Two sets of hands (one with more wrinkles) each hold a mug full of a steaming beverage.

A Slow Vacation with Parkinson’s Disease

It’s a sunny summer day in northern Michigan when I walk out onto the back porch. Water bugs wiggle around the coast of Lake Ann while I sip my coffee with my dad. We’ve never been morning people, and I think Dad has become even less of a morning person since Parkinson’s entered his life like a black horse swooping in.

He wakes early, but he never quite seems rested. And he naps in the afternoons to try to compensate for the differences in his sleep schedule.

I, like my dad, share few words before 10 AM, and this morning is no exception to the rule. We’re comfortable in our silence, noticing the shared moments slipping by. We listen to the gurgling coffee pot in the kitchen and the distant bird in the woods.

Reflecting on time

It is the first time I’ve seen everyone since Christmas of last year, and my return comes with mixed feelings - like it always seems to.

I’m sad to see my parents changing. It seems like their hair grows greyer every day. Dad doesn’t look bedraggled or forlorn, although Parkinson’s still challenges him. But I'm feeling blessed to be present.

We’re celebrating my Grandma’s 90th Birthday this week, and we’ve all been reflecting on time. At this stage of my Grandma’s life, she doesn’t seem particularly wrapped up in material things. Instead, my mom encourages us to share memories and stuff them into a jar for her to read at her leisure.

Seeking simplicity

I notice the same streak of simplicity in my dad. Although he has quite a few years before reaching 90, he also seems more motivated by shared time and sentimental things than he does by goods.

For me, life often feels like it’s speeding by at a million miles per minute. I always have places to be, and business to attend to. The speed limit in my life is closer to the Audubon’s limits than my dad’s.

But I admire the wisdom in his eyes. He has already travelled at the speed of light. Now, he takes comfort in the space between endeavors.

Changing the pace

Sometimes I wish he’d workout more diligently or fight Parkinson’s with an iron fist. He always looks his best when he has been boxing or hitting the gym regularly. But ever since COVID-19 closed down all of the gyms, he hasn’t been able to return to a habitual routine.

At other times, I realize that there’s value in slowness. It’s not always bad to change our pace. Now, instead of zooming through life, my dad watches the squirrels from his back window.

There seems to be a natural slowing as we age that’s neither here nor there. Grandma travels less, marching at the beat of her body. Dad ebbs and flows depending on his Parkinson’s symptoms and his daily motivation.

I wonder if there will be a day when I’m forced to slow down, too. How do we find the balance between charging forward and going with the flow? And is there room for both of these attitudes as we reckon with life?

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