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Monday, July 22, 2013

The Phoenix

He placed invisible glasses onto his face as she spooned mushy cereal into his mouth. He chewed an inordinately long time for nearly pureed food. She had to cue him to swallow. It had been fourteen days of near starvation, one tiny meal a day if that, but today seemed to be a turning point.

She had always hesitated to summon the family when calamity struck; it strikes so often. He was like the phoenix rising from the ashes, his memory wiped clean of the catastrophe from which he emerged each time and the emotional havoc it created. But this episode had seemed different. It looked like the final chapter to the story. How could he possibly pull out of the death throes that gripped him? Now, though, it seems there will be another season after all.

The family arrived, one very doubtful of the severity and mildly annoyed, the others staying longer and committing to the vigil. After a week, she finally sent everyone home to their lives, promising herself not to subject them to that again. They had all said their tearful good-byes at his bedside. She held her breath in the now empty house to see how the change in atmosphere would affect his fragile psyche. 

He awoke finally late in the afternoon, following the new pattern of sleeping up to nineteen hours at a stretch. She pulled him up out of bed and into his wheelchair, an increasingly difficult task as his weakness deepens. His muscle wasting and thinness are alarming. She transferred him to the couch for a few hours of snoozing in front of the television and suggested food to him every hour. To her surprise he agreed to her offerings and for the first time in a fortnight he had three tiny meals during his few slightly wakeful hours, three more than many other days during this latest crisis.

If she looked away distracted from the task of feeding him, he fed himself invisible food but he was unable to grasp a real spoon to guide it to his mouth. This new condition requires her constant attention. At least, she tells herself, it is only a few hours of the day...for now.

She has long been used to shifting gears and quickly changing direction in his care if necessary. She is a master, in fact. The mystery and complexity of Parkinson's disease demand it. But this time was the closest he had ever come to the grand finale and she felt limp and exhausted when finally left alone with this man who seems so fragile and needy on the outside and yet must be built of steel on the inside. She wonders how many more times he will be consumed by the flames and emerge intact. Could she herself weather the conflagration again?

Phoenix tombstone, Fyvie Kirkyard Scottish gravestone, 18th or 19th century.


  1. Ouf! Please, please, please, remain close to your feelings, your health, your sanity and share with me and close ones.
    We can admire the Phoenix all we want, but we cannot get too too close ...anymore.

  2. I am so glad he made it back! What a beautiful tribute to the human spirit! Take care of yourself. A lesser person would have burned out by now!