Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Little Shades of Gray

More than twenty years ago, I saw a beggar for the first time.  We were leaving the grocery store, and there he was.  He was standing on the corner holding a sign that read Will Work for Food.  We've all seen it, probably a hundred times.  Usually we look away or drive on, pretending not to notice.  We may roll our eyes and think Get a job!  Some of us may even pass along a few bucks if we're feeling particularly charitable.  But to a couple of kids, this sight was horrific.  Oh my gosh!  Look! as we pointed our fingers at him.  That's so sad.  Daddy, can't we give him some money?  Please?  Our parents exchanged glances.  This did not look like the typical street corner beggar.  He was dressed rather nicely, in a clean pair of well-fitted jeans, tucked in polo shirt and work boots.  He was clean-shaven and his sign looked as if it had just been painted.  What to do, what to do?!?! our parents must have thought.  Enter:  many little shades of gray. 

Our parents could have opted to teach us about street corner beggars and why they are usually there.  They could have questioned why he was dressed so well.  They could have used it as a lesson on why we should always work hard, and what we could become if we don't.  They could have gone on and on about the government and the state of economic affairs.  There were a million different scenarios that could have played out, all representing little shades of gray - those area that aren't so black and white, or cut and dry.  How do you explain to a couple of kids why it's usually not a good idea to give money to beggars standing on the street?  Hmm, that flies smack in the face of charity, right?  With only a moment to decide before the light turned green, my father whipped the car around and parked it back in the grocery store lot.  He dashed into the store and returned a few minutes later with a huge fried chicken dinner.  He pulled our car up to the corner and handed the meal to the beggar, who very graciously accepted it.  We don't know what his situation is, our father explained, so I don't want to give him money.  He might spend it on alcohol if he's an alcoholic, or drugs if he's a druggie.  But if he really does need to work for food, then a nice meal will make him happy, and we've been good Christians and have helped someone.  Lesson learned.  I looked back as we drove away and saw the man hungrily chewing on a chicken leg, and was satisfied that we had done the right thing. 

How easy is it to help someone when there are so many shades of gray?  When that person you want to help has PD, it can be very difficult. 

It should be no surprised to anyone that Keith and I have had a difficult year, and most of the problems stemmed from PD.  Struggles with medication side effects and the progression of the disease have caused me to wonder whether or not I'm strong enough to see this through.  The physical stuff I can handle.  It's all the other things, all those little shades of gray that I struggle with most. 

A few morning ago Rielly-Anne tried telling something to Keith.  She repeated herself about six times in a row, waiting for him to respond.  I finally had to say Keith, answer her, before he even acknowledged that she had spoken.  He did the same thing to me later in the day.  I was changing the baby while he was eating with Rielly-Anne.  I asked Keith if she was eating.  He ignored me.   He claims that he did hear me but assumed I would know based on what he was talking to Rielly-Anne about.  So what goes through my head during moments like this?  All of the following - did he hear me?  Should I repeat myself?  What if he did hear me but is just taking a while to respond because his reflexes are slower now?  Is he ignoring me?  Is he mad at me?  Maybe I should check myself to see if she's eating.  If I do that, will he get pissed off for interfering with something he's trying to do?  Is it worth pissing him off to make sure she's eating her dinner?  What if he really didn't hear me?  Maybe I should just say it again, only louder.  But then if he did hear me, that will make him mad for repeating myself to him like he's dumb or something. Should I ask him if he heard me?  Last time I did that he got upset.   What to do, what do to?!?!?!?!  Oh, so many little shades of gray.  I wish I could simply know that he didn't hear me.  

This scene repeats itself over and over and over again, on a daily basis.  It's no wonder I feel like I'm going to lose it half the time.  Almost every single interaction we have presents this scenario, in some form or fashion, in my mind.  I want to do everything right by him, but with a disease that moves and changes as often as the wind, how do you accomplish that without going nuts, or offending the PWP?  How do I attempt to help, or offer it, without making Keith feel like he's so bad off that he REALLY NEEDS it?  How do I remind him of something he has forgotten without making him feel like he is the one losing his mind?  Keith has a lot of pride.  He doesn't really want me hovering over him, which I can respect.  However, in instances like the Is She Eating? one, what do I do?

My parents were able to find a good solution, a great solution, actually, to a problem that had many shades of gray; a problem that could be resolved different ways with different outcomes.  They chose the option they felt was best for their children and the beggar on the street.  Instead of giving him money that may fuel an addiction, they gave him food to fill his stomach.  They chose to teach their children to be giving and charitable, but with eyes wide open. 

Looking at Keith eyes wide open, I see a great man - a man who works his butt off every day to provide for his family, who loves his children dearly and will do anything for them, who would move heaven and earth to make me happy.  I see a man clearly struggling to accept PD and what it is doing to him.  I see a man almost desperately holding on to his pride, while his wife hovers over him doing her best to help in a caring, if somewhat annoying, way.  Perhaps the most charitable thing I can do for Keith is to look all those little shades of gray right in the eye, and accept that sometimes he just doesn't hear me.


Dan said...

Mary, This is an excellent article and very well written. Sincerely. I want to applaud you, both for your analogy about the corner beggar, which was a great story in itself, and also for applying it to the shades of gray concept when it involves PD.

I marveled at how accurately you depicted the problem of hearing, responding, attention and communication issues that are a part of a Parkinsonian condition. I know from having an Atypical Parkinsonian Disorder what your husband is dealing with and what you deal with as his closest friend and spouse.

You are not alone. My significant other has to deal with similar responses or lack thereof. I know it takes longer to process questions, and choices --verbalized-- are hard to sort through, as well. Thank you for sharing it sensitively and honestly. I will pass it on to my wife as she will relate, so well. Great blog!

Mary said...

Thank you so much Dan!
God Bless you! ;)