By Jill Waggoner
“If you had just one-day
‘Til the breath left your body
‘Til the Lord took your soul
Would you still be afraid
To live in the moment
To let it all go”
Bryan Galentine wrote these words in 2002 for his song “Fly,” and today, he finds himself living them.
Bryan, known professionally as Bryan Wayne, was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS,) or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in April 2017.
ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. The terminal, horrific disease eventually robs individuals of their abilities to move, eat, speak and, ultimately, breathe.
When Bryan began to realize the prognosis he would be facing, he asked himself some tough questions, along with his wife Staci. In short, if he knew his time was limited, what would he do?
“It does change how you view life. What are you going to do differently? What do you wish you had thought about before?” explained Staci.
First, Bryan made an album.
“When I knew that ALS could take my voice, I knew I had to hit the studio and put my voice on some of the songs that I’ve written over the years… I wanted my wife and boys to hear me singing forever. No matter what,” said Bryan. “It’s more than just a record.”
Within the week of his official diagnosis, Bryan and a group of his musician friends were in the home studio of country music artist Big Kenny, recording the first songs of his album, While You Wait. While Bryan has spent most of his adult life in the music business, recording an album was never in his plans. He’s enjoyed a successful career behind the scenes as a professional songwriter.
Bryan, Staci and their sons Grayson and Bennett have lived in Wilson County for 11 years. Bryan struck success with “What If She’s an Angel,” a song recorded by singer Tommy Shane Steiner. The song, which asks listeners how they would react to people in need, peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard charts in May 2002 and achieved BMI’s “Million-Air” status.
When putting together what he hopes will be his legacy on While Your Wait, Bryan carefully chose songs that he had written over the last 25 years. Songs like “Fly,” “Simplify” and “No More Rainy Days” share compelling, inspirational messages for those of us caught in the daily grind. “Still Beautiful” and “A Good Day” were inspired by his wife and children. In recent weeks, his songs have been gaining national exposure on country radio, podcasts and more.
It’s remarkable to understand that these songs were all written long before he faced this terrible disease. His diagnosis of ALS hasn’t changed his faith, his positivity and his overwhelming love for friends and family. It’s all there in the lyrics, but there is now a new power to his words and a new purpose in his heart. Rather than simply promoting an album, Bryan is devoting his platform to spreading awareness about ALS and working toward a finding cure.
Millions of people have participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which began over four years ago, including the Galentines and their children. Yet, many could not tell you its purpose or anything about ALS.
This reality is a catalyst for Bryan to promote understanding about the disease. Most recently, Bryan serves a board member with I AM ALS, a patient-led movement that seeks to accelerate the search for a cure. He hopes to lobby soon on Capitol Hill for more ALS research and better care.
Locally, Mayor Randall Hutto will be honoring Bryan with a proclamation at the County Commission in May, which is also ALS awareness month. “This is a vicious, horrible disease,” said Bryan. “I’m going to lose my voice. I’m going to lose my ability to eat, to move and eventually breathe. But so many people out there don’t have the platform that I have. I’m trying to spend every moment being their voice. This disease needs to be eradicated. No family should have to go through this.”
Bryan has also made a priority the last two years of living out the lyrics found in his song, “Fly,” which, interestingly, was first recorded on the day he met his wife, Staci: “Who knows what tomorrow’s gonna bring; What are you waiting for, Spread your wings.” This living-in-the-moment song meant so much to Bryan and Staci that they gave out copies at their wedding.
Bryan explains, “What have you always wanted to do or learn how to do and why aren’t you doing it? If you’ve got something you want to do… do it now.” For Bryan, that included learning how to make an omelet, a skill he is proud to say he has mastered. He also learned how to dribble a basketball around his back and through his legs, but now is unable to do because of the progression of his disease.
He and Staci have also focused on creating memories with their boys, Grayson and Bennett. With help from organizations who serve families after such a diagnosis, they have been able to travel together to Disney World, sporting events and of course, some country music concerts, in recent months.
Bryan also shares his message of gratitude and positivity on the Facebook Page, Find the Good Stuff, through memes, videos, and stories. Again, this outlet was created before the diagnosis. Yet Bryan says that what’s important to him has “absolutely changed” since his discovering he had ALS. “Just like my song, ‘Wake Up World,’ it’s made me wake up and realize what’s most important. Time to make memories with Staci and the boys — number one. Also, reconnecting with friends and family,” Bryan said.
The Galentines’ community – from every facet of their lives – has rallied to their support since the diagnosis. Friends from Wilson County, the Nashville music community, as well as those from Bryan’s home in Northern Virginia have come together to support them in numerous ways. “We definitely consider our friends here our family,” said Bryan. “They’ve just been amazing: bringing us food, gifts out of the blue, helping with the boys, putting us on their prayer chains at church. That’s family.”
As those around them seek to encourage the Galentines during this difficult time, many have come away encouraged as well. “Staci is one of the strongest women I’ve ever met,” said Jenny Bennett, who works at Cumberland University with Staci. “She is kind and cares deeply about others. When we met, it occurred to me that I already had been praying for them at my church. We became instant family.”
In November 2018, when the album was released, Bryan found his voice unable to perform his songs. Several of his While You Wait co-writers joined him on stage for a release party in Nashville. Six-time ASCAP Songwriter of the Year Ashley Gorley performed the title cut, and GRAMMY winner and 2004 ASCAP Songwriter of the Year Neil Thrasher sang “Just Wouldn’t Leave It Alone.” GRAMMY-nominated songwriter Bonnie Baker sang the moving “No More Rainy Days;” Jason Blaine performed “Slow Time Down;” and Joanna Janet performed “Fly.” Big & Rich wrapped up the evening performing Bryan’s single,“Simplify,” along with many others.
“I was blown away to see so many people show up and lend their support,” said Bryan. “This industry has been good to my family and me, and I hope these songs inspire people for many years to come.”
His support from the music community extended all the way to the stage at 2018’s Soul2Soul tour in Nashville, featuring Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. During the Saturday night show, knowing Bryan and Staci were among the sold-out crowd, McGraw dedicated that night’s performance of “Live Like You Were Dying” to Bryan.
“It’s just like the song,” Bryan said. “None of us know when that’s going to happen. Based on odds, I have a more realistic timeline. We hope and pray for a cure, but the odds are not good. Only 10 percent live 5 years past their diagnosis. I’m two years in. “I’m at peace at where I’m going. I’m not really angry about having this diagnosis. God has put this on me to use it as a platform to spread the underlying message of kindness, goodness… find the good stuff. That’s my role here.”
The lyrics of “Wake Up World,” co-written with Greg Bieck, sums up well what Bryan would say to you, if you were sitting together at the coffee shop…
“Someday this light will fade, we will die with our mistakes. It’s not too hard, it’s not too late. Wake up world.”