A flood of Internet videos have shown celebrities pouring buckets of iced water over their heads to raise money and awareness for the ALS Foundation. My favorite videos were writer Stephen King challenging writer John Grisham, actor Patrick Stewart taking ice cubes from a champagne bucket, and actor Vin Diesel’s challenge to plant a tree for Groot from “Guardians of The Galaxy.” Even Jason from the “Foxtrot” web comic made an ice bucket video (sort of). This is a worthy cause. I took care of a roommate, Bruce Schalamon, for five years until he died shortly after his 39th birthday in April 2000 from ALS.
Bruce and I first met at a church workshop in August 1992, where we paired up for a prayer walk around the neighborhood. I was a newly baptized baby Christian in the college ministry; Bruce was a grizzled veteran of the singles ministry. We had very little in common. I didn’t get to know him until I ended up in the singles ministry and moved into his household in 1996, where we both passed kidney stones a month apart from each other and bonded over our shared misery. He told me about being diagnosed with ALS, how he would die within five years, and wanted to die with his spiritual brothers surrounding him.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurodegenerative disease that causes the muscles throughout the body to stop working. Bruce lost his ability to walk with his weakened legs and play videos games with his weakened arms. He never lost his ability to speak. Otherwise, he couldn’t angrily curse God for taking away his enjoyment of life. As spiritual brothers taking care of him, this was a difficult time for us. He left God in anger as things got worse, returned to God in repentance as he accepted his fate. On the night before he died, he confessed his sins for four hours straight. You really don’t know someone until you hear their deathbed confession.
The heart is always the last muscle to go. Bruce had a cardiac arrest the following morning. My roommates and I asked him if he wanted us to call 911. He shook his head. We called 911 anyway, feeling helpless that we couldn’t do more. The ambulance crew started working on him for the next 45 minutes. Since we couldn’t produce the Do No Rusticate paperwork, they worked on him for another 45 minutes before declaring him dead. Being on the forefront of the medical marijuana movement, which wasn’t legal in Silicon Valley at that time, I flushed his stash of marijuana down the toilet in the back bathroom while a sheriff deputy waited in the living room for the medical examiner to remove the body.
Bruce had his prayers answered, dying among his spiritual brothers and being right with God.
I’m not planning to take the ice bucket challenge, but I will donate money to the ALS Foundation in the near future. First, I’m not a well-known celebrity. Second, I live in drought-stricken California. Third, the ice-cube maker in my freezer doesn’t work. Hence, writing a check and maybe having a drink on the rocks is easier. The ALS ice bucket challenge has raised $70+ million USD so far this summer.