It was my birthday last week and my wife and I were invited to lunch by my oldest friends with the choice of food left totally to me. Now that’s what I call good friends! We first met as neighbours 36 years ago and although we only lived near each other for eighteen months, we have stayed in close contact ever since. Parkinson’s disease (PD) makes absolutely no difference to real friends but it does help pick out those that really care for us. Time spent with real friends is easy; there is no need to discuss PD in any way; no need to make excuses for arriving late, or leaving early or even failing to turn up. No big deal is made of sudden tiredness or dietary requirements or meal timings. But real friends aren’t always long-term friends. Some shorter term friends have been just as supportive in their time and place. In this respect I was reflecting recently on my now dispersed golfing friends. I discovered the social joys of the golf world quite late as I did not start playing until 16 years ago, when I was 42. I was never really a proper golfer and the best my handicap came down to was 19 which was just about low enough to sustain my interest and credibility. But I enjoyed the close friendship of around six other golfers and casual friendships with many more. Golf was the catalyst for socialising for me and that is what I miss rather than the golf itself, after all isn’t it just “a good walk spoilt”? In the summer I played around three times a week, sometimes more. After I was diagnosed I looked for a job that would be less stressful and I was employed for three years, by my golf club, initially as a starter and course marshal and latterly as the membership secretary. Consequently golf became a huge part of my work, play and social life for a while. My close golfing mates were all proper golfers but thankfully enjoyed my company and whilst I was not as good as them, I played equally as quickly as they did (patience is not something I am over endowed with). In fact they were more tolerant of my poor golf shots than any whinging that I might try to do about my PD. At the same time, support and assistance from them was present in abundance; loading my clubs from car to buggy and back again; taking my golf balls out of the holes to save me bending down; returning me to the club house mid-round if fatigue set in and many similar things. These are the sort of things we need from friends, support not sympathy. Shortly after I was first diagnosed I read a blog on the internet written by someone who had suffered from PD for about 15 years. The blog was written for the newly diagnosed and this wise sage offered some useful advice and one bit particularly has stayed with me “Don’t fall prey to the pride of your illness”. Well my golfing mates made brutally sure that I complied with this ethos whenever I was playing a round of golf with them. They handled me brilliantly and they handled my illness even better, which was commendable as they had much to put up with – a wise cracking hacker with a neurological illness on a golf course!! Sadly I had to give up playing golf regularly a couple of years ago but it coincided with me no longer working there and my golf mates were all heading away too (one through ill health like me, one to Switzerland to work there, one died, one moved 250 miles away to south coast of the UK and one changed clubs). But it had been a wonderful 14 year affair with golf with some wonderful golfing friends. I don’t really miss the golf but I do miss that particular close network of real friends.
11th March 2011
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