Sunday, September 6, 2009

Why Are You Shaking?

The whole room went silent and looked up as the blonde virtually exploded through the double doors leading into the lounge. She could not help but demand complete attention, intentionally or not. Her mischievous hazel eyes immediately assessed the occupants. I was delighted, if a little nervous, as she literally ran to me with arms outstretched, her long hair tousled and bouncing, mimicking her obviously carefree demeanor. Her smile was broad and genuine, and instantly took over her whole face and spread infectiously to all faces in the room. The petite beauty literally launched herself at my neck from several feet away. The hug was genuine, uninhibited by the sudden silence and stares being focused on her affectionate display. And with seemingly perfect timing the coquettish kiss that followed was a signal that the introductory affection was over and that she would be satisfied with my arms being loosely circled around her. Those in the room could return to their pockets of conversation, looking over at us occasionally to reassess her placement on my lap.

But the loud hum of conversations had not resumed long when a second, somewhat taller and more reserved, but just as beautiful, young lady entered the room. She was not as unabashedly boisterous but her entry was noticed by everyone. Her intelligent green/brown eyes signaled that she had purposely delayed her entry to avoid a competition of brashness with which she would not feel comfortable. Our eyes met and I was immediately embarrassed by the territory commandeered by the blonde in my arms. But the brunette did not let the apparently exclusive embrace dissuade her as she strode through the crowd and squeezed in close, placing her arms around my neck with obviously sincere affection. The competition for my attention seemed good natured and neither demanded exclusivity. They seemed used to vying with each other in their own distinct style. I felt both comforted and conflicted, but I was beaming inside and out to be the focus of attention of these much younger females.

While not immediately obvious, studied observation would have confirmed that the young ladies were sisters. Hailie, the blonde, is 6, and Taylor, her sister, is 9. They are the children of my nephew, Jesse, and his wife, Crystal, and we have a special bond that has grown since they were infants.

The occasion was a family gathering at Ocean Shores, a resort area on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. The 17 of us (4 generations) used the large lounge at the beach front condo complex for games, visiting, some meals and just hanging out. When the girls were around they were often next to, on, being chased by or wrestling with, me. And I loved it. And them.

It was in one of the more sedate moments that my grand-nieces (I think that's right) almost simultaneously inquired, "Are you cold Uncle Bob? Why are you shaking?". It was a logical question for two young girls unfamiliar with disability and no sophisticated diplomacy (thank goodness). Just unashamed concern and curiosity.

It is, at least to some extent, what many others wonder when they noticed my tremor. It is often the more observant that types I notice watching my hands and their face gets that "Hmmm...wonder why his hand is shaking?" This was the first time someone had asked me so naively about my PD symptoms. A very few others have asked me straight out if I had Parkinson's, but usually it has been someone who knew about the disease and spotted the telltale signs.

It is one thing to answer two adoring and adorable little girls, but what about adults? Seems to me that the response is the same. Can we who have this sooner-or-later obvious disease remain unashamed and direct in our response? As I have said before, it seems that the more comfortable we are with our disability the more comfortable others will be with it. Nothing like kids to teach how to explain what we would rather not have to.

Whether a child or adult, how to discuss your diagnosis is always topical.

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