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Mom was right. We cannot control others. So, we just put on some lipstick and carry on. That was her motto during the Second World War when Dad was an army surgeon. That was her motto as a mom, nana, widow and dying at 96.

At 60-plus, my husband Stewart and I retired and travelled. We were our own bosses. At 70-plus, our bodies are now our bosses.

We walk two blocks for coffee. Stewart says, “Hand me the round thing.” His forehead is plaid with criss-crossing wrinkles. He knows those weren’t the right words. Is this a senior moment, a brain blip, dementia or the new thing?

After months of progressively stranger behaviour, Stewart had agreed to see his family doctor. He was losing muscle, sleeping more, eating less, taking smaller steps, standing unsteadily, staring into space.

We plod along the sidewalk. Stewart stops. I hand him the round thing, my thermos. He is the ultimate gentleman, always walking on the outside, carrying my books, just like his dad did for his mom, back in the day. We move on down the street, holding hands to keep track of each other, as I kick stones out of his path.

After the family doctor visit, Stewart had to wait six months to see a neurologist. With COVID-19 restrictions, I could not accompany him and the neurologist simply diagnosed through observation: Parkinson’s Disease, PD. It was a relief to know finally, since we had been silently entertaining fatal diseases, but it was still disturbing.

The doctor couldn’t say how soon or how fast Stewart’s symptoms would accumulate. From Googling, I read that there are several different types of PD, five stages, and at least eight other conditions that have similar symptoms. Each case is unique, just like any other condition or disease. Stewart waited another six months for his MRI, then another month for a follow-up with the neurologist to find out the findings.

We talked about actual exercise, not just his occasional swing of a golf club in the backyard. He was dismayed that his limb and core strength were gone. I suggested that every time he had that thought, he lift his hand-weights, do some planks. He nodded and continued to Google, assuring me that he would exercise “at some point.” I asked about backward-walking and balancing on one foot, common exercises for PD patients. He nodded again. We were both tired of my nagging.

Friends had recommended boxing, support groups, a drug to stop the shaking. He heard the words they were saying but the plan had to be his alone. Finally, we saw the neurologist together to discuss next steps. The MRI results were normal for an “aging adult brain.” We had more questions and, in the end, left with a prescription, referrals to other specialists, and appointments for follow-up tests.

Stewart still drives, maintaining his yogic calm. Engines are his passion. He can identify any car or motorcycle – model and year – in a glimpse. Occasionally, he floors it and we relive our 15 years of motorcycle riding – New Zealand, British Columbia., Baja, Colorado, the Alps. His expertise and our gear allowed us to live fully in the moment. When a texting-speeding driver crashed into us on a highway, our gear saved us. In months of recovery, we held hands to keep track of each other.

I think of our decades-long careers and Stewart’s sartorial splendour. A soft, silk tie, perfectly ironed French-cuffed shirt, tailored suit and shined loafers. Subtle aftershave – so handsome. He’s on the drug now and though it has side effects, he is more like himself. He has contemplative moments and the classic PD frown but he is still funny and loving. And he has signed up for PD physio.

I negotiate coffee in the chattering line as I watch sartorial Stewart standing in the sun. Later, we drift up the street and sit on a bench. With eyes closed, we inhale the warmth, living fully in the moment. I have learned to accept our medical system, while raging about it in my head. We are luckier than people in most countries where health care is not free. Still, one in five Canadians does not have a regular health care provider and waitlists are years-long. Many specialists are no longer taking on new patients. They cancel referrals and return them.

We are dependent on this not-perfect system but we are mostly healthy. It’s just anticipating how the disease will progress that is eating away at us. My sister studies me across the café table one day and instructs me to take care of myself as well. She knows whereof she speaks, after years of caring for her aging partner.

So, Stewart and I are enjoying one day at a time. We live in a free country; we are not at war; we have food and shelter. We are quietly bracing ourselves for what’s to come, conserving our energy, being positive. And accepting. That’s the first step, they say. Accepting that it is what it is.

We smile in the sun, in this moment, on this bench, and hold hands to keep track of each other. Thanks, Mom. I continue to put on some lipstick and carry on.

Doley Henderson lives in Toronto.

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