The café Michel Richoz owns in a trendy, arts centric area of downtown Montreal contrasts greatly with the reality he lived for two and a half years of his life. The Arts Café buzzes with people. As jazz softly plays in the background nicely accompanying the stained glass and artistic mish mash of tables and chairs, the patrons work busily at their laptops sipping lattes or cappuccinos. The atmosphere is one of peaceful serenity. But in 2006 — the same year he opened his café — Michel’s mother was diagnosed with the most aggressive form of ALS. “ALS was not new to my sister and me because our mom’s sister had the disease 20 years before. And there we were again.” From then to 2008 he experienced the most difficult years of his life. “My mother needed 24-hour care,” says Michel, who with his sister, was his mother’s primary caregiver. “With her form of ALS—bulbar—the disease started with her speech, then she couldn’t eat and it progressed quickly from there. It was exhausting trying to keep up with our lives and also provide the proper care for my mother, who wanted to be at home, not in a hospital or institution. But I know I would do it again if I had to.” Michel says he got through those years by taking them one day at a time. “You can’t plan,” he says. “One day is easy, another day is hard, you don’t know… every hour can be different. Thankfully we had tremendous help from the local CLSC and Lucie-Bruneau Rehabilitation Centre, which the ALS Society help set up.”
“There is no cure; there is nothing to alleviate the pain or to stop its progression,” he says. “There is no end, relief, remission—it is so sad. Every little bit that people can give, whether it is their time or money, works toward finding a cure.”
Michel has chosen to help make a difference by volunteering at the ALS Society of Quebec. “I started in November 2008,” says Michel. “My sister and I volunteered at the Christmas Party that year. Then I asked what kind of other help they needed. I knew I wasn’t ready for hands-on volunteering with people living with ALS as it was just too emotional for me so I chose to help with office work a half day a week and I love it. I love the people who work there and I love doing something a little different from what I do everyday.” Michel’s whole approach to life changed after caring for his mother for those two and a half years. “My definition of happiness has been drastically altered,” he says. “I care less about money or material things. My family, friends, staff, volunteering are what really matter to me now.” He smiles, looks around his café, breathes in the atmosphere of tranquility and you just know he is happy.