Tag Archives: Parkinson’s

The Missing Piece and a Journey to Healing

August 22, 2017 by
Photography by Tim Guthrie

Tim Guthrie, an art professor at Creighton, produced the award-winning documentary Missing Piece. The documentary details Guthrie’s journey to find peace with the death of his wife, Beth, from complications of Parkinson’s disease and dystonia.


Sometimes I cant believe I can go on without her.

The loss feels too great, too heavy. We didn’t simply have each other as companions. We had each other to lean on when we needed one another—when I was struggling with work or my master’s degree, when she was devastated over a pregnancy that ended in an emergency room, or as her diseases put her through increasingly more pain.

Now she’s gone. She’s not here to lean on.

I’ve done everything I can to find ways to live without her, to find a way for life to be a little less difficult and painful. I spend a lot of time revisiting pleasant memories, working to get to a point where I can feel happy—to a point where those memories can overpower the persistent image of finding her that awful morning. I want to do anything to erase that vision from my memory bank. I wish for a willful and controlled amnesia.

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

I made a film about, and for, her—my wife, Elizabeth Broderick.

Showing the film has been a challenge. I don’t attend most of the film festivals, but during the screenings of the few I have attended, I usually leave the theater before her film begins. The film is my love letter to Beth, but it’s also painful for me to watch.

Sometimes, I think the film, and the Missing Piece photos I took, are too personal for me to talk about. Mostly, though, everything from Beth’s death until now has been extraordinarily painful and personal to talk about, so why should the film or photos be any different?

I started a blog, “Traveling with Virtual Beth,” for family and friends who wanted to track some of what I have been doing, and where I’ve been going—especially for my parents, who wanted to follow my travels. I’ve openly shared both the physical and emotional journey. I’ve opened up on the blog. I’ve opened up on my Facebook page, as well. Most people are respectful. I don’t mean to make people uncomfortable. I don’t mean to make my grieving process seem worse than anyone else’s. I know I’m not unique in losing a loved one. It’s a pain that is unfortunately universal.

Original photo taken at Tim Guthrie’s apartment (early 1990s); revisited in their house (2017)

I’m aware that I’ve been grieving pretty publicly, which was an issue as I began to be approached by reporters. One by one, I turned all but one away. Everyone expected that I wanted to talk more about everything, but it has always been a struggle. It adds to the challenge when someone else who didn’t know her, or even me, wants to tell a story I’m still struggling with myself. I somehow still want to protect her, even in death.

One reporter, who assumed I’d want to talk more openly than I did, wanted to write about details I have never talked about online or in the film. When I pointed out that if that’s what she wanted to include in the story, I ultimately wasn’t interested, her response was, “I’m the reporter, I decide the story.”

And like that, I was done with the interview and never talked to her again. Granted, months later, another writer, Kim Carpenter with the Omaha World-Herald, gently got me to open up, finally, so a story was eventually written from someone’s perspective other than my own. Still, it was a challenge. It actually felt a bit as though she was my therapist over months of talking with her.

At Fontenelle Forest (early 1990s); revisited at Red Rocks Park in Vermont (2016)

I don’t talk about it often, but I actually saw a therapist. It was helpful for about a year, but I stopped going this past summer, mostly for financial reasons. I think spreading Beth’s ashes, revisiting places and taking photos, keeping the blog, and making the film probably helped more than a therapist could.

In the first six months of this journey, I kept arguing with people who insisted the photos were works of art. For me, they weren’t art, but a very personal process that was helping me deal with the loss. I initially loathed thinking about them as art. I never, ever, ever wanted to reduce Beth to an art project, and calling them art somehow felt insulting to her memory and shameful to me. Grief makes one say and think absurd things.

I’ve thought about ending the blog many times, and, even though I know I will ultimately bring it to a close by the end of the year, I find myself recalling comments I’ve received—like the many messages from people who have thanked me for sharing—comments that expressed gratitude because sharing my journey has helped others deal with their own grief. The comedian/writer/actor Patton Oswalt even sent me a message after his wife died, and after he discovered and read every post on the blog. It felt like an odd honor, but also like being part of a widowers’ club. Such messages have made the blog worthwhile, though. Knowing it has helped others is strangely comforting.

