As I walk towards the door of the nursing home I feel a mixture of apprehension and anticipation. How will my father be today? Will he be able to greet me and participate in the conversation? Will he be in bed, so still and stiff that only his eyes move and he can barely form words? Will he be bent over in his wheelchair, drooling and shaking, unable to move and temporarily forgotten by the busy staff? Twenty-three years of Parkinson's disease has taken its toll, leaving him with very little dignity or quality of life, and I foolishly continue to ask "why?"
Nobody deserves this fate, and I'm biased enough to think that my father deserves it least of all. A United Methodist minister's son, who lost his mother when he was 12, he chose to go to medical school with the goal of becoming a medical missionary, and as soon as his training was complete he and my mother packed up the family and moved to Liberia for 11 years. He devoted his time to learning the local language, working at the small, rustic hospital, and traveling days into the rain forest by foot to reach those who couldn't come to him. His passion became public health and he strove to prevent diseases and conditions that were avoidable with proper care and education. Upon returning to the United States he worked in state public health and eventually became Director of Public Health of New Hampshire, then Commissioner of Public Health of West Virginia. And through it all he was focused on making the lives of others better by making health care available and sharing his faith.
He was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease at age 50, and he and my mother have fought this terrible disease ever since. The disease will not kill you but it will slowly, cruelly, take all function away, leaving a shell of a person, sometimes with complete awareness, sometimes with dementia, sometimes with hallucinations and psychosis. And yet I still see joy and strong faith in him - when he is functioning well he can still laugh and crack jokes, share poems he wrote in his healthier days, serve the nursing home residence council, and share Bible study with other residents. He considers his time in the nursing home as a ministry and his faith has never wavered. He is still the strong pillar of our family that he was when I was a child, and although his body is fragile and wasting away he bravely continues to model his faith and show us how to meet adversity through faith. His name is William Wallace and he truly has and is a "Brave Heart".