to the turning point.

In her landmark book On Death and Dying, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross speculates about the kind of impersonal treatment Meagher experienced. “Is the reason for this increasingly mechanical, depersonalized approach our own defensiveness?” Kubler-Ross asks. “Is this approach our way of coping with and repressing the anxieties that a terminally ill patient evokes in us?”

The hospital experience left Meagher totally out of sync. “In order to stay close to my spirit,” Meagher said, “I would stay away from huge boxes where they put all the sick people because they were dehumanizing. They already told me what I had and they’ve already admitted they can’t do anything about it, but still want me to take all these tests so they can torture me more. I released myself from all that. I put my care in my hands. I lost my fear.”

Today, almost a year after his diagnosis, Meagher begins each day at home with transcendental meditation which helps lift the chronic fatigue, a symptom of the disease. He treats himself with reiki, a transfer of energy through the hands which can be compared with deep heat massage. This alleviates tiredness, decreases tremors in his legs and eases muscular pain.

Although he now uses a wheelchair, Meagher has five times the energy he had when he first found out he had ALS. He looks and feels healthy. He says he is at peace with himself. He maintains his self-esteem. He relates to others in a straightforward manner. “For somebody who’s happy, I have joy,” he said. For somebody who’s sad, I have compassion. For somebody who’s doing something not so good, I have blinders. I don’t qualify it by noticing it.”

He remains in his apartment with the assistance of friends who bring in groceries, wash his clothes and visit him. Until recently they also helped transfer him to his performances as a musician with the Rainbow Bridge Band, a native musical group, and the Loonisee Clown Troupe. (He’s cutting a tape of his songs.)

Meagher is bolstered by the spirit of his deceased father who had his leg wounded in World War II but never walked with a limp. He emulates his mother who, despite visual impairment, remains a giving person. He highly regards the memory of ALS activist Sue Rodriguez, who fought to control her own life and death.

When Meagher dies, he wishes to be at home, surrounded by friends. He wants his spirit to leave his body quietly.

It’s the type of death that Kubler-Ross supports. “Wathcing the peaceful death of a human being reminds us of a falling star: one of a million lights in a vast sky that flares up for a brief moment then disappears into endless night,” she writes. “To be a therapist to a dying patient makes us aware of the uniqueness of each individual in this vast sea of humanity.”

To read the first posts in this blog, go to
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Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader by Tanya Lester can be purchased from the author or by going to the title and author name to read the first few pages and buy it at

Tanya’s other books are Friends I Never Knew, Dreams & Tricksters and Women Rights/Writes.


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