How G.I. Jane helped my brother through ALS

Gena Gilcrease
3 min readOct 28, 2019

My brother Chris led a life that showed courage. He worked for 30 years in a Texas police department in many capacities. As a member of the Army reserves, he served a tour in Iraq and one in Afghanistan and was awarded several medals and honors.

But his greatest courage came when he was diagnosed four years ago with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

It was a journey of diminishing strength, using a CPAP machine to help him breathe, getting a feeding tube, moving in a wheelchair, and then losing all ability to move.

Eventually, he was taken to a hospice facility and sedated while the breathing apparatus was removed. This was his wish when he could no longer breathe on his own. He made his transition peacefully, surrounded by family and friends.

Of course, I miss him greatly, but I’m glad his spirit is released from suffering.

I had given him a Bluetooth, so I talked and prayed with him regularly. He told me about his inspiration from the movie G.I. Jane. Really?

In the movie, produced in 1997, Demi Moore plays a woman who is selected for political reasons to join a Navy Special Warfare Group. She endures the grueling physical training as well as harassment on different levels.

Chris talked about the Master Chief, played by Viggo Mortenson, and his speech to the new recruits.

Viggo wasn’t thrilled by the speech in the script and brought in his personal copy of a poem by D.H. Lawrence, which was used in the film.

I never saw a wild thing feel sorry for itself.

A small bird will fall frozen from its perch without

Ever feeling sorry for itself.

Perhaps the military setting and theme spoke to Chris, so this idea of no self-pity became a resolve for him through the years of life with the disease.

No self-pity. Which really means acceptance on a deep level that this was his to do.

To not sink into sadness or despair. To transcend fear.

And that became courage — the courage to move through whatever was needed.

This understanding gave him a calm grace through it all. He was such an inspiration.

Lou Gehrig said in his farewell speech: “For the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” And he went on to describe all the blessings of his life. It’s available to watch on You Tube.

Whether we’re faced with a terminal disease or not, daily life calls upon us to draw upon courage to transcend whatever fears we face.

Ralph Waldo Emerson speaks to this:

He who is not every day conquering some fear has not yet learned the secret of life.

Because that’s what life is about, not just getting through unscathed, but evolving to your greatest expression.

This might mean to do what you’d rather avoid, or where you’re afraid you might fail or be rejected. Do that workout, take that walk, climb that mountain or whatever stretches you physically and emotionally.

Conquer your fears and accept what is yours to do, without self-pity.

Then you walk your own heroic journey of grace and courage.

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Gena Gilcrease

Love writing in many forms. Essay writer since winning the Knights of Columbus contest on Texas History at 14. Humor writing. Educational training films. Poetry