MSAA: Publications - The Motivator: Winter 2008 - Stories to Inspire
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Home > MSAA Publications > The Motivator > The Motivator: Winter 2008 > Stories to Inspire
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Stories to Inspire

The Power of Poetry

By Helen McManus

My name is Helen McManus. In April 2002, at the age of 51, I was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) after a long year filled with many misdiagnoses.

Shortly after the initial symptoms began, I visited my primary-care physician and a series of blood tests were done. Since many of my symptoms were insidious and coincided with the beginning of menopause, "change of life" was the first diagnosis given. But soon after, other symptoms came into play – including vertigo, headaches, numbness, joint pain, and the worst of all, fatigue.

Photo of Helen McManus and her late husband, Jim Helen McManus and her late husband, Jim, at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball in November 2001.

I suspected something far worse. After doing some research online, I found my way to the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania and was diagnosed with MS. Since developing MS after the age of 50 is fairly rare, I was certainly surprised. However, when I finally had a name to go with all the symptoms, being diagnosed with MS was a mixed blessing. Like many others in my situation, it was a relief to finally know what was happening and why...yet the aftermath was stressful.

I felt extremely apprehensive about a future so uncertain, but my husband Jim was my rock. He loved me unconditionally and helped so much with his constant support and encouragement. He did the tasks that I could no longer do, since maintaining my full-time job took every bit of energy. Jim made sure all of my prescriptions were filled and helped with housework. He scheduled and drove me to doctors' appointments, tests, and MRIs. He was there for me when I needed his support most and his constant assistance proved invaluable. Jim also worked at MSAA's national headquarters as a volunteer, donating his time so that others with MS would have the Lending Library books and the various types of equipment they requested.

Sadly, one day without warning, Jim passed away. He suffered a massive heart attack in September of 2004. It was over in a matter of minutes, the love of my life was gone and I felt so alone.

My daughters were and continue to be Godsends, and with my family's support, I was able to begin picking up the pieces of my shattered life. And what a long road it was! MS compounded every facet of the grieving process. The emotional stress of grieving took its toll on my body and my health suffered. I became unable to sleep through the night, and found myself hard pressed to function with only a few hours rest. I needed to find an outlet for my grief.

I found a very unlikely yet interesting way to deal with my grief...through poetry. I had never written a poem before Jim's death, but somehow the words started to flow. I began to express myself through prose, which in turn became a source of comfort to others. Every emotion I felt was articulated, freeing my soul and spirit to try to live once more. I have been consoled by the thought that this is Jim's final gift to me, and one that I will treasure forever.

I began to join poetry websites and finally found one called, "Soul Asylum Poetry and Publishing." Its founder, Kenneth Cowle, enjoyed my work and agreed to publish my first book of poetry called, Widowed Dreams. This book is an account of my journey through grief, done in poetic format. It begins with the earliest stages and continues all the way to acceptance and healing.

In many ways, my book corresponds to everyone's journey with MS. Similarly, we lose our old way of life, but develop and find new ways to facilitate our healing as well as an acceptance of our diagnosis.

Although there is no way that someone can actually "get over" the loss of a loved one, with time, the heartache lessens. We learn to move forward, accept God's will, and try to live again. Since that time, the exacerbation of my MS symptoms has subsided. I still work full time and try to stay as healthy as possible through diet and exercise.

I asked the publisher to release my book in September, to commemorate the third anniversary of my husband's death – as a way to honor his memory. On September 30, 2007, I visited with Ken (the publisher) in Ontario, along with a few other poets, as part of a kick-off event for the release of my book. The publication is being marketed as a condolence gift for anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one.

You just never know where circumstances in life will lead. Out of the pain from grief and loss can also come healing and acceptance, along with a brand-new way to move forward. God bless!

Helen's book Widowed Dreams may be ordered through online bookstores or directly through the publisher at Soul Asylum's website:, ISBN: 978-0-9781338-9-4. This book may also be borrowed through MSAA's Lending Library (please see page 48 for ordering information).


Last Updated on Monday, 25 March 2013 11:04