The Slow Thief

In slow motion, the thief seems not to be at work at all, but then you realize he’s just changed his focus.

To: My loving wife

From: Your husband

Parkinson’s disease doesn’t just sneak in and take all of your stuff. That might be easier—you could make adjustments and move on. No, Parkinson’s starts out taking small stuff you hardly even notice. But you do notice. And adjust. And repeat.

Perhaps the first thing to go is your reach. How often, really, do you need to reach? Not often. Once your reach is gone, you move on. A month can go by and you think the thief has forgotten you, but he hasn’t. He’s stolen your jewelry. You could buy new jewelry with larger clasps, but you’re not sure you want to because it just isn’t the same. Your friends and I assure you that you are beautiful without it. Still, the jewelry is gone.

Time passes and a few more things are gone: our motorcycle, our camper, and your hunting boots.

The thief, emboldened, demands that we make choices. Will you go to church with your family and cramp and shake and walk out early, or will your family go to church without you? Will I stay home and worry about our children or go to church and worry about you? Hard choices.

We fight back by building a wall—deep brain stimulators to keep the thief at bay. But they don’t. They just slow the thief a bit.

In slow motion, the thief seems not to be at work at all, but then you realize he’s just changed his focus. Not only has he been stealing things, but also—more devastatingly—he has been stealing people. Has it really been two years you’ve been asking those people to lunch without them coming? You used to be so close. A professional basketball player might wish for the blocking skills of the new mother who turns her back when you try to share a moment with her and her baby.

Someone asks, “Why don’t you go on cruises and vacations while you still can?” We explain that we take a couple of days every three months to visit Cleveland—that is, the Cleveland Clinic. We know where to get the good stuff: the world’s best corned beef, quality barbecue, and a place to stay for a quiet night following surgery.

The thief hasn’t stolen our language, but he has changed it. “Let’s go do X” is now “Let’s watch X.” It’s a subtle change in language but a significant change in behavior. You were a college athlete; now you take my arm as we climb the bleachers.

Then there’s me. I wonder if it’s a good day for an excursion, but maybe it’s not. If I ask and it’s a bad day, I worry you’ll feel even worse. If I don’t ask, I’m afraid we’ll have missed an opportunity. All of this thinking can make me feel more like a caregiver than a husband. The thief has stolen a part of me.

But the thief has not stolen you from me. To say that I see glimpses of the old you would be to diminish who you are today. You are a whole being. A cherished being. You are gentle-spirited, with a kind and supportive word for all who will listen. You are beautiful inside and out. You are generous with all that you have and who you are. You are my love.

To our friends: Thank you for your help when the thief comes knocking. Sing “It is well with my soul” today as you face your own thieves. And let’s keep one another in our prayers. God bless!

About the Author

Tom Prinsen serves as an associate professor of public relations at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa.

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