Losing a friend made Dad face his own mortality

A columnist reflects on a conversation with her father

Mary Beth Skylis avatar

by Mary Beth Skylis |

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“Jim Rice was a nice guy,” Dad told me one afternoon late last summer. “He walked into my office when I was at Century 21. He didn’t know who I was, but he asked me right away if I had Parkinson’s disease. That was almost 15 years ago.”

Dad was trying to wrap his head around the loss of his friend. Rice, like Dad, had Parkinson’s, and he lost his battle with it last year. In the wake of his death, people who knew and loved him pondered the vacancy left by his absence.

“He was a Vietnam veteran,” Dad recalled. “And he was exposed to Agent Orange.”

I think it’s a common part of the human experience to use reasoning as an antidote to suffering. As Dad processed the loss of his friend, he seemed to be trying to understand it, too. Maybe his friend’s fate would’ve been different if he hadn’t been exposed to Agent Orange. Reason seems to bring Dad comfort.

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Pondering our own mortality

How do you go from having someone to not having them anymore? It’s a timeless question. This one struck Dad with a particular intensity because of the nature of Rice’s death.

Dad sees himself in his friend. “I don’t really think about it too much, but the thought crossed my mind that this could be me eventually,” he said.

He added: “It’s the same thing when I’m in my exercise classes. There are some people that struggle, and they probably have it worse than me. And that might be my future.”

Although Dad is currently independent and self-sufficient, watching his friends in the Parkinson’s community struggle serves as a reminder that his own future isn’t certain. And even if he manages to fight Parkinson’s with all of his might, he’ll have to face his own mortality someday, too.

“I try not to think about [my feelings],” he told me. “But it’s in the back of my mind that I’ll end up in assisted living.”

I tried to comfort him by saying that he has a lot of alternative options. But I knew that nothing was certain. And Dad knew it, too.

In some ways, I think it’s good that Dad and I have to consider our own mortality because it allows us to live more intentionally. While the process doesn’t seem to soften the blow of loss, it does provide perspective. Dad told me that he had the chance to visit his friend before he died, which brought him comfort, even as he faced his own feelings.

I only hope that by remembering our own eventual fates, we can learn to love each other a little bit harder.

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.


jm davidson avatar

jm davidson

my husband, who had been doing well, was the first to go in his Parkinson's group. He did not die of Parkinson's (no one really does-you die with it). I relate to the feeling of loss (where did he go and all the work we put into the battle) But another favorite from the group died soon after. It leaves us all reeling.

I promised my husband that he would never, ever go to Assisted Living. And I meant it.

I wish we would focus on Parkinson's Villages, places for the primary patient but also the caregivers and friends and family so it's realistic to say that with more people on board, there might be more efficient ways for all to thrive. Going it alone it not good.

The losses stay forever and few people who have not had the experience will never understand .

I find hope in the Rock Steady Boxing community. Still go there and participate with others- nothing needs to be explained because we all either have or are living it.

Milton L Weaver avatar

Milton L Weaver

I have had Parkinson for 12 or so years. I noticed the limitations at leased a year before. I had no experience with limitations. I was a Marine Sgt..who had joined expecting to die in combat. I thought it was my destiny. I had to find and initiate plan B. I got a masters degree in counseling Psychology working with families. students and veterans. I had to retire. I was loosing energy and didn't feel like doing much. I went to PD groups for a while but, fazed out. I love to play golf, so with my doctor's encouragement. I played a lot. I quite once, but knowing that the brain can develop new paths when damaged, I set new goals. I started to learn to play with PD. It can be frustrating and I had to remind myself to be patient. At first I blamed my doctor that I needed more meds, but it didn't solve the problem. I went through the fears of death that I had never felt in the Marines. I used cognitive therapy on myself. What you think creates how you feel! I had to challenge those, give up, thoughts. I started to get small improvements . I stopped blaming meds, but took what I was given. I also had to change my error in thinking" PD would kill me". It won't! . Then I joined the PD boxing group. I got stronger. Now I'm" focusing on building back what I had lost due to lazy or negative thoughts. If you don't use it , you seem to lose it. So, now I do as much as I can, without blaming myself, if some days aren't on goal. Goals give you hope and energizes when they are meet. When I don't meet them I smile and blame PD. It no longer feels like a game stopper, but a challenge , a co-partner in my journey of life. I remind myself that a thought is just a thought, that I can challenge, change and win. The more I win, the more I gain knowledge on how to succeed I'm no longer bothered to ask for help, but try to do it myself first. I have just got back from a trip to Japan for two wks. I was wheel chaired through the airports. Prearranged by my wife, who sat beside me. I walked through different tours, but sat when I needed to rest. It was the best trip of my life. Remember, you can learn to change your feelings by changing your thoughts. I used to walk into a classroom that had a screaming student busting up the room, and say suddenly "what is that?" pointing at something out of their sight. It would change their thinking and their feelings. When times get tough, remember to challenge those negative thoughts. Remember there will be fun times to enjoy. I hope this will help.


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