It was late summer of 2010 while walking near the Hudson River shoreline when I heard Chris Carter talk about his retirement. Carter was on the Mike & Mike Show when a host asked Carter how he knew it was time to retire. “Mentally, I was still sharp. I could read the defense, understand the play, and mentally perform. Unfortunately, my body was no longer responding to what I was telling it to do. There was a delay, a gap, or in some cases, an inability to perform. That’s when I knew it was time.” I couldn’t relate. And for the better part of a decade, I never understood what Carter meant. Very few will ever experience a mind-body relationship like professional athletes. But these past ten days have provided one hell of an education. 

About half of all people with Parkinson’s experience fatigue. Mine ten days ago, I awoke and found myself struggling to get out of bed. My mind was telling my body to move, but the sort of exhaustion I felt made it feel impossible to move. Just going to the bathroom drained every ounce of energy. Simple daily tasks were exhausting. Answering the phone, writing a shopping list, the simple dusting of one room wore me out.

Monday, I got up, my body did not. Tuesday, I got up. I managed to stumble about the apartment. I sat in my recliner to catch my breath at 7:05 AM and woke up at noon. Wednesday, I got up. I thought about shaving but was too afraid that I’d slit my throat from shaking. Today, I got up. I looked in the mirror and acknowledged how much I lost. 

I think I lost a semblance of normalcy, a semblance of life. I don’t remember normal anymore. All I remember is exhaustion. I am tired. Exhaustion is a bitch.

I awoke at 4:30 AM today but could not get out of bed for medications. The Carbidopa-Levodopa sat in the next room, 40 feet away, but had no energy to retrieve it. Finally, I crawled on all fours to the next room and pulled myself into my recliner. Medication sat next to me. I fell asleep. I awoke at 7:30 AM and crawled back to bed. Realizing I forgot to take the medication, I slept until 9:20 AM. 

I willingly admit. I wonder if this is what the early foray of dying is like. Random aches and pains, an extreme amount of neck and shoulder pain when walking, and constipation three to four days a week. Part of me thinks ‘life’ is F***ing with me.” Despite everything that the doctors told me, you think everything is going smoothly, then life makes you crawl on all-fours. Maybe it’s life’s way of reminding that, “you ain’t shit.” 

Buddhist teachings make me aware I am impermanent. And that’s true. I could die at any moment. I suppose one might state that exhaustion should inspire one to reflect on life’s preciousness. Maybe I have become too distracted by day-to-day living? Perhaps I have been trying to avoid the unavoidable (death)? Medicine tries to postpone, or at best, manage it, but in the end, it’s about living well in death’s shadow. 

When your nearing death, what’s essential will make itself known. Sometimes I think about my greatest regrets, that maybe I’ve paid too much attention to non-important things. What I have learned is that death is the secret teacher hiding in plain sight. Oh course death is a mystery. It’s a mystery because it seems to be an “unknown territory.” I think faith helps me to understand that the process will not be frightening, that I will be welcomed.