On Loneliness and Obligation
Last updated: January 2021
White powder is falling from the sky, blanketing Eastern Michigan in the cold substance. My sister and I just arrived after a 14-hour road trip, and we’re exhausted.
Dad is taking his pills from the kitchen sink. When we walk by the window, a smile flashes across his face. He’s surprised to see us. We told him we weren’t going to be home until dinner, yet we’re 12 hours early. He welcomes us into his arms, looking relieved to have us home. And I can’t help but wonder if he’s lonely.
Worrying about my dad's happiness
It isn’t just that it’s the holiday season, and feelings of loneliness seem to grow in intensity around this time of the year. He also looks more serious than he usually is, face frozen into a look of neutrality. I know that Parkinson's disease (PD) commonly impacts facial muscles (in addition to muscles across the rest of the body), and I don’t know if I’m misreading him.
But the feeling of his unhappiness bothers me. I know he’s happy to see us, but is he happy? The question falls out of my mind, jostling my heart when it does. We quickly become lost in reports about our journey, telling Dad about my life in North Carolina, and my troubles are momentarily forgotten.
Observing the progression of Parkinson's
After breakfast, I fill the sink with frothy liquid. The steam rises while the bubbles grow. I was home about two months ago, and I’m already noticing changes to my parent’s home. Dad’s morning routine minimizes the number of trips he has to take to the kitchen when my Mom isn’t available. He takes a thermos to the table with him. He also uses an insulated cup for his first beverage. This cup has a lid.
Before my Mom walks out the door, she fills a pan with perogies drizzling oil on top of them. When Dad is ready, all he has to do is turn the stove on to make breakfast for himself.
I’m glad to know that he’s finding ways to manage on his own and that he and my Mom are working as a team even when she isn’t around. But the new routine still hints at his decline. Are we looking at the sands of time, falling to the bottom of an hourglass? Will my parents continue to find ways to adapt to Parkinson's? Or is a larger change looming in the distance?
Finding my Role in providing support
I can’t help but worry about my parents. Mom needs a hip replacement. Dad has Parkinson's and Colitis. Neither of them complains. Is it selfish of me to choose a life in the mountains while my parents are battling old age?
What’s my role in their lives as a loving daughter? Are there ways that my siblings, who are still local, can support day-to-day operations? And will I regret not being at home someday?
I always seem to have a modge podge of feelings when I finally come home, wondering if I’m making the right decision. My heart is split between places. And clarity never seems to find me.
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