Looking my fear in the eyes
Fear can take many forms, but I never thought my fear would take the face of my friend Phil Peterson. Phil, as some of you readers may recall, is the husband of my late friend/second mother Jo Peterson.
Jo did what she could to help Phil these past few years, but Phil is suffering from late stage Parkinson’s Dementia. He has his good days, but lately those are becoming less frequent.
It’s hard to see how aged and frail he has become in the last five years. It’s hard to see him attempt to grasp the new developments around him. He recognizes me still, but for how long?
When I look at Phil, I feel so many things — loss, anguish, pity, and yes, fear. Of all the things I fear in this world, losing my mind is the greatest.
My memory has always been one of my more defining characteristics. I have a nearly photographic memory, and when there is a topic I am passionate about, like the Wisconsin Badgers, I can retain vast quantities of data — names, numbers, people, places and dates.
This ability made me a top student in high school, made me a great historian in college and is one of the things that makes me a good reporter now.
While other reporters are fumbling with notes, and trying to look something up on their phone, I already have the numbers in my head and can rattle off a question before the guy waiting for the page to load can even begin to ask his.
This is why losing my memory is so frightening, for what are we without our precious memories? Looking at Phil reminds me how important our memories are — they are the things that define us and shape us. As I work through what to do with Phil, how best to operate a business in Hayward from Colby, and how to navigate being a sports reporter during COVID-19, I am faced with my own fears each and every time I travel north to Hayward. It’s an uncertain world out there, and each day someone learns something unpleasant. Someone discovers they have cancer, have lost a loved one or have to learn to cope with a degenerative disease. The older I get, this seems to happen with greater frequency and I have let many people go in the last five years. I guess that’s life — we all have to learn to let go, to say goodbye. But you never think you have to say goodbye to the person you are, or were. As Phil deteriorates, a little bit of him goes each day. As I stare in his eyes, I see myself reflected back. I don’t know what he sees, when he looks at me. For how long will he know me? That’s a question that plagues me, and I live with the fear that the day will come when he looks at me and says, “Who are you? Who am I?”
Cherish your time, cherish your memories, and always remember, these things can be gone in a blink.
M USINGS AND G RUMBLINGS
ROSS PATTERMANN REPORTER