FARGO — In both his marriage and life, Michael Ludwig has learned well the sacrificial nature of true love.

He learns it anew each morning when rising to enter another day with his beloved wife, Roxanne, now in year 12 of a 12-year projected battle with dementia.

The truths return each time he thinks of his daughter, Merideth Sorenson, fighting for her life on a coast far away — unreachable physically, but always in his heart.

“From the moment she came into our family, she was just a burst of sunshine,” Ludwig says of his youngest. “She was so energetic and outgoing.”

Which is why her diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, discovered the summer of 2018 while pregnant with her fourth child, came as such a shock.

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“It floored me,” Ludwig recalls. “I couldn’t believe it.”

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Sorenson is currently undergoing an expensive and experimental treatment at a Maryland hospital. It’s been especially hard on Ludwig because, as a devoted caregiver to his ailing wife, he has not been able to be there for Sorenson as much as he’d like.

“Out of my week, I’ve got only eight hours to fulfill my needs around here,” he says. But whenever possible, he visits Sorenson during her Fargo medical stays, even if just for 45 minutes. “She’s a fighter, a warrior,” he says of Sorenson, adding that, based on their close relationship, “I really feel that if (Roxanne) was up and about, she would not leave Merideth’s side for one moment. She’d be right there, 24/7.”

Last year, when Sorenson received treatment at Mayo Clinic, Ludwig arranged to join the family for a time in Rochester, Minn.

“I wanted it to be a surprise, but fathers have big mouths. I was saying goodbye and, by accident, said, ‘Well, see you tomorrow,’” he says. “I realized, ‘Damn, I kind of blew that one.’”

When he did visit, it pained him to see his daughter “so hunched over — you could tell how fragile she was, yet how strong she was on the inside.”

Despite the hassle of simply leaving the house, he’s arranged for respite care for Feb. 14, when a special event in Harwood, N.D., will raise money and spirits to help the cause.

Ludwig says he wouldn’t miss the “Hope for Merideth” benefit for his daughter for anything. “I’m just overwhelmed with the backing people have given her in this situation,” he says.

ARCHIVE: Read more of Roxane B. Salonen's Faith Conversations

Helping out

Several setbacks have prolonged Sorenson's stay in Maryland, which could prevent her from being at the Valentine's Day benefit as hoped, but organizers aren’t deterred from doing all they can to lift the load of the family of six.

Angie Puhr, a cousin of Sorenson’s husband, Troy, says she’s gotten to know her better recently when driving her to medical appointments.

“Merideth’s a very shy, very private person,” Puhr says, but in their time together, which included an emergency room visit, a bond formed. “She has been through so much, but she’s the strongest person I know.”

The Sorenson family (from left), Abrianna, Troy, Hunter, Merideth, Hope and Domenic Hansen. Special to The Forum
The Sorenson family (from left), Abrianna, Troy, Hunter, Merideth, Hope and Domenic Hansen. Special to The Forum

When her own aunt became gravely ill in 2012, Puhr organized a benefit, so she knew the ropes. When it became evident the Sorensons could use the same help, it was a no-brainer.

“I reached out to my other cousins for help. I knew we needed to do this quickly,” Puhr says, mentioning the increased expenses from travel and Troy’s work leaves. “This is just what we do as a family.”

Puhr says Sorenson’s faith in God has been evident.

“She keeps going and going for her family. There’s no way that would be possible if God wasn’t at play,” she says. “There’s been days she hasn’t been able to get out of bed, or when she’s been lying on the floor screaming in pain. And yet, her faith keeps her going.”

Hope, their youngest child, offers another sign of this faith, Puhr adds. “That little baby is a miracle in herself. She’s so calm, and she sleeps so her mama can sleep. It’s like she just knows.”

Robin Jack, another of Troy’s cousins, says when the mention of a possible benefit came up, she jumped. “It just tugged on me, with her mother also ill.”

She says it didn’t take long after they began reaching out for donations to arrive. “People who know her are really responding.”

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During the benefit, supper will be a free-will donation, and raffles will include a new grill, quilts and wine, among others. A friend offered to DJ the event at no cost, and the Lend A Hand Up nonprofit will provide matching funds.

“We’ve gotten several ‘Pay it Forwards’ from Bell Bank employees,” Jack says, “and with the match of up to $5,000, we’re already at $10,000.”

Though the set Valentine’s Day date initially happened by coincidence, both Puhr and Jack realized quickly how well it all fit.

“What better way to spend some time with your loved one than to share it with somebody who really needs your help, to spread love?” Jack says.

It all pulls mightily at Ludwig’s heartstrings.

“I’d give anything to have this go away,” he says, admitting that, despite his own faith, some days, it seems pointless to pray for an outcome so elusive. “I hope God will reach down and say, ‘You’ve met my plans and I’m going to take this away from you,’ and give her back the life she deserves.”

Even so, he concedes, “You can pray and pray, but the good Lord upstairs is the one with the final decision.”

“She’s a grand gift from God,” Ludwig continues. “She’s a blessing, just a wonderful woman.”

If God won’t answer his prayers for his youngest, he hopes her own children’s prayers will be heard.

“They’re just kids. They shouldn’t have to go through this,” Ludwig says. “Hunter (Sorenson’s son) can be a little bugger at times, but he loves his mother, and she misses them all tremendously.”

Merideth and Troy Sorenson during a family vacation to Florida in 2019. Special to The Forum
Merideth and Troy Sorenson during a family vacation to Florida in 2019. Special to The Forum

If you go

What: Hope for Merideth benefit

When: 5-9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14

Where: Harwood Community Center, 210 Freedland Drive, Harwood, N.D.

Info: Event will feature a silent auction, raffles, cash bar and pulled pork supper; visit caringbridge.org/visit/meridethsorenson or gofundme.com/f/hopeformerideth for more information

Donations: Cash or check donations payable to the "Hope for Merideth Benefit Fund" can be directed to: Western State Bank, 755 13th Ave E, West Fargo, ND 58078

Salonen, a wife and mother of five, works as a freelance writer and speaker in Fargo. Email her at roxanebsalonen@gmail.com, and find more of her work at Peace Garden Passage, http://roxanesalonen.com/.