While holidaying at my Dad’s property last week, my afternoon nap was shattered by aggressive yelling coming from the backyard shed. “What are you doing?” my father roared repeatedly. I lay on my bed, feeling alarmed. Then he shouted “What’s for dinner?” and “coffee or tea?” Not living in the same state as he does, it was the first time of many that I would hear this afternoon routine during my week long stay. The boisterous nature of the exercise was disconcerting, but far more upsetting is the reality of why he now has to engage in daily vocal therapy. A three year sufferer of Parkinson’s Disease, my intelligent, articulate and dry humoured Dad is slowly losing the ability to talk properly.
At 33, I am at the confronting age where the realisation that our parents are no longer invincible starts to hit. Of course, for many people, this is an injustice they sadly may have to endure at a younger age. But for most of us, we grow up assuming that our treasured parents will surely be around to deliver a speech at our wedding, witness the birth of our own children and experience for themselves the joy of being grandparents for years to come. Yet as ensconced as I am in my own pain at watching my once robust Dad age exponentially before my eyes, I can appreciate that I am still one of the lucky ones. I have two close girlfriends who have already lost one of their parents to cancer, and another friend whose father has fallen victim to crippling dementia – so much so that he is forced to live in a nursing home and rarely recognises his wife or three children during their daily visits. There are currently almost 280,000 Australians living with dementia, and tragically, the number of people with the disease is set to increase by almost 50 per cent over the next 10 years. But whether it’s dementia, Parkinson’s disease or cancer, at the end of the day the disease is irrelevant.