Parkinson's disease is robbing Arturo Vera of his strength and his stamina. It's slowed his speech and his gait, and has cost him his career as a wedding photographer.
The disease that affects the nervous system hasn't, however, affected Vera's heart.
The essence of the man, the husband, father and artist remains as Vera begins a new phase of what he calls "quite a life."
As an artist, he's always shown a great sensitivity, whether photographing a cast of more than 80 special needs students appearing in a play, or capturing the seasons at Lodi Lake. That part of him remains. Vera has four photo projects planned and hopes to offer photography classes to young people.
When diagnosed two years ago after he began struggling to write, the 61-year-old Vera never asked, "Why me?"
"I thought it was a blessing," he said. "My favorite pope is John Paul II. He died of Parkinson's, and I had admired him, the way he lived his life, not giving up. I chose that as my objective, not to give up."
He does admit, though, to regretting the end of his professional career.
"I truly enjoy doing weddings," Vera said.
Those jobs were a family affair. He would shoot the photographs and his wife of 25 years, Ana, would shoot the videos.
"No matter where Arturo was with his film camera and where I was with the video camera ... when the vows happened, we locked eyes with each other and it was like when we first met. You could see our tears," Ana Vera said.
Theirs is a love story that dates back decades. Vera was born in México and found success as a soccer player.
He continued to play after he moved to the Bay Area, and would pick up Ana's older brother, Guillermo, for practice. Ana, then 11, would peek around the corner to see her brother's handsome friend. Years later, when she was in her late 20s and Vera was three years into a divorce, the two met again at a fundraiser for Ana's brother, Jaime Jaramillo, who was running for city council in Union City.
"We couldn't believe we both were seeing each other and we walked across the floor to the middle of the dance floor," Ana said.
"I told my friends, 'I'm going to marry that girl,' and they told me, 'She's out of your league,' " Arturo said.
Instead, the two have been together since. They married in 1987, two years after Vera had begun his wedding photography. He'd taught photography at the Academy of Art in San Francisco and had worked professionally doing commercial photos, but when that work began drying up, he focused on weddings.
Ana immediately became part of his business, handling invitations, hair, make-up, limousine service and then videos.
They figured they worked more than 1,000 weddings, giving up weekends with their three children: Sebastián, now 23; Julién, 21; and Cha Cha, 18. The rest of the time, though, they were devoted to family. It's what brought them to Stockton in 2000 from the Bay Area, where Arturo had pursued a life in photography since discovering a talent for it when he bought a camera while serving on an aircraft carrier in Vietnam.
He had family in Stockton, and he and Ana thought here she could spend more time raising their children and less time working.
"One of the things I saw when I first met him was how he interacted with his mom and his sisters and his father," Ana said. "I told my mom, 'He's a good son. He's good to his mom, kind to his sisters.' My mom said to me, 'A man that is a good son and a good brother will be a good husband and a great father.' So it has been."
He also was a good working partner. The two shared not only their chemistry, but their passion for the project when they worked at weddings.
They'd meet with a couple in advance, make the bride and groom comfortable with them and become members of the family during the course of the wedding and celebration.
"I knocked on the door and just before they opened it, Ana and I would say, 'Showtime,' " Arturo said.
They uttered those words for the last time late last year.
"I had a hard time," Arturo said. "The images would always come out right. Technically, it was mechanical for me. I knew I had to stop it, because doing weddings you're required to produce good images and I didn't want to just charge a certain amount of money for images that were mediocre."
When they were in the car at the end of the day, he said. "I can't do this anymore."
"The stress that comes through Parkinson's is tremendous," he said. "Just the stress of thinking, 'Do you have the equipment ready?' wondering if you're going to produce the best that you can, all that stress was mind boggling for me. I knew I couldn't just go, knock on the door and say 'Showtime.' There was something missing there."
His life is not hollow, though. If his condition frustrates him at times -- he calls his bad days, 'Parki Days' -- he's staving off the worst effects with a regimen of daily exercise -- walking in a pool at the gym and riding a bike -- and medication.
He credits his faith with enabling him to accept his condition. Well, that and the support of Ana.
"I must admit, I am in denial," Ana said. "I am trying to adjust to the change gradually. ... I guess what saddens me is the fragility and vulnerability he is now displaying, and I admire his (determination) to keep going. So all I can do is to look back with gratitude and forward with confidence."
Vera, too, looks forward.
In addition to his four projects, he dreams of one day having a retrospective of his work, with lots of images of nature and people, at the Haggin.
More immediately, he's focused on starting classes for young people. He envisions using throw-away film cameras to teach them about lighting and subjects and framing the image. He'll take them on a shoot, critique their images and then put up a show.
Sharing his talent is something Vera has done all his life, and as he enters this new phase, he won't stop.
Arturo Vera has always been a caring, compassionate artist, whose works display sensitivity for people and places. If he can pass those traits along to young people along with the intricacies of photography, we'll all be a little better off.