Up. Up and away… not in a balloon, though that would be fun, but in a chair lift scaling a precipitous mountain in the French Alps. Lake Benit lay hidden in a crater out of reach to David and me. We’d called ahead to find out if the chair lift would take somebody so handicapped. “Mais oui. We stop the lift, help him on, stop it again to help him off…et voila.”
I pictured the frenchness of his shrug. Imagined the incredulous are-you-mad-you-didn’t exclamations of our friends back in litigation-fearing States; the disclaimer forms we’d be forced to sign should the lift operators even agree to allow him on. This happened just two summers back when David’s balance often tipped him to the ground and he could no longer hold his body upright. Legs dangling swinging above the pines, clutching the safety bar across holding us in the chair we made it to the summit, our children and grandchildren encouraging. The only person fussing — me. Oooo. I shiver — the clang and judder of the chairlift bumping along the wire.
The scary ride was worth it — the picnic and view — a dream. Leaving David propped happy in a folding chair among the crocus and blue gentian, we scattered to explore. Shame I didn’t have my camera ready when I returned, captured the scene, David hunkered in his chair encircled by curious cows. It seems David attracts them. Once in Costa Rica returning from his walk, I met David, sheepish, behind him a string of maybe eleven cows plodding in his footsteps along the black sand beach.
Memories such as these are what support me when I sink depressed. Uplift me and remind me, Parkinsons or no, we can and still do have fun.
What I am saying, Caregivers, is don’t hold back. Be bold. Defy the damnable disease. I’m surprised how much David is still keen to do with gentle prodding.
If I have anything to offer, caregivers, I’d say jump at every chance to take a flying leap at all the wild things you’ve dreamed of doing while you can. Ride that air balloon, paraglide the air currents beside the ravens riding tandem… Learn a new language? Why ever not. Walk the treadmill? Don’t listen to fuddy-duddies who insist it’s too dangerous, just make sure somebody is with him. Compete in the Senior Olympics? Hell yes. DO IT.
David and I took up ping-pong just a couple of months ago. Fearless, at first David staggered backwards after every ball and sometimes fell, but now? He’s become a tiger. Zip, zip, his improved balance, hand/eye/mind coordination the ball skims the net.
“I’d like to sign up for the Chi Center’s Qigong Course,” David surprised me last week. So we did. Lasted the full eight hours.
“I’d like to try medical marijuana,” he declared a year ago. Helped a little but not enough to renew his card.
Fly? Why not? “If he can sit in a chair watching TV for hours, then why not in a plane?”
We ordered wheelchair assistance at the airports, found people to rent our house and took off.
Up, Up and away we went…a bamboo palapa in the trees above the beach in Mexico; snakes and rain in Belize; the ruins of Tikal in the Guatemalan jungle; hot springs and volcanoes in Chile; summers in Spain, Italy, Scotland, France…ten days in a rubber dingy riding through the Grand Canyon rapids… We crammed our lives.
“Sri Lanka was the best of all,” David said one day thumbing through an album and laughing at the image of himself wielding a machete attempting to hack open a coconut and remembering how his sarong slipped.
Turning a page, topless, I walk again the black sands on the isolated beach beyond the ginger plants and lemon grasses around our shack. Call songs of love to the waves.
Could fourteen years have passed since Kerala?
“Damn weird place to honeymoon,” my son remarked when I told him we were off to an Ayurveda Nursing Home in India for a month’s treatment.”
Our quarters were a sand-floored hut, our bathroom open to the air with a resident scorpion in the basin, and bed with a coconut-coir filled mattress. We were in heaven. David checked in with a fading voice, and head constantly moving. Twenty-eight days later checked out with a strong voice and head no longer jiggling. Exhausted, oiled, pummeled, clear-skinned and healthy, “It took six weeks on a beach recovering,” we jest.
This winter we’re off to Puerto Vallarta for two weeks. Vacation and dental work combined same as every year for the past seven. Cheaper dentist, the savings make our holiday free — well ALMOST. This year I’m nervous managing David on my own so a good friend will share our space. Boost my confidence. Help me.
“Hey, hurry, hurry, David, look, a double rainbow. Let’s sit on the porch and watch,” I cry shuffling him through the door.
It is too easy for the two of us to slump feet up, stare at nothing, and slide into the ether. You too, I suspect caregivers, if you’re tired as I am.
Parkinson’s disease weighs so heavy sometimes. Squashes me flat. David’s shell sits keeled to one side unresponsive. No cajoling hauled him to the present. Would he EVER return? I pretend he isn’t there. Re-focus on Lilies, a British film I’m half watching. Fight back tears, forgetting we were once a regular couple that met and fell in love at our village rodeo 35 years ago…our courtship of eighteen years.
“Remember when…” I coax myself. Drop my caregiver mantle. Revived by memories. HAPPY ones…his joke as we signed the Marriage License, “I don’t know what the hurry is.”
My husband, my David, my best friend floats into a world beyond my reach, I turn my head and see not the wrecked human he now is but the sensitive, gentle being who first introduced me to a moonrise — the heavy yellow orb releasing slowly from the mesa flooding the Galisteo basin so brightly we can see each rock and juniper tree. I’d noticed no such beauty in suburban England. Barely witnessed a sunset through her grey pall.
It came to me then: proportionally speaking these down years are but a small toll to pay for the thirty years of good. I have enough memories tucked into my brain to see me through.
Change the prescription of your glasses, I once heard an Indian Spiritual Master teach. I bought a pair of rose-tinted glasses. Keep them on my puja, altar, as a reminder to see the world in a different way. After all isn’t there a silver lining in everything? Difficult to think WHAT sometimes. Well…his Parkinsons, my caregiver role has brought us closer, that’s certain. Worked my character over too—most likely for the better. Parkinsons? Yes, the disease has taught me to see the less abled in a kinder light, discover what matters in our lives. Educated us in subjects we’d never heard of before P.D.
Without David I’d be rattling alone in an empty nest wanting him back…
“Give us a year together, God,” I prayed before we got married. “Please don’t let Parkinson’s Disease take him from me just yet.”
Now we’ve had fourteen years.