You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of heavens dance between you.
- Kahlil Gibran’s
Recently, my work with families touched by Parkinson’s has caused me think of a verse about marriage in Kahlil Gibran’s classic, The Prophet. Much of the stress and difficulty arising in the PD relationships can be traced to forgetting to “let the winds of heaven dance between you” (the partners). This failure is what therapists call emotional dependence.
As with any debilitating illness, PD can be an assault on independence and personal autonomy. A person with the disease struggles with a threat of growing reliance on others for assistance with physical needs and some activities of daily living. The specter of increased needs cannot help but feel like dependence. However, it is important to remember that there is a considerable difference between physical and emotional dependence.
Emotional dependence can be conceptualized as an intense reliance on a partner to give battle to worry, frustration, anger and life in general. It occurs when one surrenders personal responsibility to meet these challenges through one’s own efforts and makes them a loved one’s task. It occurs when the two members of a relationship become one, or in Gibran’s words fail to “Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.”
Emotional dependence is making the partner a sun around which one keeps a tight, secure orbit. Emotional dependence is drawing warmth from that sun with minimal thought of reciprocity. Emotional dependence grows with a decrease in external personal relationships: friends, family, religious communities, professional and civic organizations. It is fertilized by self-imposed isolation. and watered through close proximity to the partner.
How would Gibran describe a good relationship? “Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.”I find very often that people with Parkinson’s become so fearful about what the future will hold that they draw too heavily upon their partner’s energy and love hoping for the impossible outcome of two notes simultaneously generated from a single string.,
Emotion dependence is the source of “caregiver burden,” a stifling condition for the partner that is marked by guilt, resentment, exhaustion and countless other distressing conditions. It can create a situation in which the relationship breaks down- or apart, also anticipated by Gibran:
And stand together, yet not too near together
For the pillars of the temple stand apart
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
PD presents numerous challenges but never abrogates responsibility to care for one’s own emotional well-being. No other human, including the partner can do that without one or the other being cast in shadow. Over time, PD changes one’s physical independence but it should never change one’s emotional independence. It takes both pillars to support that enduring metaphorical temple of a relationship in which “You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days.”
For those with PD: Do the winds of heaven dance between you and your beloved?
The full text of Gibran's, "The Prophet" is easily accessible via the Internet.