A nervous-looking woman sitting is surrounded by concerned family members standing behind her.

I Have Something to Tell You

To my husband: I have Parkinson’s.
Response: A hug and then "Well, at least we know what it is now. Do you want to talk about it? Or let yourself sit with it a while?"

To my grown daughters: Initially silence, then questions: "Are you sure? Can it be cured? What are the symptoms? How did you know? Is it hereditary?"

These words were followed by stories of their friends’ parents and grandparents who also have Parkinson’s. So and so’s mom’s hands shake so much she can’t hold a glass. Another friend’s grandmother has trouble remembering words and other things.

My daughters are struggling

My first contact with my daughters after the diagnosis: Unmistakably shocked expressions when I arrived, had difficulty getting out of the car and then entered the house with a walker.

A mother’s instinct to reassure them: "I’m OK" and then to change the subject." "I like the way you’re wearing your hair." "That’s a great looking blouse."

Sitting at the table, I reach for a glass and, with hands shaking, something they are witnessing for the first time, I knock it over. Two daughters hurry to wipe up the spills and say: "Let me get you another glass. Would a smaller one be better?" Another gets teary eyed. The other gets up from the table and hurries to another room.

I realize this is not going well. My children are sad. Humor usually helps. So, I say "There’s a great demand for me at bars. I can shake martinis."

No response.

Not ready for their help

Everyone lines up around the buffet table. I try to figure out how I’ll join the line with my walker and try to fill a plate. One daughter asks if I’d like her to carry my plate or just ask me what I’d like while she fills it and I hold on to the walker or stay at the table.

For just a few seconds I feel anger and frustration. I’m not ready for this kind of help. Two other daughters clear a spot at the table for the walker. I again try humor. "You don’t need as many chairs. My walker has a seat!"

A little chuckle and "thanks, Mom" The other daughter stares down at her plate. I know they will all come around. They are strong, kind women. But what comes next is not so certain.

Facing my colleagues

I wait as long as possible to tell my professional colleagues, my peers. My first question is will they continue viewing me as their peer? I make it through announcing the diagnosis in emails or on the phone.

They are surprised and concerned. And, even if they were beginning to have doubts about my professional abilities, I didn’t hear them on the phone or get a sense of it in their emails.

But, soon came the my biggest hurdle, my most serious concern. A colleague and her husband came for a 3-day visit. They said they would love to go to the Botanical Gardens near our home. This was the last place I wanted to go.

How will they see me?

The trail around the gardens was rocky and scattered with loose stones. The only way I could go would be if I was in a wheelchair. What would they think of me being wheeled around? The image of me sitting and being pushed around while they stood up and walked, shook me to the core.

How will they see me now? Will they remember that I, just as they, have had some success as a writer? I believe they sensed my distress as they began to argue over who would get the "chance" to push the wheelchair.

And, as they did so, they engaged in conversations about my upcoming writing project. It turned out to be a most beautiful day in the gardens.

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