It wasn’t until I actually emotionally came to terms with my diagnosis years later that those protective walls eventually crumbled and our connection was renewed in a very deep way. And with my own acceptance of this new life circumstance came the realization that although I was the one who physically experienced the frustrating symptoms of this disease, the Parkinson’s diagnosis was really not mine alone. This was and is truly a family diagnosis. I now can see how painful it must have been for Arun to see the person he loved suffer and not be able to make it better. How frustrating it must have been for him to try his best to support me only to have his efforts thwarted time and time again. How he must have mourned to some extent the loss of a future he had envisioned prior to the Parkinson’s.
Perhaps his character, integrity and empathy are what attracted me to him in the first place. But regardless I am grateful that I can count myself among those whose partners truly understand and respect the sanctity of the “in sickness and in health” vow we make to each other in some form or another. And who recognize that this commitment is a mutual one. I am blessed that Arun persisted. He understood the emotional turmoil that was consuming me and he didn’t falter in his support. He accepted me and my diagnosis far before I was able to do the same.
As I think about those that have not benefited from a supportive life partner I recognize that I am no more deserving of a meaningful relationship than anyone else. I have no magic answers as to why our relationship has thrived. There are however definitely some lessons we’ve learned along the way to help us navigate this journey as a couple.
First we share a genuine feeling of optimism for the future. Based on knowledge and research, we both feel that better treatments and eventually a cure are in the tangible future. This hope helps us move forward. It allows us to continue to dream about traveling after retirement, planning our daughters’ weddings, growing old together. We visualize a healthy, productive life as a couple, not one marred by disability.
Secondly this experience has taught us to appreciate what’s truly important in life, to reprioritize our responsibilities and delegate our attention and time with awareness. We now know the importance of living life in the moment, value highly the time we spend together as a family and the importance of our extended relationships.
Our focus now is also on better communication. Honestly expressing our needs, fears and concerns more clearly significantly reduces the number of unmet expectations and resulting disagreements.
And most importantly we recognize that Parkinson’s is only part of our lives and we are determined not to allow this disease define our relationship. Truthfully this disease has brought us together, made us stronger. I hesitate to say, but perhaps more so than we would have been if we didn’t have to deal with this diagnosis.
This focus however cannot be one sided. No matter how committed one partner is, if the other is not ready and willing to embark on this path (or learn how to) regardless of the uncertainty of the outcome, the relationship will not survive.
As I look at Arun, his attention now returned to his laptop screen, I think back to my now devastated friend. I know in her case it wasn’t a lack of dedication to the marriage on her part. But I begin to realize that it’s not hers or my strength of commitment, willingness to compromise and most importantly to love unconditionally that is responsible for the success of any relationship. None of that does a strong marriage make unless the partner you are blessed with feels exactly the same way.