At Durham Museum (early 1990s); same location (2016)

It’s one thing for me to get through this myself, but the thought of it helping anyone else actually motivated me to continue for as long as I did. I thought I’d only continue the blog for a year. It will have been two years by the time I bring it to a close. When I imagine it has assuaged anyone else’s grief by sharing my own, it makes her death a little less difficult to bear. If anything good can come from her death, it eases my mind and soothes a broken heart to think she is helping others, even long after she’s gone. Yet, as I run out of photos and work to move forward, it feels like the right time to end it.

I know I can’t return to the person I was, but if I can get to a place where I can at least move forward again, and spend less time curled up alone, then maybe that’s something. To be honest, everything I’ve done to honor her these past couple of years has been worth it.

She may not be here to lean on in times when I need her most, but I’ll keep the good memories, which the photos help me recall.

I can’t move on without her, but maybe I can move forward with our shared memory, learning to carry it all with a little more ease. Hopefully the loss will someday be a little less heavy, more bearable.

The simple fact is, I miss her so damn much; that’s one thing I know I’ll carry until the day I die. 

Honeymoon at Dolwyddelan Castle, Wales (1994); same location (2016)

Visit virtualbeth.wordpress.com to view Tim Guthrie’s blog. A screening of the documentary, Missing Piece, is tentatively scheduled at Film Streams on Nov. 7 (7 p.m.). Photographs will be exhibited at Gallery 72 in November with an opening reception Nov. 9 (5-9 p.m.). A special preview at the gallery will follow the Nov. 7 screening.

 

 

 

Acclaim for Missing Piece

Missing Piece was accepted into several national and international festivals. Here is an abbreviated list of screenings and recognitions.

Omaha Film Fest

Best Short NE Documentary

Audience Award for Best Short Film

Global Independent Film Festival

Best Documentary Short Film

2017 Humanitarian Award Winner

Sydney Film Festival

Best Documentary Short Film

Canada World International

Film Festival

Best American Film

High Coast Film Festival, Sweden

Honorable Mention

Sweet As Film Festival

Honorable Mention

Hollywood International

Independent Awards Festival

Finalist

This essay was printed in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Honeymoon at Llandanwg, Wales (1994); same location (2016)

Parkinson’s Disease

January 26, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The way Terry Currey looks at it, Parkinson’s disease is a battle of the mind versus the brain.

Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2009, Currey describes his brain as an antagonist that controls his body. The protagonist is his mind, which he applies with persistent determination and will power to overcome the malevolent part of his brain.

Currey knows that in the end, his brain will be the victor. “But it’s not whether you win or lose,” he says, “it’s how you play the game.”

Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease—Alzheimer’s disease is the first—and usually occurs in individuals after age 60. The disease typically advances over a period of many years and affects movement, muscle control, and balance. Symptoms include a tremor, slow movement, loss of balance, and stiffness of the limbs.

“When the disease reaches a moderate stage, the motor [skills] problems become more pronounced, medications may begin to lose their effectiveness, and non-motor symptoms begin to develop, such as swallowing issues, speech and sleep problems, low blood pressure, mood and memory issues,” says Dr. Danish Bhatti, neurologist and co-director of the Parkinson’s Disease Clinic at Nebraska Medicine.

Dr. John Bertoni, co-director of the Parkinson’s Clinic, is Currey’s physician. “The needs for Parkinson’s patients are very diverse and become more complex as the disease progresses.”

Early diagnosis is the key to beginning proper treatment and helping manage progression of the disease, Dr. Bhatti says. Most people with Parkinson’s can get significant control of their symptoms with medications and a combination of other therapies, including occupational therapy, speech therapy, nutrition counseling, support groups, and regular exercise.

“The benefits of exercise early on, and throughout the disease process, is significant,” he says. “People who are independent after 10 years are the ones who were very active early in the disease. The more active you are, the less likely you are to have severe symptoms.”

Currey has been fighting the disease with an arsenal of tools that include medications, exercise, diet, and mind games. He says exercise has been critical in helping him stay active and keeping his muscle memory in place. He regularly uses his treadmill or elliptical, lifts weights, and participates in other activities like fishing, camping, mowing the lawn, snowblowing during winter, reading, and writing. Each is an important element in staying in the battle, he says.

“Some days it’s not only hard to move, but to want to move,” he says. “You have to have a mission. You have to set your mind to whatever it is you want to accomplish and not let the enemy win.”

To help others with the battle, Currey recently wrote a book, titled Neural Combat: Strategies and Tactics for your War with Parkinson’s Disease, available on Amazon. There were several goals Currey says he wanted to achieve with his book, such as helping individuals newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s to overcome their fear of the disease; to explain what is happening to them medically; and to assist them in developing tools to cope with the symptoms.

