Confronting Mortality

The tears streamed down my face on a late fall morning in Michigan. I’d just made it to my cousin’s house after being home for a while. And I couldn’t take it anymore.

Every time I travelled home, it seemed like my parents’ mortality was staring me blankly in the face. And it’s always startling to see my dad. Dad has Parkinson’s. And as he ages, his symptoms make it clear that our time together is dwindling. Seeing his tremors and hearing his quiet voice rips holes in my heart.

Is it Parkinson's or old age?

As soon as I walked into the door to my cousin’s house, my voice betrayed me. “What is it?” my cousin asked. Between sobs I explained that I didn’t want to have to watch my dad grow weak. And it wasn’t just his body that was failing him. His mind seemed to have to work harder to achieve the same results.

Was it Parkinson’s? Or was it old age? He was 67, after all. And we, sometimes, had a difficult time determining which symptoms were due to the disease and which were due to life.

Was Parkinson’s stealing the time that I should have with my childhood superhero? Or was this just a natural part of growing up? All I knew is that I couldn’t sit face-to-face with the reality that I was losing my dad, anymore.

The loss of a parent

My cousin is a nurse by trade. She works in a nursing home and often deals with human mortality. She spoke to me with the kind of confidence that’s built up over time, after she’s already confronted tragedy over and over. It seemed like she was losing a patient every other week.

But the regularity of facing death didn’t seem to make it any easier. Tears welled in her eyes when she wrapped her arms around me. She confided in me saying that after her dad’s stroke, she had the same reckoning. We wouldn’t have our parents forever. Sometimes there isn’t a way to explain away the tragedy, giving ourselves comfort at a dark hour.

Sometimes nothing makes any sense, and there is no solution. The realization seems pointless. We all die. And there isn’t any comfort in that idea – especially when it means you have to lose the people who make you into the person that you are. It’s startling to see both of my parents when I’m home.

Trying to process the grief

But there’s something about the unnatural degeneration of Parkinson’s that breaks me into pieces. My strong dad shouldn’t have to go through this. What did he do to deserve such a lawless fate?

There’s a lot of anger mixed up in my tears. We talk about fairness and the lack thereof. We talk about imagining a life without our protective dads. How impossible it seems to imagine a time when they’ll expire.

By the time our tears are dry, we feel a little bit more ready to face the day. But there isn’t a resolution. For me, there doesn’t seem to be a way to embrace the grief with broken arms. But I try to stand tall, nonetheless.

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