I Had a Plan

I had a plan for this winter. My idea was to go downhill skiing one last time. You see, the last time I was on my skis on the mountain, I didn’t know it was the last time. I did know that I was finding that getting on and off the chairlift was harder than it had been, that I was having trouble timing just when to sit and when to stand. 

I just don’t ski enough. That’s what I told myself.

But that wasn’t it. What I know now, and didn’t know then, was that Parkinson’s disease was messing with the messaging system from brain to limbs, messing with my balance, messing with the whole left side of my body. 

I didn’t know it was the last time and then Lincoln got sick and our lives changed so quickly, too quickly. I gave away my equipment and that was the end of it. Or so I thought. Or didn’t think. There were so many pressing concerns at that time in our lives that I don’t remember giving it any mental energy at all.

But this fall, anticipating my first winter without Lincoln, with a promise made to honour his love of snow and all things outdoors, I decided I should go for one last ski day. I would say goodbye to that particular joy and give myself permission to mourn its loss a little. 

It’s not that I was a good skier, or a passionate one, but I loved the golden days on Phoenix, or Baldy or Big White, with our kids, and our friends. I loved the freedom and the speed and the astonishing alpine beauty. I loved feeling strong and in control. 

I am coming up to my 7th year post-diagnosis. Looking back, I can see that I have been symptomatic for at least the last 9. Almost a decade. Wow. I think I am one of the lucky ones, a “slow-progresser”, and I work hard to keep it that way.

Slow progression, yes, but still progression. Last winter at the local cross-country ski area, I could stay upright on the hills on the green runs. Revelstoke defines “easy” a little differently than most ski areas, I think, but even on a long, fast downhill slope with a dog-leg turn at the bottom, I managed to stay upright. This year I find myself falling, more than once, more than twice. My right hip has taken a beating…always the right hip. The good news is that I probably don’t have to worry yet about my bone density! 

My left foot, even when I am fully “on” — that’s what we Parkies say when our meds are working well— just can’t hold itself in a snow plough. It lifts and wobbles, sending me off balance, careening, crashing. Sometimes it even happens on the flat. If you are old enough to remember the TV show “Laugh-in”, you might remember Arte Johnson as Tyrone, the old dude who inexplicably toppled off the bench again and again.. One minute he would be just sitting there and the next…Whomp! On the ground. That’s me. Glide. Glide. Doing well. Glide. Glide. Whomp!

So maybe a downhill run is not the place to be whomping. I won’t be going for one last ski. 

That decision, when I first made it, broke my heart a little. It was hard to let go of that picture in my head. I would have been proud of myself. I might have made the people I love proud, too. I could hear Lincoln saying, “Good for you, Babe.” It would have been an ego boost for sure. I had to ask what I was grieving more, the farewell to skiing or the loss of the opportunity to prove to myself that I was still in control, that I was kind of a Parkie bad-ass.

It’s humbling. In a phone conversation with my sister this past week, we talked about the “humbling-ness” of Parkinson’s and we made each other laugh.

Three of my four grandchildren are on downhill skis. I wish I could join them. I wish Lincoln were here to see them, to see how fearless they are, how strong they are, how joyful. How proud! But I cannot even think of them without smiling. I am smiling as I type this. It makes it hard to feel sad. 

My skiing now is on the golf course. It is beautiful. The trail is groomed by a lovely volunteer. It follows the curve of the river. It is magical to poke along beside that slowly-rolling-on-forever. And everywhere I look there are mountain peaks, bright shining. It’s all humbling. I may pull an Arte Johnson. May? I will, of course, but the whomp is not likely to do damage. 

My world grows smaller, perhaps. Depends on how I choose to look at it. Those mountains, that river. Nothing small there. 

Lift up your eyes, the psalmist said.

He was right. I’ve said goodbye to one small thing. Now I lift up my eyes.

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