“With Parkinson’s disease, you go through the stages of grief and denial, and finally resignation and acceptance,” Currey says. “It took me a while to accept it, but once I came to that realization, I decided that I’m in it to battle this to the end for as long as I have my cognitive abilities.”

Visit pdf.org for more infomation.

parkinsons

Jan Riggenbach

August 2, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Watch out for Jan Riggenbach’s green thumb. Gardening has been her passion since age 7.

She started writing a gardening column in 1974. That column, which she still writes weekly, is now syndicated in 12 newspapers, including the Omaha World-Herald, Chicago Daily Herald, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She also wrote a gardening column for Midwest Living magazine for 22 years.

Her husband, writer Don Riggenbach, talked her into writing the newspaper column in the early 1970s. “He worked for Northwestern Bell public relations and came home with garden questions from people he worked with,” she says.

She writes books. Her most recent from the University of Nebraska Press is Your Midwest Garden: An Owner’s Manual. She has collaborated on various books and as a plant writer for HGTV Landscape books, too.

Riggenbach also has helped people with horticultural therapy.

With what?

Horticultural therapy is just what it sounds like. “Just about any gardener will tell you gardening is therapeutic. No matter what’s bothering you, working the soil helps,” she says. “It was a new field when I got into it.”

She has consulted on horticultural therapy for the senior population and helped several nursing homes build wheelchair-accessible garden beds.

Until three years ago, Jan and Don lived on 30 acres near Glenwood, Iowa. Their land was home to 700 varieties of trees. She says the trees and gardens became a draw for visitors who didn’t always understand what they were looking at.

“As visitors stood on the deck overlooking the wooded ravine on our Iowa acreage, now and then someone would point to a dead tree. ‘Do you know you have a dead tree?’ he or she would ask. We welcomed the chance to explain the value of leaving a few dead trees standing as long as they pose no danger to humans. Dead trees provide homes for many kinds of birds and other wildlife.”

JanRiggenbach2

When planting trees, the Riggenbachs often spaced saplings only 10 or 12 feet apart to mimic the forests of nature.

“People more accustomed to parks and golf courses than to woodlands asked, ‘Don’t you know you’re planting your trees way too close together?’” Jan laughs.

The 30 acres made a perfect home for the family. Don’s passion is trees. Jan had room on the acreage for her gardens. Their three children had room to play. The two writers worked out of a separate building they called The Word Barn.

The couple moved to Omaha three years ago to make life easier for Don, who has Parkinson’s disease. They had lived on the land in Iowa located between Council Bluffs and Glenwood for 35 years.

In southwest Omaha, a scaled-down version of her garden continues to produce flowers, vegetables, dwarf trees, shrubs, berries, and herbs. Downsizing for the Riggenbachs means one acre to work instead of 30, still not everybody’s idea of retirement.

“I do all my vegetables on raised beds, an easier way to garden,” says Jan. “There’s less bending and with the raised beds, I don’t have to worry about soil contamination, and drainage is good.” 

Some of their three children and eight grandchildren share the passion that Jan and Don, who have been together for 53 years, have for gardening.

“My son, David, is bitten bad. There’s no grass in his yard and it’s packed with every possible plant he can find,” Jan says.

Also into gardening are grandsons Nate, who is now a junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Jackson, who at age 13 has his own garden.

Jan became an organic gardener before most people knew what that was.

“Organic then was looked at like there was something wrong with you. So I never said, ‘This is organic.’  Today I give programs about organic gardening.” 

She says readers’ questions help her as a writer to understand how a novice gardener may not understand gardening jargon. Examples: “How do you pinch a plant and where do you pinch it?” and “What does deadheading mean?”

As Jan kept writing, her garden’s reputation grew. People lined up to visit, primarily from garden clubs and local schools. She grew almost everything on the Iowa acreage, from fruits and vegetables to flower gardens. 

Jan remembers a fellow hiker who showed her a smartphone photo of the columbines he found blooming in his new yard: “He said, ‘I thought they were really pretty, but if they’re wildflowers, I’ll have to pull them out.’ 

Although most gardeners welcome native plants in their gardens, some newcomers still equate wildflowers with weeds.” 

Jan says she harvested a story every time visitors came to the sprawling acreage they once owned in Iowa.

“While conducting a tour for children, my husband Don pointed out an American hophornbeam tree. ‘Now this is a hop tree,’ he began. One little girl’s eyes got really big. ‘How far does it hop?’ she asked.”

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