The unshakeable bond of a mother and son

When you ask Helen Koehler’s friends to describe her, the response is unanimous: she is a happy, positive and upbeat woman with a permanent smile and a caring heart. To speak with Helen (better known as “Pebbles” to her friends and family) is to hear about a life full of laughter, adventure and an undying love of music – and a devoted relationship with her son, Brandon.

Pebbles’ unwavering positivity and zest for life didn’t come without its challenges along the way. She raised her son as a single mother for 17 years after her husband passed away from cancer one day before their wedding anniversary. At the time, Brandon was just nine years old. Her husband’s first son from a previous relationship passed away at the age of five, and in October 2016, Pebbles was diagnosed with ALS.

Despite all of this, she and Brandon have conquered life’s challenges with an unshakeable bond. In fact, their mother-son relationship has only gotten stronger since Helen’s ALS diagnosis.

“He’s my shadow,” says Pebbles. “He’s my best friend – he takes me everywhere.”

When Pebbles was diagnosed, the now 26-year-old Brandon decided to make a career change so that he could be home more often with his mother. Brandon loves children and used to work in after-school programs, but now works part-time at a warehouse in favour of more flexibility. His role as a caregiver involves cleaning up around the house, cooking supper, feeding his mom who can no longer use utensils, and learning to be more patient along the way. Pebbles currently sleeps in a lazy boy chair in the living room because she finds it more comfortable. Rather than sleeping in his bed, Brandon has opted for sleeping on the couch so he can be next to Pebbles in case she needs him – proof of the enduring love between this mother and son.

On her more difficult days, Pebbles admits to allowing herself to feel the emotions, get upset, and let out a few tears. “Crying is good for the soul,” she says. But she doesn’t let the sadness take over. Rather than dwelling on the negative, Pebbles finds ways to accept what she cannot change, even when she doesn’t understand it. Instead of allowing herself to question why she was dealt this hand, she sees her ALS journey as an opportunity to allow others to care for her the way she always cared for them. In her words, she doesn’t mind if she can’t walk because she’s simply happy to be alive.

One of the ways she embraces life is through the power of music. A devoted fan of Tom Cochrane, Pebbles has been backstage to four of his concerts in 2017 alone. She even managed to befriend the Canadian musician and boasts of their regular correspondences with one another. Tom once said that “as a songwriter, if you can touch people and make them feel a little less alone in the world, then you’ve done your job.” According to Pebbles, Tom’s music has given her inspiration and hope, and she doesn’t feel alone. Recently, she had a dream that she was walking with Kid Rock, and took it as a sign that she was destined to meet him in person. Her latest venture was an ad in a Detroit newspaper with a plea to meet her long-time idol.

Pebbles and Brandon’s Family Day message

Both Pebbles and Brandon believe in the power of hope and a positive attitude – a message they wish to share with all people and families this Family Day.

“Today and every day, live life to the fullest,” urges Pebbles. “If you can get out and do something, do it. Enjoy as much time as you can with one another. Enjoy every single moment.”

Brandon agrees, adding that creating memories and shared experiences with one another is the most important thing families can do today.

“Be patient with one another and support each other,” he says. “When I heard about my mom’s diagnosis, I was devastated. I lost my father and I’m losing my mother. Give each other as many experiences as possible — It’s about the memories.”

On this family holiday, Pebbles will be spending time with her loved ones with a smile on her face. “It takes more muscles to frown than to smile. As long as I can get outside and enjoy the fresh air surrounded by friends and family, I’m good.”

A message from Pebbles to Brandon

“Brandon, thank you for participating in this article with me and for sharing your experience. I know it wasn’t easy for you; none of this has been easy for you. I’m so happy you could do this for me. As Tom Cochrane often says, you’re a great kid, and I love you so much.” – Mom

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