Tuesday, April 9, 2019

SOL: Parkinson's

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.

A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect!!

Seeing my Dad this past weekend was, once again, really hard. He is 89 and lives in a nursing home in Maine. He suffers from Parkinson's, and his decline continues with abandon.

I think about how I work with preschoolers to accomplish some small skill - say, printing the letters of their name, or zippering up their coat, or cleaning up their toys. Often, with practice, I see marked improvement very quickly, as they work on these skills. For Dad, with Parkinson's, his daily work is the mirror opposite - not skill-building, but trying to delay skill-disappearing. He works very, very hard to not regress in his skills. He wants to hold on to that which he can do - and, honestly, these past few months, it seems to be to no avail. Over time - over much too short time - he is losing his ability to do absolutely everything. As hard as it is for me, his child, to watch this, I know it has to be eviscerating for him to live it out.

An example:
Just three weeks ago, he needed my help a little bit to get out of his bed or chair, and then he walked with a walker. Today, I cannot coach him by myself; I need the assistance of a caregiver to get him up. I watched/assisted as she gave him step-by-step directions - "hold this," "reach here," "step here." It was clear to me that Dad could not follow her slow and clear words. Also, just three weeks from when I last saw him, he is no longer able to walk with a walker and now uses a wheelchair. Together, the caregiver and I lifted and moved him into the wheelchair, with little or no help from Dad, little or no ability from Dad. This decline is stunning.

My brother has done a lot of reading about Parkinson's (I probably should, as well!) and he says that the progression of this disease is uneven. Although there are specific stages of decline, these are achieved in irregular patterns - sometimes moving slowly and other times deteriorating very quickly. There is rarely any "bounce back," but a progression towards immobility. Since Mom's death in October, Dad's decline is like an elevator, dropping down rapidly. Grief coupled with Parkinson's, that's how I describe his condition.

This poem is my reflection on this new chapter in Dad's/my life.

How can it be that
yesterday he could,
today he can't?

      down a slippery slope,
                      surrendering to

How can it be that
yesterday he could,
today he can't?

Moving backwards
mind muddled,                           
 a mask of oneself,                                           

How can it be that
yesterday he could,
today he can't?

   forever gone.



  1. I’m so sorry. Parkinson’s is a cruel disease. Your poem captures the decline through its visual structure. The questioning resonates w/ life’s unfairness.

  2. Your narrative and poetry are so honest and moving. The repetition in your poem is really powerful. Writing through pain and love is hard stuff. Thank you for sharing this.