Guest blogger Paul Kidwell is a public relations consultant and freelance writer living in Boston. His wife has Parkinson's. Paul offers a moving account of a marriage strengthened by Parkinson's.
My wife and I swim at a local Boston pool six times a week. It’s an unassuming, hidden gem plunked down in the basement of one of the local elementary schools, almost by accident, and is bare bones swimming with five, 25-yard lanes and a couple of dank locker rooms. But, for us it is a balm at the end of some very hard days.
We came to this activity about the same time; although by different paths. I was coming off a hip replacement operation and was looking for an athletic activity that could accommodate a middle-aged body in repose and the physical limitations imposed by my new spare part. My wife had been diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s and her neurologist encouraged her to integrate some form of regular aerobic exercise into her daily routine that would help keep her muscles strong and flexible. Exercise, we were told also has the added benefits of improving energy level and sleep. Plus, it was something we could do as a couple, which appealed to me.
The physical benefits and the peace of mind swimming brings to us is probably obvious to those with PD, but for me there is an emotional attachment with swimming that is just as strong. I swim out of love for my wife. I guess you’d say that I am Leander to her Hero, and as wonderful as our daily swims make us feel I cannot help but reflect on what brought us to the pool in the first place — her illness. For those who may not be students of Greek mythology, Hero and Leander is a myth relating the story of Hero, a priestess of Aphrodite who dwelt in a tower in Sestos on the European side of the Dardanelles, and Leander, a young man from Abydos on the opposite side of the strait. Leander fell in love with Hero and would swim every night across the Hellespont channel to be with her. Hero would light a lamp at the top of her tower to guide his way.
Leander was smitten by Hero and succumbed to her soft words, and in some strange way I am also moved by the siren song of Parkinson’s that brings us to the pool where I watch my wife effortlessly push through water where her illness cannot live. But, I also know her life outside the pool is challenging; and it’s likely that the challenges will become more acute. Parkinson’s is an unforgiving disease and punishing in its arc. We are 53 and, based on our genetics, will most likely have another 20-30 years together. With what I know about this disease, I understand that she will not get better and probably her condition will worsen. The French poet Paul Valéry, wrote about the sea, “In it, I am the man I want to be.” When my wife swims, she becomes the person she was before her illness.