In Life, Parkinson's on June 16, 2009 at 11:38 am

Papa SmallWe are in the bathroom. Daddy sits on a wooden chair in front of the sink. Barechested. Hollow. White underpants baggy, sized from another lifetime. I hold the shaving cream can over his cupped hands, squirting a small ball into his left palm. I watch amazed, as old muscle memory takes over. The blank mask of Parkinson’s has dulled expression, slowed reaction, but still he can put the shaving cream where it belongs. Slowly dip right fingers into the left palm. Daub right cheek, then left. Dip fingers. Upper lip, then neck, until his 2 days growth is covered in white.

I wet a blue washrag, wring it out and carefully wipe the excess from his hands. Together we find a razor; I wet it and hand it to him. I watch his reflection in the mirror, amazed that he can still bring razor to cheek, pull down, strip away the white, only smooth cheek left behind. He shaves himself without a nick. I wish I had a camera so that I could photograph him in black and white. He is dignified and capable in this moment. How diligently he works the right side of his face and his upper lip. I think about how long he’s been practicing this morning ritual. I wonder how long he will be able to continue.

When he’s half done he hands me the razor. Without shame or apology he asks me to do the rest. This is only the second time I’ve done it and I know I have to press harder than I want to in order to get a close shave. I’m afraid I’ll cut him, but I don’t. When I’m done I rinse out the washrag, warming and wringing, wiping his face. He has sleep in the corners of his eyes. I notice how dark his eyelashes are, how blue his eyes, and wonder if they’ve always been that way. I run the washrag over his scalp and hair, trying to restore some order as well I can. I notice his ears need cleaning, but he’s losing patience with the hard wooden seat. I run the washcloth over his upper body. His shoulders are small. Hunched. Shrunken. I remember being a little girl in the pool, standing on those shoulders while he was underwater, waiting for him to pop me up into the air. He was so big then. So broad. So capable.

I dress him. Help him to stand. Watch carefully as he maneuvers with his cane to his favorite chair and slowly, painfully eases to a seat. “Thank you,” he says. “You’re welcome,” I reply. “I’m happy to be here.”


  1. What a beautiful essay on your Daddy, and of your commitment to helping him in his time of need. You are an amazing woman, your Dad is a very lucky man to have you in his life…just as I!

    Your Dad loves you for who you are and for what you have become, he is proud of you…everyone is!

    I love you LeeAnne!

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