Today, I can actually see the Parkinson’s. Over the years, his shakes often appeared commonplace and easy to ignore. I dismissed them like one would dismiss a stutter or nervous tic. But lately the Parkinson’s has moved into his mind and given rise to a dementia that exists in a clear form to see.
And this disease, which is slowly killing such a strong man, my father and best friend, is toxic in nature. Parkinson’s poisonous corrosion lives in my dad’s blank eyes, its debilitating rust reflects in his sloping body language. Some of this is absurd, like how he’s convinced that my mother — his wife of 47 years — is having a lesbian relationship with our nursing aide, Marie. Some of this is heartbreaking, like when he confuses me for his dead brother.
One thing is for sure — all of this is ugly.
In fact, getting old is often ugly, and the way we treat the elderly is often uglier. There exists rampant neglect from family members and rotten apples in nursing homes. And politicos who connive to find ways to cut Social Security and Medicaid to a point that millions of elderly live in poverty and might very well face the concept of “death panels” in the near future.
The fact that we are living longer should not be a burden, but a blessing. We must always remember the sacrifices and love that our parents and forefathers gave to us unconditionally. The Greatest Generation allowed American Exceptionalism to prevail in the 20th century. And even if those values now are in jeopardy, under no circumstances should we turn our backs on those who came before us.
My father is a street-smart New Yorker of 87 years, a veteran of the Korean War. Watching him slowly decay into the abyss is bittersweet. But I know I’m not the only son dealing with this passage and I know my father is not the only senior.
We should not only strive to create a safe and secure environment for the elderly, we also must do everything to make sure they experience a high quality of life. Without socialization, stimulus and activity, there is almost no reason to exist. Finding ways for seniors to interact with others, like in Adult Day Care centers, should be priorities for caretakers and leaders in the insurance industry and Tallahassee.
There is no region in the United States with more elderly than South Florida, so this is an in-your-face issue for residents here. We must carry awareness of this issue. This is also a direct call to sons and daughters across the nation, many of whom are too preoccupied with their own lives to keep a focus on their parents and grandparents.
Pope Francis said it best.
When asked what were the two biggest problems facing the world today, he didn’t say ISIS or climate change or the Syrian refugee crisis. The pope said the two biggest problems on this planet are a lack of opportunity for youth and loneliness in our elderly.
Let’s remember that.
J.J. Colagrande is a writer who teaches at Miami Dade College and Barry University.