My dad’s Parkinson’s disease has made me more empathetic

The effects of Parkinson's disease on family can build character

Mary Beth Skylis avatar

by Mary Beth Skylis |

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Living with a chronic illness that isn’t visible to others can be lonely. Friends and loved ones might not understand why you make certain choices, which forces you to justify your actions. If you skip a social outing, you might experience resistance from those who don’t understand your plight. Or you might start losing friends.

I think a visible chronic disease like Parkinson’s can be much the same, but it also provides an opportunity to cultivate empathy. If you’ve ever been through a difficult time, you probably know how to empathize with others while they’re experiencing challenges. My dad’s Parkinson’s serves as a reminder to me to make fewer assumptions about someone else’s experience. If my dad says he’s unable to attend a social gathering or complete a certain task around the house, who am I to dispute it? If someone else has a sudden issue that prevents them from attending a social gathering, why is that cause for judgment?

My dad’s emotional relationship with Parkinson’s is subtle. He doesn’t complain. He seldom talks about the difficulties he’s encountering. But one of my greatest revelations was that just because he isn’t talking about a problem doesn’t mean he isn’t experiencing it. And if I’m quick to jump to conclusions about him, I’m probably overlooking some of the essential facts that are contributing to his decision making.

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Can I ever fully understand what it’s like to navigate Parkinson’s disease without having it? Will I ever be able to channel my dad’s experience without living with Parkinson’s disease? I don’t think so. But getting up close and personal with my dad’s struggles does seem to give me a greater perspective about the difficult things we may experience in our lives. And it reminds me to have compassion, to walk with a little extra softness, and to avoid judging others.

A person’s ability to come from a place of empathy rather than judgment says a lot about their character. Humans don’t always react to trials and tribulations in expected ways, which can make those who are struggling feel unseen and unsupported. But that doesn’t mean we can’t attempt to be better versions of ourselves and give our loved ones space to experience their own lives without shame and more difficulty.

Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


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