What I Lost Last Christmas With Parkinson's
Who am I? How do I define myself? What do I tell others about me? We all have an image of ourselves. We all find our identity in certain things, but what do you do when that changes, when you lose something, some part of yourself, that made you who you were? What do you do when you are no longer the person you thought you were? What do you do when something happens that radically changes the person you are — the thing you found your identity in – welcome to my world with Parkinson’s.
It was a day of closure, and a day of new beginnings. It was a day, that in some ways, I had dreaded for months. Once again, this new journey I was on, intersected with my hopes, my plans, my dreams, and my future, and it had dictated a decision. It was a day that I was forced to say goodbye to one more thing.
“We never thought you would leave. Are you really sure?” I had heard some version of this question every day since I had made my announcement. This conversation, or one very similar, had played out with others and in my mind, almost daily, as I had prepared to leave the only world I had ever known. I honestly never thought this day would come, and nothing prepared me for how hard it was.
Once again, I was forced to face change, and because of this body, I had to make some hard choices. I had to walk a path that I never expected. I looked at all I thought I was, and quietly asked, “What’s next – I thought this was who I was.” And yet another step in my deconstruction was complete. One more thing I found my identity in was removed. One more time, I was forced let something go.
Education was all I ever planned to do. It was all I had ever known; all I had ever done. For 35 years, I had been part of a ministry, a small Christian school, just south of Nashville. As a 10-year-old boy, I first walked upon that campus, and I became part of something that forever changed me.
Few things had impacted me as much as that small school. My first job was helping in the afternoons in the preschool and working in summer day camp. I met my closest friend there, and first found my love for teaching. When I met my wife at college, I told her that this was where I was going to teach, and over 20 years ago, I began as a 2nd grade teacher. 35 years later, I sat behind a desk, the elementary principal, in the same building I started school in those many years ago and realized that I had to say goodbye.
Being a teacher and a principal was all I ever dreamed of doing. I thought this would be my one and only job, or as my son said, “I thought you would die there.” But unbeknownst to me, God had other plans and designs for my life. In the years leading up to my diagnosis, I could not keep up, and even after treatment began, days were hard. The spirit was willing, but my flesh was weak, and little by little, I realized, that I just could not keep up – I was drowning.
Once again, Parkinson’s was forcing me to make a choice. Yet in this deconstruction, construction was happening. At the same time, new ministry opportunities were opening up, and God was allowing me to help others walking through struggles. My battle with Parkinson’s was opening doors and helping me find ways to encourage others in their fight, and I found myself at a crossroads.
A choice was set before me — one I did not want to make, but one I had to. Once again, Parkinson’s required me to choose my future, but that was not the only choice set before me. Bitterness, excitement, anger, hope, sadness, joy, frustration, peace — on and on the list could go. As these feelings and emotions warred within me, it came down to a simple question — “How would I view this?” What would I focus on?
Would I focus on the unfairness of my lot? Would I dwell on the frustration this disease and choice brought? Would I live in self-pity? Or would I see the new beginning? Would I focus on the peace and excitement of a new adventure? Would I celebrate the new path that I was on?
Were there tears? Yes, but there was also laughter. Were there doubts? Yes, but there was also peace. Did I hate to let go? Yes, but I have also seen some new horizons before me. Yes, there was sorrow, but even more, there was hope. I realized through this deconstruction and construction, that I was more than my job, my ministry, my career. Yes, it was part of me, but I was much more than simply what I did.
Yes, chronic illness was taking a big part of me, but I would decide whether I would let it take me. Many times, as I have spoken with others, I have found this loss, the loss of career, as one of the hardest aspects of chronic illness to accept, and in some ways, one of the most depressing. When you pour your life into something for so long, suddenly losing it can rock you to your core, and aside from family losses, can be one of the hardest “pills to swallow.”
A year ago, last Christmas, that was where I found myself. My first Christmas when I was no longer an educator; no longer part of the school that I had been part of for 35 years. No more lesson plans, no more teachers’ meetings, no more students, no more class parties, no more parent meetings — everything I knew was changing. Nothing could quite prepare me for this journey. It has been good, but it has been different, and some days have been harder than others. Things I always did, I no longer do, and this year of firsts has been a long journey in saying goodbye — goodbye to the only world I had ever known.
Yes, I have been sad to say goodbye, but it has also been a year full of hope for myself and the new path I find myself on. That, more than anything else, is how I chose to see that transition. Yes, a year ago at Christmas, I lost something precious to me, but I also found that even with this ending, there was a new beginning before me. Even though my disease was costing me something I loved, I was being given a new opportunity because of it. One year ago, last Christmas, the greatest and worst gift I got was losing, and beginning the process of finding myself again.
Getty image by BFC/ Ascent Xmedia