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Voice nearly gone, his life still speaks

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After a lifetime of passionate public speaking, former Twin Cities priest Terry Dosh would rather lose an arm or a leg than his voice. Yet this is the prized tool being stripped from him through his bout with a chronic illness.

The ability to communicate was central to Dr. Dosh as a professor of European History at St. John’s University, and as a Benedictine priest celebrating mass at a dozen Twin Cities parishes.

In fact, his favorite times have been rousing discussions in book groups and in the Blaisdell YMCA sauna where philosophy and religion were debated between conservatives and liberals, he explained. But one day is etched in his memory as the beginning of the end of that love.

“It was in July, 2006 at St. Francis Cabrini Church in Minneapolis,” he said in broken whispers. Dosh was part of a preaching rotation there, and he was in the pulpit. Suddenly, his speech became halting and labored. “My talk was interrupted 15 times. I had to drink.”

“It was awful,” recalls his wife Millie from their family home in South Minneapolis. “He had difficulty finishing.”

Dosh had a series of health exams, and what a speech therapist suspected, was confirmed by a neurologist: he had early-stage Parkinson’s Disease.

His decline has been particularly painful for a “people person,” said Mrs. Dosh. “When people can’t understand him or the words come too slowly, he begins to hold back in conversation and people give up on him.”

“It’s frustrating,” Mrs. Dosh admits, “always having to ask him to repeat himself, and hard to see the exasperated look on his face, saying ‘Why can’t you understand me?’”

In October of 2010, things got worse, and swallowing became difficult. “At first we did exercises and I thought it could change,” said Dosh. “But I flunked all the tests. Then I realized, this stays until I die.”

Adjustments have required great patience. While Terry’s walking is more uncertain, Millie has had to remember not to displace what he can still do, she said. “Terry has always shopped for our groceries, so when he’s slowly carrying them in from the car, I can jump in too quickly to help.”

This not only robs him of a dignified role, but can lead to her frustration, she confessed. “I have to back off, and he has to learn to ask for help when he really needs it,” not something men are always known for!

Life is full of new challenges for the Doshes. Yet their courage is exceptional. In contrast to a former classmate whose Parkinson’s has left him bedridden, Dosh, now 81, swims at the YMCA five times a week, though he misses ribbing those Republican Honeywell executives in the sauna, he says.

He sometimes needs help from men in the locker room putting on his shirt, and from trainers adjusting the exercise bike. He has reduced his swimming regimen to five or six laps, but his easy smile and quick wit reveal an inner joy and determination.

What steadies the Doshes? The names of their children reveal a clue. Martin Luther King Chavez Dosh, a notable drummer for the more-manageably named band Dosh, was featured recently by City Pages in the Twin Cities.

His brother Paul Gandhi Joseph (as in “Father of Jesus”) Dosh is Associate Political Science Professor and Director of Latin American Studies at Macalester College.

One need only walk into the Dosh living room to see what they’re about. A bust of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, stands prominently. “I got to meet and talk with her half a dozen times when she visited St. John’s,” said Dosh.

Paul believes his father’s lifelong devotion, prayer and service to causes greater than himself have made him more astute, disciplined, and resilient in responding to his illness, and grateful for the life and opportunities he’s been given.

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 men and women around the nation pay for Dosh’s compendium of Catholic reading excerpts in a newsletter called Bread Rising: A Report from Terry Dosh, on topics of social justice, human dignity, and environmental concerns.

“It is meant to give hope to those who want the church reformed in light of the Vatican Council,” explained Mrs. Dosh.

While shaky in step, Terry shows steadiness of another kind. “He can read for six hours a day,” said Mrs. Dosh of his insatiable thirst for wisdom from up to 40 sources.

This lifelong passion is a major boon for his health, said his son Paul. “People ask me regularly how Dad is doing, and the first thing I say is, ‘He’s so happy with his life because he enjoys his work and he enjoys his family.’”

Because of the missions he’s committed to, even a “less gregarious” life is still a good life, said Paul. Ironically, while chronic illness calls others to rest, a lifestyle of service, if physically possible, is often a wonderful antidote to self-pity and personal decline.

“We can’t complain, but we still get frustrated. There are signs of depression,” said Mrs. Dosh, but for now they see their cup as more than half full.

Bread Rising always closes with Signs of Hope, so I asked Dr. Dosh what signs of hope buoy him for his personal battle. With characteristic joy, he quoted a psalm about God’s promise of salvation to His loving servants, and then shared his scriptural motto.

“A cheerful heart has a festival every day,” he said, then paused and leaned forward with a twinkle in his eye. “So live it up, baby!”

© 2012 Todd Svanoe. Unauthorized reproduction of this copyrighted material is prohibited.

Todd can be reached via the Contact page.


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