A few days after my grandmother went to sleep and didn’t wake up, we found a letter she had written in her diary. It was addressed to the university my uncle, her first-born and secret-favourite child, had graduated from. It turns out my uncle was in such a hurry to leave college, he never collected the piece of paper that proclaimed him a Civil Engineer. In her handwriting that resembles the printout of a heartbeat, she wrote “To whomsoever it may be concerned.” Could her son have his degree, now that he has constructed many iconic buildings?
My grandmother had Parkinson’s. It wasn’t something we thought about everyday, even as she slowly lost the ability to write until she could not sign her name, when she needed help to put on her shoes, when she suddenly forgot she had to walk forward and started walking back instead. I did not think of the helplessness and frustration she must be experiencing, as her body turned against her.
My Degeneration is a graphic novel by Peter Dunlap-Shohl, in which he talks about his life after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He takes us through the steps – the coping, the changes he must make to his routines, the support he received from his family and doctors, and finally the surgery that allowed him to continue living in a better way under the circumstances.
The text is informative and engaging – it presents to us both fact and emotion. We see how he deals with his diagnosis – initially contemplating suicide, but later actively working to improve his quality of life. Peter Dunlap-Shohl is a cartoonist, and it is an indicator of life’s cruelty that he was visited by a disease intent on taking away his fine motor skills. We would never know though – the art is compelling. This is a beautiful and brave book.
I learnt so much about the disease and what it takes away, but I felt ashamed for not having tried to understand it earlier. Too little, too late.