Monday, March 3, 2008

Taking Dad Skiing

It would have been easier to stay home and hand my dad the remote control. But, I couldn't do that to the man who at the age of eight taught me to ski and loved the sport more than just about anything else in the world. Thirty two years ago he held my ski poles for me as I got on the lift and then gently pushed my back to help me off the lift. He skiied backwards and gave me words of encouragement everytime I fell on my face, my side, my stomach and my behind. "You can do it, just keep trying," he said each time I fell. And try I did. It took me several times to gain my balance, figure out what to do with my ski poles and how to keep the skis pointing downhill. He never lost patience, even when I made excuses to use the bathroom or say I was hungry or just sit in the snow and cry in frustration. He always packed a nice lunch of peanut butter and jelly sanwiches on his homemade wheat bread, a can of rootbeer and an apple. I was only the third of five children that he inspired his love of skiing in. Today, I still love flying down the powdery white slope with my ponytail flapping in the wind and just last year I taught my youngest son to ski, passing on the tradition of parent-child ski instruction that I'm sure will last many more generations. So I couldn't leave him home. My dad was staying with me for a week to give my mom a break from being a full time caregiver. My dad is 73 years old an is a 25 year veteran of Parkinson's Disease, so yes, it would have been easier to hand him the remote control and leave him home but the words came out of my mouth before I could stop them. "So dad, do you want to go skiing today?" His eyes looked up and for a moment I didn't think he heard me. His Parkinson's has not only slowed his motor movements but also his response to questions. "I think I'd like that. I'd like to see if I can still do it." My husband looked at me as if I were crazy but being the supportive husband he is didn't say a word. We always have extra ski clothes on hand and we outfitted my dad to look like a professional. We headed up the slopes and I was getting second thoughts on whether or not it was a good idea. He had always remained active, even with his Parkinson's but lately he had become clumsy and short of breath. As we pulled into the parking lot I was trying to read my dad's expression but all I saw was a blank stare which meant his medication was wearing off and he would soon become stiff as a board and barely able to move. But my dad is a stubborn man so he shuffled into the rental shop with me. The young boys behind the counter were patient as I helped my dad with his boots and stood him upright to measure for the length of his skis. As we stepped outside the rental shop, we both took deep breaths and soaked in the sun that was shining brightly on the ski hill. My dad clipped into his skis and he was off. I followed close behind, saying a little prayer that he would make it down without breaking anything or plowing into any snowboarders. We made the first run without any incident and then another and another. I watched as he cut his skis into the snow, turning much more slowly then he did when I was a kid. He was a little shaky and he struggled a few times in the lift line, stepping on fellow skiiers and bumping into them, causing them to look up and then smile. I had to pick him up out of the snow a few times and make sure that he got a good lunch. It was apparent that my father and I had officially switched roles. I am now holding his poles as he gets onto the lift and it is me who gives him a gentle nudge on his back as we get off the lift. So, yes, it would have been easier to leave him home in front of the television set but if I did I would have lost out on the memories of taking dad skiing.


David R Larsen said...

That is such a terrific story! Many people don't realize that usually when a person has a cognitive impairment like Parkinson's, although their reaction time and speech is slower they feel much the same inside. And often muscles remember what the brain is not sure it knows. I'm sure your father must have deeply appreciated you inviting him along.

Doug Johnston said...

Good job. You are lucky to have such a good dad, and he is lucky to have you.

Cindy said...

I know from personal experience that you are an incredibly kind person. You always go out of your way to help your Dad feel "normal" again. You are truly an inspiration to me. Your Dad (and Mom) are lucky to have you.

Hugs to you my friend!