Today I hope to share some of the lessons and insights I am learning about this Parkinson’s disease that affected my Father…..
Like any challenging experience we have in our lives there can be different and opposing viewpoints. Some would say it was a curse and nothing good about it. I want to take the opposing view that there was a blessing to this disease that I received. I found out while I cared for my Dad in Boise, ID that Parkinson’s was a brain disease. I never knew that. Usually the taste and smell can be a major first sign ten to fifteen years ahead of the visual tremors or shakes that Parkinson’s patients usually show. I did remember that my Dad lost his sense of smell and taste years ago.
One of the greatest benefits of this disease is that the short term memory that is in the base of the brain goes away at first. Of course this can be challenging because you need to keep repeating thins to your loved one. They do not remember. It is so frustrating. Those of you that have experienced Alzheimer’s Disease know how challenging it can be. For those of us left behind or taking care of them, sometimes it is very draining to needing to repeat yourself over and over again. However, the benefit of the short term memory going first, I was able to learn about my Dad in ways I never knew about him in his younger days. I always wondered about it. He would not talk about it very much except some of his various antics he had with me that were funny, really funny.
With his short term memory going, I was finally able to get some of the answers to questions I had about him. The memories of yesteryear were fresh in his mind, like they just happened. He would share stories and experiences that were rich and revealing. They helped to solve some of the questions I had about him. I wanted to be an Art Therapist for children before going into my beloved interior design and educational fields. People like me want learn about what makes people tick.
I learned about his relationships with his parents, grandparents and siblings that started unlocking the door to who my Father really was as an adult. These experiences shaped who he became and affected him throughout his entire life. He died two weeks short of is 79th birthday on March 10, 2014. I am so glad that I gave him a small birthday party with his beloved German Chocolate Cake. I wondered to myself if it would be the last birthday party he would have as I often thought of his illness and what he would or would not be able to do at the end of his life. He died on February 28, 2014. He did not mind sharing about those experiences. I relished to learn more about him. I was truly amazed at all that he had been through and lived through those experiences.
He was born and grew up in Greeley, CO until he was about ten years of age. He never did like the snow. They had some hard winters there. Maybe because he knew how hard it could be. Since he was a truck driver all of his life, he would be one to know the challenging times and how treacherous the driving conditions became with the snow and ice alike. He saw his share of accidents himself. He was fortunate to never have had an accident throughout his life.
He was born in 1935 and his parents had survived the Depression. He said he grew up poor, but then most people did after surviving the Depression. Although, it is interesting to see how stylish the limited clothes that his family had in some of the old family photos I found. The family later moved to Peoria, AZ when he was in elementary school.
He was the second oldest. He was the closest to his older brother, Gilbert. They were three years apart. They were the best of friends and no matter how challenging life became for both of them, they still remained close throughout their entire lives.
He was a character and died as a character. I think he got that from his Dad, my dear old Tata Fred. He enjoyed teasing others and making them laugh. He inherited his great sense of humor that he shared with all of us. I think he got it from my dear beloved Grandfather, Tata Fred. He was very quick witted. My youngest brother, Mark, takes after him for sure!
I also learned about the two accidents he had as a young boy playing on the farm on the big tractor tires. He fell off and hurt his back and at the time they did not have much for the care for kids with accidents like that apparently. Another time he was on a truck and he somehow slipped and fell on the hard wooden stairs of their little country church. He said the pain was excruciating. He suffered with back pain all his life. I am sure being a trucker made matters worse. (On a personal note, I fractured my tailbone in my early years of marriage. I will never forget the pain! My recovery would consist of pain medicine and a “doughnut” I had to sleep and sit on for weeks.) So, it did give me a greater insight on the pain he must have suffered all his life. I cannot imagine. Pain pills just lessened it. The only way for him to recover was a 50-50 chance he could have surgery, but then it was not a guarantee. He was too afraid he would end up paralyzed that sometimes does happen.
My Dad’s nickname for me was “Questions” and said I had a wealth of questions and wondered if they would ever stop. Some of the questions I used to have of my Dad were:
- What was he like as a young boy growing up in Greeley, CO with his four other siblings?
- What experiences did he have that made him into the man he became?
- Why did he choose being a truck driver from all of the professions he could have had to make his living and place in life? He drove across this great country of ours delivering fruits and vegetables to people all over the place. I did not appreciate his profession all the time. I used to hate it sometimes when it took him away from our family throughout the years.
- What made him escape from us? Why would he shut down like he did and sometimes would have gaps of giving us the silent treatment he learned from his Mom? I HATED IT!
- Why did he drink so much and become a totally different person? Couldn’t he see how much it affected us his family so much? What kind of pain was he trying to drown out?
- Why was it so hard for him to show his love to me and others in our family? He did not receive the love from his Mom the way his other siblings did. Too many things that are too personal to share here. Let me just say, I finally learned what those were and it gave me a greater understanding of why he was the way he was.
- What made him feel unworthy, unaccepted and unloved? The old saying “Walk a mile in my shoes and then you will understand me.” What an enlightening statement.
LESSONS I LEARNED:
1. Parkinson’s Disease is a brain Disease with short term memory going first. Benefit of Long Term Memory is rich and insightful! I was finally able to get some answers to the Questions I always longed to learn about my Dad, finally….
2. Depression is another side effect. If issues were not resolved before they will need to be addressed now. Be ready for lots of anger, tears and sadness…. He was finally able to talk about issues he would not address before. Different generation, but they still needed to share their souls with us.
3. The need for care may be accelerated. Tremors may come but not always visible….My Dad would wake up with them. But he would stop and say no, no, no to the symptoms of having the shakes every time he got them. He was a very strong man. He was determined that they would not be part of his life. It is not something you may be able to control.
4. Lots of falls and balance challenges. They will need someone nearby at all times. I learned how fragile life can be and accidents or falls could happen any time night or day. It was a very humbling experience for my Dad. Although I realized it was harder for him than me.
5. Muscles tighten and get limited with time. When you say forward they will usually go backward. They are not resisting you, that is just how their body will works. So I learned to have more patience during his care.
6. They can still feel your presence even in the last days. I am so very grateful for the time I had to experience his last days. There were times when I gave him my hand and he would just squeeze it tight. No words were needed then…
I miss you Dad and so glad we finally got our lives restored and renewed. I now have such better memories than I ever thought I could with our past history and the gift I received of Restoration. However, My Biggest Life Lesson on this is that,
“OUR LIVES ARE A GIFT, THAT IS WHY THEY CALL IT THE PRESENT!”
There is so much more and I am sure I will continue to share these insights as time goes by. It is a funny thing, I can still feel my Dad’s presence sometimes with me….Color me Grateful!!!!