Gail and Michael Gerber: Staying Jiggywiggit
It doesn’t take much prodding to get Michael Gerber to do his happy dance. Along with it comes a dash of philosophy from this former mortgage bank branch manager whose calling card now reads “Speaker/Motivator/Writer.”
“So often, people with a disability gain a perspective that they didn’t have. I believe everything in life happens for a reason, and maybe the reason I have MS is that I have a perspective I can communicate to other people. I express more gratitude than I used to. Gratitude is the key to being happy, and I’m a happy guy,” he said.
The words “happy” and “happiness” occur frequently in conversation with Michael and his wife Gail, of Southern California. Gail, who used to have office jobs but is now Michael’s full-time care partner, calls their life together “one big vacation.” (She drives the van on their road trips because Michael no longer can.)
Michael, who was diagnosed in 2004, had a cousin with advanced MS — a judge who, Gail recalls, “was one of the most positive, well adjusted people.” The Gerbers have adopted his example. The key to happiness, they say, is staying involved — with colleagues, family and personal interests.
Before the diagnosis, the Gerbers’ interests included art, theater, and traveling. After the diagnosis, their interests include art, theater, and traveling. Notice a pattern?
“We’re participating in life, and that makes a difference, because if we weren’t, we’d be home watching TV ready to wring each other’s necks. When you’re active in life and out doing things, and not focused on yourself, your life is much more substantial, much more rewarding,” Gail said.
Gail realizes the physical difficulty of caring for Michael will increase with time, so they’re looking into various assistive devices. But leaving him — even for a spa weekend, the one and only selfish desire she admits to — is almost literally unthinkable.
“When I need to escape, I escape with him,” Gail said. “It might sound boring, but I don’t need to meditate, I don’t need to go off to a movie by myself. We just really enjoy each other.”
Even the name of the Gerbers’ highly successful Walk MS team reflects the good humor in their lives. It’s called the Jiggywiggits — the result of Michael mangling the Will Smith lyric, “Get jiggy wit it” — and it raises tens of thousands of dollars a year.
Michael's personal credo: “Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.”