Woman on an adventure, but searching in the distance for home.

On Traveling When Your Dad Has Parkinson's

I’ve always had the kind of soul that’s hungry to see new beginnings - a gentle sunrise over the Smoky Mountains or pieces of coral reef emerging from the Costa Rican Caribbean. I live in the space between places, where home becomes distant like a fuzzy afterthought.

An urge to travel passed down by my dad

It's a trait that I adopted from my Dad. He was a wanderer, too. For nearly a decade of his life, he hitchhiked across the country several times. Eventually, he boarded a ship and began a chapter as a sailor where he caught ocean creatures in massive nets.

He spent most of his 20s exploring Europe between tours with the Merchant Marines. And eventually had a whole squad of children (six) when he met my Mom.

I was born with my Dad’s curiosity. My Mom worries when she hears about the latest adventure that I’ve designed. But my Dad knowingly nods. He sees himself in me, watching my inquisitive quirks grip my soul.

Choosing to travel after my dad's diagnosis

When my dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013, I experienced a glitch in my makeup. How could I travel the world while sharing his Parkinson’s pain?

Home is where your heart is. Even before the diagnosis, it was difficult for me to say goodbye to my family. I’m one of the lucky ones who was given a set of relentlessly loving parents.

How could I leave such kindness behind? When Parkinson’s became our new reality, this intense division became even more clear to me. I didn’t want to waste the time that I have left with my Dad.

We only have so much time with the people who make us who we are. Is choosing to be away from those people worth the cost? Do the rewards outweigh the time spent? Time is a currency, and I know that I’ll always spend it on adventures. But being close to home is important to me too.

Quality time with a parent who has Parkinson's

During my most recent journey home, my car ran into some mechanical issues. It wasn’t long before my face was covered in tears and I was on the phone with my Dad. The man who had always been my superhero was talking me through the difficulties once again.

He picked up his phone and dialed the number of the local dealership to see if he could help me to make sense of my predicament. Dad confirmed my suspicions that the mechanics were trying to rip me off.

When I finally arrived in Michigan, my Dad was smiling with relief. He patted me on the back, pulling me closer towards his heart.

While Parkinson's seems to be a constant reminder that life is short, I also consider myself fortunate to count my blessings. I still travel, today. Dad is surrounded by a lot of people who love him as much as I do. And while I can often be found scaling rocks and mountain tops in a distant place, I make it a point to come home a little more often.

Checking-in with my dad

I want to check-in and see what my Dad isn’t telling me. How are you really? I wonder to myself. Are your spirits as high as you say they are? 

He has never been a complainer and getting him to admit how difficult the disease is can be tough until you look him in the eyes.

My tears well when I think about navigating future car problems without him. Do you suppose it’s easier or harder to know that your time together is limited? And do we become less than vigilant if we don’t constantly remind ourselves of this reality?

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