How to go
What: “Parkinson’s as a Spiritual Journey,” Joseph Reitz reading and book-signing
Where: Blue Jacket Bookstore, 30 Detroit St., Xenia
When: 6 to 8 p.m. Friday
More info: Call 937-416-3847 or go to www.amazon.com and search for Joseph Reitz
About seven years ago when Joseph Reitz of Kettering was teaching at Corpus Christi Catholic School, he noticed his right arm shaking involuntarily. At first, he just brushed it off as stress from the job. He had been teaching almost 40 years at that point and was getting close to retirement.
But as the shaking continued on calmer days, he knew it wasn’t due to teaching language arts and social studies to second- through eighth-graders at the Dayton school. His right arm was a constant reminder that something was terribly wrong.
After two years of these symptoms he and his wife, Phyllis, decided to consult an expert. In the spring of 2010 they visited a neurologist at One Elizabeth Place. Joel Vandersluis had him walk around the room while asking him questions.
“The doctor said flat out, ‘You have Parkinson’s; I knew it after 30 seconds,’ ” remembers Reitz. “But just as he told me a voice in my mind said, ‘Everyone has something.’ It was like a gift of grace, and it took the fear right out of me.”
He and his wife looked at each other. Even though it was devastating news, it was a relief for them to finally put a name to it. At that point, the doctor injected some realism into the moment.
“The good news is, it won’t kill you. But the bad news is, you will die with it,” remembers Reitz. “But I didn’t accept that.”
The truth is, Reitz had always been very proactive about protecting his health. Phyllis is a licensed massage therapist, and the regular sessions always gave him some short-lived relief from his symptoms. He had also been seeing an acupuncturist/counselor and a chiropractor.
He had a self-described “spiritual director” he met with, who reminded him to find God in his everyday life. Sister Joanne Schuster of Cincinnati had met him at a conference at the Bergamo Center for Lifelong Learning in Beavercreek about six years prior to that office visit. They had regular spiritual therapy sessions.
“All of this helped some, but it didn’t stop the symptoms,” said Reitz, who now sees OEP neurologist Lawrence Goldstick. “One of the saddest results of my disease is I can no longer play the piano.”
After teaching another one and a half years, in retirement he turned to something that had given him pleasure throughout his life. He liked to write short, human interest stories. But now he really had an interesting tale to spin.
“I gave some of my stories to a psychotherapist to read. She said, ‘My gosh, I can use some of these stories for my patients. I think it would really help them.’ ”
So about two years ago, Reitz decided to write a book, “Parkinson’s as a Spiritual Journey,” with the subtitle “Finding Forgiveness and Compassion Along the Way.” The 12-chapter, approximately 20,000-word book is self-published. Each chapter has an epilogue that explains how the event helped him manage his disease. The act of putting down his thoughts and feelings on paper uplifted his spirits.
“Once you get past the shock, look for some meaning behind it,” Reitz says. “Is there something you can learn? Instead of being a victim, find another way to grow and mature in your life.”
Contact this contributing writer at PamDillon@woh.rr.com.