by Sally Smith

There’s a ‘thief’ in her life.

“It takes away a lot of things, things you never realized it could, but one by one, it marches through and takes…”

Araina Clark talks about the ‘thief’ bluntly: “Reading has become more challenging. The thief took it early.”

She talks about ‘him’ waiting around a corner, waiting to steal again next week, next month, in a few minutes.

“For me, the progression [of Parkinson’s Disease] has been slow, but I felt every loss, was amazed how my life was broken down into so many blocks, tiles, and then disseminated.”

“I was in awe,” Araina says. “I never caught up. I just kept losing, losing, losing…”

“I wouldn’t recommend it,” she adds wryly.

Araina has a lifetime of learning under her belt, and though the ‘thief’ quietly and insidiously has stolen many things, she’s still learning, tackling life with gusto, passing along what she can.

The diagnosis came in 2005 a short year after retiring from 38 years of nursing. “Then it happened…the start of the thefts.”

Growing up in the 50s and early 60s, girls at the time had a choice of two careers — nursing or secretarial work. She didn’t even think about it, she says, chose nursing and received a Registered Nursing Diploma in Regina in 1967. She and her husband Gord eventually left the province and headed east to Ontario where they both continued their careers; Gord with the federal government and Araina, nursing.

Initially she started at the Heart Institute, working alongside Dr. Wilbert Keon for five years. Then she headed to a paediatric allergist’s office, before walking through the front doors of the Queensway-Carleton Hospital. Her evenings were filled with learning and work, too. She taught at Algonquin and the National Defence Medical Centre.

“She had five or six balls in the air at one time,” Gord says.

“I learned a lot with [Dr. Keon]. That’s probably where learning cemented with me. I couldn’t get enough, picked up every book, enjoyed what I did.” She says people often asked her why she was driven to read and learn so much. She answered with a certain glint in her eye…”I don’t understand the question.”

Araina knew when her arms began to swing awkwardly as she walked that something was not right; from that time, it took her eight years “to admit something was wrong.”

She remembers her reaction. “It was not acceptable to me. I needed to get enough education… and still wouldn’t admit it was happening.”

Admitting she had Parkinson’s helped. After that, she began to “make something of it” but, she says, she will “never really have it completely resolved.”

A move to Almonte was a first step, a fresh start that Araina used to make new friends, join committees, put her brain to work on other tasks, move in different directions…and keep learning.

Answering an ad, she became part of a Patient and Family Advisory Committee at the Almonte General Hospital where she spent two, three-year terms on the board. “It was what I was looking for. I made friends I would never have met any other way.” Gord adds his own thoughts: “She was a bonus to them. She added a lot of expertise.”

She also joined the Mississippi Mills Accessibility Advisory Committee which she now attends via Zoom. “We’ve made some accessibility changes to the washrooms in Gemmill Park” and suggestions to improve walking surfaces for wheels of a walker or wheelchair. Both the rink and the library are now more accessible. There’s a just-try-and-stop-me gleam in her eye when talking about a much-needed restoration of Almonte’s 100 year old Main Street infrastructure. “A lot has got to be replaced. We can put our accessibility things where we want…” With some imagination, you can see her rubbing her hands in glee.

And once a week she started to go with some other women to a day program through Carebridge Community Support, “which gives everybody a break.” she laughs. She knows, too, her kids have her back, frequently telling her things they think she could use.

Araina golfed for many years but now accompanies Gord to the course on occasion, riding in the cart, doing a bit of putting and enjoying the socializing at the nineteenth hole. “I’m gonna blow off that thief,” she says, grinning, defiance in her soft voice.

Getting back to reading, which is returning bit by bit, Araina says it’s not cognition or eyesight “but comprehension, changing the written word into memory.” She has tried darkening the room, turning off music, everything she could to “induce the essence of reading.” It’s been 12 years since she’s read a book cover to cover…but she’s working on it.

And dancing is close to her heart. “There’s a rhythm there. Maybe for everything Parkinson takes away, it puts back some rhythm.”

Araina will be participating in the the Lanark North Leeds Parkinson Canada SuperWalk which takes place on Saturday, September 11 with a Virtual Opening Ceremony at 11 a.m. At 1 p.m., registered participants are welcome to join an Exercise Class in Carleton Place, Smiths Falls or Perth, or ‘Walk Your Own Way’ in your neighbourhood. To register, donate, or for more information and details, visit donate.parkinson.ca/lanarknorthleeds or call 1(800) 565-3000 ext. 3392. All activities will follow Provincial COVID Guidelines.

Turning 75 this year, Araina wonders if she has learned enough in her life. She thinks sometimes it hasn’t exactly turned out the way she pictured, especially when the  ‘thief’ came along and changed the plan. She asks herself if she’s learned enough.

She sits back and realizes she’s still learning.