My Mom and Parkinson’s


I sent a letter to my mom the other week, on some pretty note paper that I found at a garage sale, with a nice stamp. In it I wrote of my childhood and how I remember her as a blur of movement, laughter, and storytelling. She was high spirited in her domesticity: we had fantastic birthday parties and fun-filled summers and holidays. She was frugal and creative, loving but not suffocating, and always ready for the next adventure; new jobs, new relationships, and new places to live.

She sent the letter back to me the next week.  I found this to be a remarkable, if bizarre, feat, as she is suffering from advanced Parkinson’s.  Even though she is losing her mind to the progressive disease, she can still pull off a letter. And we all know that most people with all their faculties cannot manage to get a letter in the mail.

I know she enjoyed the letter, she told me it gave her much pleasure, and I think she sent it back so that I could enjoy it too.  Her note, which she wrote on the back of the envelope  in the small tight hand writing typical of Parkinson’s , started, “Darling – What a wonderful letter! Shall I keep it for an album or send it back to you to enjoy?”

She knows that she is no longer capable of making photo albums, an art form in her case, long before it became popular to ‘scrap book’.  She would have lovingly taped that letter in place, added a broad bar of color with a marker, and posted a few good shots of the kids and me.  But I think she is worried it will just get lost and that it is best in the hands of an organized mother like me.

She has at least 20 massive photo albums, each one a work of art, with her good eye for color and design and her journalist’s mind for keeping newspaper articles or cards from interesting theater shows.  The album that also contains the year of my birth, her fourth child, includes the front page of The Toronto Star announcing the first steps on the moon.  They are archival treasures even if you are not a family member.

I think she sent the letter back to me so that I would put it in my album. And I don’t keep up with the energy of my mom; by the third child I had a box of photos I couldn’t get through.  But I do try to keep up to her nutty level of energy. So I will keep that letter in my most recent album, strangely devoid of photos now that we have digital photography, and the note that she wrote on the envelope.

In a recent phone call she said, “I just smiled at a potted plant as if it was you,” and I laughed, because it was so absurd and funny. And she laughed too. But as I now know, the medication for Parkinson’s causes hallucinations and delusions.

The last time my older brother took her to the cottage she kept seeing crowds of people. She even approached the dock on her own, very slowly, hunched in pain with scoliosis and shuffling her feet in the Parkinsons’s style. When she got to the dock, she told me she approached a young boy but could not get his attention.

I am making myself cry as I write this, and Mom would appreciate that. I remember being somewhat embarrassed as a child by her rising emotions , her cracking voice or wobbling chin, if she made herself sad by telling us an emotional story.

She might not remember that now. She tells me that she is “losing her memory in great big chunks.” She feels she is unorganized and a bad cook so I remind her of all the wonderful meals she made, and her incredible organizational abilities that still make me feel inadequate.

The hallucinations are something my mom can handle; open to possibilities and experiences, she even wonders in the back of her scientific mind whether she saw ghosts at the cottage.  Delusions might be harder.  But my mom’s ability to see the world as an interesting experiment is helping us all.

On the back of the envelope in which she returned my loving letter of memories, she wrote,

“Peculiar world for me now: A Strange one. When I have a speedier pen or we’re on the phone I’ll tell you. But wait, Haven’t I already?”

11 thoughts on “My Mom and Parkinson’s

  1. Sweetie, this is BEAUTIFUL… and yes your mom was a trend setter with her photo albums…such love..thank you for giving me a snapshot into Natalie today! I always wished I was a bigger presence in those scrap books..


  2. Hi Kadijah,
    Thanks! Your cheerful smile is in a few of those massive photo albums! Liz has taken Mom to the cottage this week – I’m sending love to both of them, and the visiting ghosts too.


  3. I never met your mom way back when we knew each other in high school. But you write so beautifully about her. I feel like a have just “met” her a little bit. Your writing is so wonderful!


  4. Frank, thanks for reading the post. I am happy my Mom’s voice is in my writing, that is a great compliment! She was always writing when I was a kid and then she sat down and taught me how to edit my own essays in university.


  5. I feel blessed to have shared many stories with Nana Nat and lucky to have had a chance to meet and even make a quick meal for her. What I remember is that she took me to new places, she managed with mere words to transport me and direct me lovingly through moments and inspire me! And laughter, lots of laughter. Yes, there is some of her voice in your post and suddenly, despite the fact it had nothing to do with me, I felt loved by those words. I miss sharing words with her daily, but I remember every word! Thank you for sharing this story with us.


  6. Thank you so much for sharing our beloved NanaNat with us once again. She has the most beautiful spirit. Her open mind remains inspirational.

    Your mom gave us all so much from across the miles over the years in the Nosh and Klatsch, sharing thoughts, memories, introducing us to new people and places through her eyes. Always so completely open, accepting and supportive. I was blessed to embrace her in person several years back when she made her way to California with cousin Margaret. I remain honored. I’ve saved every e-mail she sent me. Her supportive and encouraging words enriched me so.

    It occurs to me that as Parkinson’s isn’t taking all of her. I like to think that she is not losing her mind, but rather see that she has given each of us a part of her brilliant humor, loving spirit, and sharp thinking to carry forward in the world. And I couldn’t be happier to see that she has stored a considerable share of that wonderful personage with you.

    Blessed be.


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