UST faculty recall colleague’s spirit in living with ALS

| April 8, 2015 | 0 Comments

KramerBookFormer University of St. Thomas dean Bruce Kramer publicly shared part of his experience living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) through a series broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio and now a book he co-authored with MPR’s Cathy Wurzer. After living with the disease for almost four and a half years, Kramer died March 23 at age 59.

The latter part of the book’s title, “We Know How This Ends: Living while Dying,” is exactly how two of Kramer’s colleagues from St. Thomas’ College of Education, Leadership and Counseling described what he taught them about dying. Sue Huber, who retired last year as an executive vice president and provost of the university, had worked alongside Kramer since he arrived at St. Thomas in 1996.

“I think Bruce was able to change the equation of dying,” said Huber, a parishioner of Assumption in St. Paul. “From dying while you’re still living to living while you’re dying, that was a gift he was able to give to others. He often would say that we all have a limited time. But he was able to make the time count in meaningful ways.”

Describing the book as “deeply introspective,” Huber said Kramer’s spirit of learning and teaching is evident.

“There’s a sense of giving within the text that makes the reader reflect on how you’re giving your life to the world around you,” she said. “An abiding sense of love comes through. I think Bruce loved life. Even at the end, there was no bitterness. I’m quite sure I could never respond to a diagnosis of ALS like he did.”

As for the broadcast series, Huber said she is grateful for how Wurzer’s conversations with Kramer often made her think in uncomfortable ways, especially about death.

“I think it’s healthy to feel that kind of discomfort, in an unusual sort of way,” she said. “Generally, we don’t like to think about or talk about dying. Bruce had to be open to dying.”

St. Thomas education professor emeritus Robert Brown had a hand in hiring Kramer and noted his positivity and values, which stayed with him throughout the course of living with ALS.

“The way he handled himself was so dignified, and informative for other people as he dealt with his disease,” said Brown, a parishioner of Maternity of Mary in St. Paul. “It does show that if you have faith, you can continue to live in a constructive way. Some people lose their faith. There’s a temptation to say ‘Why me, Lord?’ but he wasn’t that type of person. He knew he was terminal, but maintained a sense of humor until the end.”

Huber recalled Kramer’s optimism, deep faith — Kramer was Methodist — and spirit of enjoying life.

“We could laugh about so many things,” she said. “He could even laugh about his ALS.”

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Category: Faith and Culture