My dad has advanced Parkinson’s Disease. Most people envision horrible tremors or the face of Michael J. Fox when they picture Parkinson’s Disease, but it’s much more complex. My dad doesn’t exhibit obvious tremors unless he’s asleep, but his brain is still being ravaged by a disease with no cure. He has early onset dementia, hallucinations, difficulty swallowing, inability to taste, chronic fatigue, weight gain, extreme pain in his back and legs, and problems maintaining balance. That’s just the beginning. He was misdiagnosed for nearly 30 years…so he was likely developing PD when he was my age. And PD is hereditary. That’s a stressful topic I’ll address another time.
My poor mom…she’s so strong. She’s beautiful and charitable and everyone in her community knows her because of her giving spirit. Now she’s watching her husband, the love of her life, lose his grip on reality and there’s nothing she can do about it. All those plans they made to travel, raise grandchildren, and watch sunsets together are now uncertain. She doesn’t tell me too much about what it’s like, probably because she doesn’t want to stress me out, but occasionally she fills in the gaps and tells me how she feels.
This morning she called to give me an update. She never calls during the day so I figured it wasn’t good news. Dad has good days and bad days. She worries about leaving him alone when she has business trips. She doesn’t want him to feel like he’s not smart enough or man enough to be on his own. It’s a constant emotional battle. Someone loses either way. After I got off the phone with her, I spent a few minutes recanting all the horrible things I’ve ever said to my father, all the arguments, all the pain we caused each other in the last 30 years. My dad and I are exactly alike…similar personalities, medical history, body ailments, social skills, etc. We’re both stubborn as hell. It means our fights were usually intense and we wouldn’t speak for days or even weeks afterwards. We had a fight about 6 months ago and my mom said not to worry because he’d probably forget it by the next day or two. That wasn’t comforting.
When you find out someone you love has a terminal or chronic illness, you regret every ounce of bullshit that existed between you. You want it to disappear and be replaced by butterflies and unicorns or at the very least, a case of beer and a good conversation. You want nothing but second chances to be kind and compassionate.