When the Parkinson’s was first diagnosed, Mary Ann insisted on complete secrecy.  No family (even parents and siblings) could know, no friends, certainly no parishioners — only the Kids and I were to privy to the diagnosis.  That insistence continued for five years.  She allowed a couple of exceptions for me so that I would have somewhere to go to process what we were going through.  Actually, I don’t remember if their Mom gave Lisa and Micah permission to share with anyone.  They may comment on that. 

Mary Ann had always been an extremely private person.  She didn’t think her personal life was anyone else’s business.  After she was diagnosed, she did not want people to be looking at her as if there was something wrong with her.  She certainly did not want people feeling sorry for her and treating her as a sick person.  I have shared before how hard that five years was on all of us. 

Finally, the secret could no longer be kept since there were too many outward signs of the disease.  When we moved here in 1996 Mary Ann’s Parkinson’s was public information among the Leadership of the congregation.  The secret was out from the first conversation by phone with the Call Committee.  In fact, by that time, Mary Ann’s Parkinson’s was in the form that I filled out for the file in the District office, the form that was sent to the congregation as soon as my name was put on their list of Candidates. 

It is here that the story of one gift that came on account of the Parkinson’s begins.  Mary Ann received some special attention from a group of ladies in the congregation.  She was welcomed in a way that made her feel accepted and included immediately.  I did not see all the dynamics of that inclusion, but I was thrilled at its effect on Mary Ann.  She quickly developed a group of friends in the congregation.  While my being the Pastor brought us to the place and provided the setting, that group became her very own friends, not acquaintances of the Pastor’s Wife. 

Before going any further, I have to say that Mary Ann had developed connections when we were in the early years in Kansas City.  She often claimed (falsely) that people were friends with her because I was the Pastor.  The truth is, I was the more boring one and she was always the more interesting personality of the two of us.  I am not particularly thrilled with that assessment, but it is just the way it was. 

In the parish here, the Parkinson’s created a need.  The need was for help.  When Margaret began and Carol took over the task of scheduling, the Volunteers began coming.  At first it was an adjustment, especially for Mary Ann, to have people coming into the house and staying with her.  First of all, her combination of strength of will and denial, caused her to resist any admission of the need for people to be there.  She seemed to manage to fall in a way that did not do damage to her, so she was not convinced of the need.  While watching the knives waving this way and that from the dyskinesias when she was preparing food, terror entered the heart of the watcher.  She was convinced that she would not slice herself. 

Since many of the first Volunteers were already friends, she tolerated the lack of privacy surprisingly well.  In fact it shocked me that she did not fight harder against the idea.  As the number of Volunteers expanded, new friendships were added.  Since often there was some need being met in another room when the next Volunteer arrived, the custom was to announce her arrival and just walk in. 

The result was that our house had an open door policy.  It was almost comical some Wednesdays when Bath Aide Zandra was here, Kristie had come to clean, it was crossover time when two Volunteers were here, one arriving and the other getting ready to leave, and the Spiritual Formation Group (four of us) were lingering for a moment of conversation before leaving after our meeting.  Rather than feeling as if folks were intruding into our lives, it was a pleasant gathering of friendly people. 

One gift that came was that Mary Ann opened herself to all sorts of relationships.  She had a wealth of friends and knew that they were her friends, not simply members of the congregation of which I was Pastor.  I cannot know what would have happened without the Parkinson’s, but it is clear that from its presence in our lives, the gift of openness to relationships grew.   

As always, we certainly would not have chosen the mechanism, but there were some consequences of its presence that brought blessing to our lives.

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