HAWLEY - Parkinson’s disease has led Cathie Walpole to realize some things. Diagnosed in her mid-50s, Walpole has learned to live in the present and take control of her feelings, rather than rushing forward and focusing on what could be. But also, while her hands may tremble or her balance is unsteady, she can still do what she enjoys with family and friends or at home celebrating life through her paintings.
As long as Walpole can remember, the mother of six women and 17 grandchildren recalls making things, whether it was wreaths or signs that displayed insight through words. The first sign stated, “Forgiveness is freedom” and when one of her daughters expressed interest in it, Walpole realized she had a skill she could share with others.
Painting though, is something Walpole has always liked, but initially she found the canvas to be intimidating. As a result, she painted the lid to her washer and dryer. Today however, she said painting is a chance to “transform things.”
Usually, Walpole who is 62 and lives in Hawley, paints when the mood arises, but also as a way to relax, even though she may not know what to paint. Instead, she just wants to paint and so, whatever ends up on the canvas, comes from whatever inspires her at that moment.
Walpole said she loves to paint, because of the “focus.” She explained that, painting is a way to relieve stress as she concentrates intently with each stroke of the brush, and for some unexplained reason, she doesn’t tremble as she paints.
While she hasn’t taken any classes, Walpole has referenced numerous YouTube videos to learn painting techniques. When she paints, Walpole said she lets the brush go and paints the image however she pleases, often stepping away for a time, but then returning to make a few changes. A lot of the painting process is just “trial and error” she said, with her youngest daughter Veronica usually sharing her thoughts and her granddaughter Roberta helping too. Walpole likes the process of starting with a basic image, drawing the outline and then making it so much more. From when she started painting two years ago to today, Walpole said exploring has been important as she has learned new things and so, people must “just keep going.”
Before she was diagnosed, Walpole didn’t realize the symptoms were those of Parkinson’s because they were “odd and varied,” she said. In one instance, her feet slapped the ground as she walked and that, led her to think it was the shoes she was wearing. At another time she struggled to put her arm in the sleeve of her coat. Once she was told it was Parkinson’s, Walpole said she was “shocked and scared” so she called her sister expecting a shared sense of fear. Instead, the sister who is a nurse seemed at ease, which surprised Walpole. Today though, she laughs at her sister’s response and said she’s “wonderful.”
As of yet, the Parkinson’s condition is progressing slowly, for which Walpole is grateful. She was once told the disease is a “gift” because it has allowed her to realize things she likely would not have otherwise. While she has this disease, she is okay and continues to live her life with her friends and family. While she initially feared telling her children, Walpole was told that they would forever love her; therefore, she would be fine. Staying in the moment and not looking forward too far, is something that has been essential in keeping calm, Walpole said. This is because she learned that she didn’t have to be afraid of Parkinson’s. Instead, she accepts the disease and tries not to hate it, especially when the medications are wearing off, causing her to stumble or freeze in place.
Prior to her own diagnosis, Walpole said she only knew of the “scary parts” of Parkinson’s because she had seen images of people in the advanced stages of the disease. But then, Walpole saw someone else with the disease and realized they were living their life, despite their difficulties. Walpole said simply, “You live with it.” She went on to learn more about the disease and found ways to aid herself with additional supplements and herbs that have been helpful. In addition to the standard medications for Parkinson’s, Walpole has discovered meditation, which she said, “helps” because it allows her to stop and think.
Walpole said she likes giving her art to others, hoping it will make them happy. She prefers painting angels because she believes in them; but also, she likes painting barns and the “rural life” that allows her to feel “connected” to the outdoors.
Art, Walpole said has allowed her to take an idea and put it on a canvas, all the while being a form of therapy. As of yet, she hasn’t presented her paintings in a show, but it’s not out of the question. To share her art, would be “incredible” because she already appreciates the feedback she receives from Veronica and Roberta who live with her.
Living with Parkinson’s, that Walpole said is “manageable.” She warns her daughters who are parents that whatever they are fretting about with their children will never happen and whatever does happen at the current moment may seem catastrophic, but it really isn’t because “if you’re alive and healthy, everything can be worked out.”
As of yet, Walpole doesn’t have a Facebook or Instagram page, but she will soon, so stayed tuned.