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Ron showed me I didn't have to be afraid

Ron’s eyes told the story.

I’d had a slight tremor in my left hand for months, and it was time for me to find a neurologist to help me solve the mystery of my independent-thinking appendage.

After a quick examination, the doctor looked at me and my wife, Kerry, and with a confident demeanor confirmed what I already knew: I had Parkinson’s. My world would never be the same. My inner core had been shaken off of its foundation, pun intended.

I had Parkinson’s, and there was nothing I could do about it. The doctor’s words faded into a dull hum as my brain went into survival mode. I was engulfed in the first of the five stages of coping and grief, my body going numb, my facial expression lifeless. I was glad to hear that this disease wouldn’t kill me. I would die with Parkinson’s, not from it. A plan of action was put in place, and follow-up visits scheduled. Still, I had to navigate those grief stages and try to do so quickly.

I soared through the denial, anger, bargaining and depression stages, landing solidly in the realm of acceptance. This final stage will guide me through life, and as it turns out, help me become a support group facilitator. I didn’t see that one coming.

Attending our church was a couple touched by Parkinson’s. Lynne was the caregiver for Ron, her husband, who had this affliction for more than 12 years. Ron suffered with all of the classic symptoms, and it was due to those visible manifestations that my own insecurity went into overdrive. I tried to keep my distance from Ron for fear of looking into the face of my own future. I still had some growing up to do.

One Sunday Kerry walked Lynne and Ron over to me for a formal introduction. The moment I took Ron’s shaky hand into mine, I knew this journey would not be the end of me. Instead, it was a door of opportunity being thrust open, waiting for me to venture inside.

When I started my support group, Ron and Lynne were the first to sign up. Ron spoke with a heavy slur yet I understood what he wanted to say. I laughed at his jokes, and he laughed at mine. We became friends. Every time Ron left one of our meetings he would walk out the door with a big smile on his face and a skip to his step. Ron loved the fellowship along with the snacks Kerry baked.

Now that I am a little wiser about all things PD, I realized that Ron’s journey was not necessarily the same as mine. People with Parkinson’s may share symptoms but they manifest differently in each of us. Thanks to Ron, I can boldly look to my future and not be afraid, or concerned, just cautious.

Sadly, Ron left us March 4, just a few hours after Kerry and I visited him. He was experiencing PD-related complications and is now looking down at us and at those he touched — there were many. If you knew Ron, then you knew the man who never gave up. His eyes told the story.

If you or someone you know has PD, my support group is held at Pioneer Village, 805 N. Fifth St., Jacksonville, at 2 p.m. the third Thursday of the month. It is available to all at no charge.

Richard Hunter lives in Jacksonville.