Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Gift I Received From Parkinson’s Disease

Well, I must admit that I am just recently coming out of a short “why me” phase. It was short-lived and out of character, and I am now out of my “funk”. I now believe that this “funk” was directly related to the fact that this disease has dramatically changed my life. For some reason, this realization really hit me hard after Christmas, when I realized that the things I have done during the holidays every year in the past, took much more effort and more time for my body to play catch up after the holidays. I basically received an “in your face” lesson from my body, that I have to accept the limitations and learn to adapt to the limits placed on my physical capabilities. Adapting to such limitations is not really that difficult, because there often comes a time when the body just says to stop and rest. Often there is not a choice involved. On the other hand, acceptance does not always come easy, because we must mentally make the choice to acknowledge those limitations and make a conscious decision to embrace the things in life that we are still capable of doing.

When my kids were younger, and I was a single parent, I often dreamed about what I would do if I had all the time in the world to do whatever I wanted to do. During those days which seem so long ago, I was a full time parent who balanced taking care of two children and a full time job. Looking back, I now wonder how I ever managed those hectic days.

I recently came to the realization, that I now have that time that I always dreamed about. Unfortunately, that time was given to be prematurely due to Parkinson’s Disease. If I had to be honest with myself, I would have much rather received this time later in life, much closer to a normal retirement age.

I have changed my perspective on my early retirement, and I now believe that I have been given a gift. In return, I decided that I wanted to do something with that gift that would impact the people in my life that I care about the most.

My grandfather recently passed away, and my mother and her siblings have received old family pictures, some that date back to my grandparents’ grandparents. My grandpa took most of these pictures, as he was a semi-professional photographer. My grandmother, who was a very important person in my life, had passed away in 1991. When both of my grandparents were living, our family was very close knit. When my grandma passed away, that closeness seemed to fall apart. She was the thread that held the fabric of our family together.

When my grandpa found out he was dying, he made it known that he wanted to make peace with family members that he had not been in contact with due to various issues. I was blessed to be able to bring my father and his wife, my sister and her children, and my children to his bedside before his death. I saw it as a final gift to my grandpa and grandma. My son was the most difficult, because I had to arrange for him to come out from Las Vegas. My grandpa had a special relationship with my son, who would call my grandpa often just to say hello, so I knew that it was important for them to see one another before my grandpa passed away. As if he were waiting for him, my grandpa passed away the day after I took my son to see him. I filmed this final visit with my camcorder, which shows the two of them joking back and forth, as they often did.

The gift of time that I have been given, as well as the old photos that are now in our hands, gave me an idea. I decided to create a living legacy of my grandparents by creating a DVD movie with the pictures. This DVD will tell the story through pictures beginning with the oldest family photos through the generation of my children. In essence it will cover six generations. My mother, aunt and I are working on this project as a gift to every family member for Christmas this year. None of us are computer gurus, but my husband has shown me how we can do this using a photo scanner and my trusty computer. In addition, each family member will get a copy of all the photos that are not used in the DVD movie, in the form of CD’s. We decided that it was important for each family member to have copies of all of the pictures, rather than dividing them up among various family members. We also plan to create a master family tree diagram as a reference tool. This will allow a family member, current or future, who may view a picture and name of a person that is unfamiliar, and to be able to look to the diagram to see where this person lies within the family tree.

My sister and I are working on another gift for the family, which consists of converting old 8mm and Super 8 home movies to DVD format. These were home movies that my grandpa took of my mother and her siblings when they were children and home movies that my dad took of us while we were small children. This is a gift that we will not be able to do on our own. My sister and I must find a reputable company to do this for us, and she and I will share the cost of having it done.

Additionally, I am in possession of two 120 minute audio cassettes that my grandma created prior to her death in 1991. Essentially, she spoke into a tape recorder and told her life story from the time she was a small child through adulthood. I plan to try to convert these cassettes into CD’s minus the background noise. My husband believes that this can be done at home, so when I am ready to begin that part of the project, he will assist me with the process. My grandma was one of those people who was loved by everyone who ever knew her, and I believe that hearing her story in her own words and voice is a great addition to the DVD movie of our family history.

Finally, I plan to do a separate but similar project as a gift for my children. I have taped many of their life events using a camcorder, and I have kept just about everything they ever did in school. I plan to create a DVD movie for each child with the camcorder footage, so that each child has a copy of some of the biggest events in their lives. This DVD will also include the numerous pictures I have taken of them throughout their lives. If time allows, I will then scan all of their school papers and burn them to a CD, so that I will always have a copy. Then, I hope to create scrapbooks of the originals for each child. In essence, I want to give each of my children the family history I described above, but I also want them to have a permanent record of their own childhood histories.

Because these are very lofty goals for this year, and due to the day to day changes that occur with Parkinson’s Disease, I will not be disappointed if I am only able to accomplish half of these projects by Christmas. I work on them when I am feeling my best, and often work on them during those nights that I have insomnia. Since it is too difficult to predict when I am at my best, I just work on them when I can. If I were unaffected by Parkinson’s Disease and still working full time, this gift of time would have never been handed to me.

The photos that we have gathered, the home movies we have, and the footage I have of my children were all created to provide memories. If we do not do anything with these photos, film, and footage time will erode them to the point where they will become useless. All of these items can be used to not only highlight our family history, but they can be passed down to future generations as a legacy. I love the idea that my children’s grandchildren may one day receive copies of everything we are creating.

Those of us involved in these projects began working on them last month. I am finding that some of the preparation work can even be done when I am feeling fatigued and resting in my recliner. The time consuming portion for the majority of these projects is having the time and stamina to physically sit at the computer and scan the pictures and put names to those pictures. The amount of time spent doing this task depends entirely on how I feel. Since Christmas is so far off, even if I am able to only spend an hour or thirty minutes per day working on these projects, I believe that I will have a good chance of completing these projects.

It is an absolute fact that Parkinson’s Disease has robbed me of several activities that that I once enjoyed. Physically demanding activities and working outside the home are the two activities that enter my thoughts most often, and I mourn the loss of. On the other hand, Parkinson’s Disease has given me the gift of time, which is something that I have never had in my adult life. This gift of time is allowing me to replace those things that I am no longer able to do with projects that I can do and work around my limitations. This time provides me with no set schedule, no requirement to over-exert myself if I am having a bad day, and offers me the opportunity to give a gift to our entire extended family that will last a lifetime and longer. When I look at it this way, acceptance of my limitations and the changes in my life now take on a new flavor. There is now a little sweetness that has been added to the original bitterness. I guess it all comes down to how we decide to handle what life throws our way.

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