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Family Matters Blog: Blogger Confronts Elder-care Issues

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 29, 2010 – My husband and I loaded up the kids and drove to the Jersey Shore last week to spend Thanksgiving with my parents. The plan was to meet on the holiday at a hotel buffet known for its lavish spread.

We made it to the restaurant first, and I kept an eye on the door while also trying to corral my eager kids. I spotted my parents first, but didn’t immediately wave them over. I watched for a moment, noticing, perhaps for the first time, how much older my father looked.

His gait was stiff and slow as he navigated his way past a crowd of people waiting for tables, cutting a wide berth as he went. My mother led him with a hand protectively nestled in the crook of his arm, and he leaned slightly into her as if fearful of standing on his own.

I see my parents every two or three months, and at each visit, I’m saddened at how Parkinson’s disease is slowly but surely robbing my father of his steadiness, his quickness, and the last remnants of his youth.

My children are too young to remember, but less than a decade earlier, my father would hop on his bike each morning and ride into town for a newspaper. He’d cycle past the bustling boardwalk lined with T-shirt and fudge shops, and almost always park in front of his favorite coffee haunt.

My father had settled into retirement with ease, glad to trade in the stressful, demanding work of an oncologist for a life of leisure. He also was nearing retirement from his beloved Air Force Reserve, in which he served for 20 years as a flight surgeon.

My father had grown gentler and more patient with the years and with the shedding of his working-day stress. He had never seemed happier to me.

But a slight, persistent tremor in his hand began to concern him several years back. He went to see his physician, then a neurologist, and then got the diagnosis -- Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that impairs motor skills, cognitive processes and other functions.

It gripped his mind as quickly as it grabbed hold of his body. He became sharply cognizant of his mortality, and as a physician, all-too aware of the mental and physical fate that lay ahead.

Our conversations shifted from activities and travel plans to a laundry list of doctor’s appointments and symptoms, and his world, day by day, began to shrink. Treks to the outside world became fewer and further between, and the bike rides slowed then stopped altogether.

I mourned for my father’s health as I saw him mourn for his youth. I wanted to slow the hands of time for him even as I knew they ravage us all without prejudice.

But it was Thanksgiving, and he was here, so I shook my head as if to shake loose my sad thoughts, and waved at my parents across the room. My father spotted us and as his eyes met mine, he smiled, and it was the same smile I remember from my youth.

I don’t know what the future holds for him, or what my role will be in it. I know the questions of health care, assisted living and finances will arise in time. They seem to be growing issues for my generation as our baby-boomer parents age. I’d like to discuss these issues in this blog in the months ahead, focusing particularly on the resources and support that are so abundant for our military families.

But for today, I’m just grateful my dad is here, and that my children have the chance to know him.

They may not fully comprehend the nuances of his life – his years of military service and of the lives he saved in his practice – but they’ll always remember the man who gave them gold coins and tickled their feet when he thought they weren’t looking.

And for today, I’d like to simply sit back and watch my father’s eyes light up as my kids rush to hug him, and listen to him reminisce about the past with his razor-sharp memory. And when he leaves for the night, leaning ever-so-slightly into my mother’s strong embrace, I’ll watch him go, grateful for another holiday spent together.

To comment on this blog, or read other posts, visit the Family Matters website.


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