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When My Mom Agreed to Let Me Document Her Life as an Artist With Parkinson's

My mom, Debra Magid, is an artist and designer living with Parkinson’s disease (PD). In the fall of 2016, she agreed to let me document the relationship between her art and her condition. What started as a film about my mom’s growth as an artist in the face of PD grew into a larger story of art, health, family and the will to cope. As I reflect on the creative journey, simply telling my mom’s story was the easy part. Navigating my role as both son and filmmaker was a far more challenging, and ultimately rewarding task.

My mom was diagnosed with PD in 2012. She didn’t tell me until over a year later when my younger sister Elizabeth stumbled upon her medication. For the next few years, my mom’s PD was something we only discussed in private. But by the end of 2015, my mom was ready to stop hiding her condition.

The following summer we participated in The Michael J. Fox Foundation’s New York City Fox Trot 5K — our family’s first public acknowledgment of mom’s diagnosis. While it was a relief that I no longer had to keep my mom’s PD a secret, I still hadn’t fully processed her diagnosis.

When I started making “Shake With Me” in 2016, my focus was on crafting a narrative that juxtaposed my mom’s art and her condition, with little consideration for my role in the story.

I had no idea this film would become so personal. In fact, the personal weight of this project didn’t hit me until I was deep into the editing process. I was replaying a sound bite of my mom discussing if Parkinson’s made her a better artist when I started to tear up. What she said wasn’t inherently upsetting, but I was overwhelmed by hearing my mom share certain feelings about her PD that she had never expressed to me outside the context of the film.

From there, I embraced the personal nature of this project. I not only accepted the blurred lines between the film and my journey but also realized the importance of articulating my place in my mom’s story. The adage “art imitates life” seeped into my psyche and the film transformed into a vehicle for me to finally accept the reality: my mom has Parkinson’s.

Even though “Shake With Me” only captures a snapshot in time where my mom’s health is stable and her art is thriving, I’m certain that after the process of making this film, our family is ready for whatever the future holds.

This story originally appeared on The Michael J. Fox Foundation.

Lead photo courtesy of Pexels

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