I Cannot See

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We take so much in life for granted … especially in what we can see and do. But reflect with me for just a few minutes on what it would be like without one, or more, of your senses. What if you could not smell, taste, hear, speak, or see?  What if you couldn’t walk, or move your arms?  What if the simplest tasks became so much more difficult due to a new disability?

As I’ve mentioned in my other blogs and poems at Poetic Devotions, my husband, Ed, is blind and my mother is paralyzed on the right side from a stroke — thankfully, she’s left-handed. This poem was written one day as I contemplated Ed’s dark world of blindness, and the vision I take for granted, even now. I have to remind myself of his limitations because I’ve become accustomed to how good he is at getting around the familiarity of our home without sight in a world that depends on vision. Even though he had limited vision in his only usable eye when he farmed with his dad (20/200 with glasses), he managed to make barn and field chores look easy. In reality, it wasn’t. He made accommodations and learned to live with very blurry vision.

As a family, we learned to remember to put something back in its original place so he could find it again, and not to move the furniture without telling him, or leave a door ajar for him to walk into. Yes, we learned the hard way to make those issues priorities.

I also put bump dots on digital dials of appliances so he can do minor cooking and laundry, while he uses rubber bands of different sizes to tell his medications apart and to distinguish salt and pepper. He wants to be as independent as possible. But, there once was the day he made his usual big pot of chili … with a twist. When the kids came home from school, he heard, “Oh Pop! You put fruit cocktail in the chili!” That can had gotten too close to the cans of tomatoes and he had had no idea. We ate it anyway. And, it wasn’t too bad, just a little sweeter than usual!  Who knows … maybe it would be worthy of winning a competition!  But, yes, life has been interesting in learning to accommodate his needs … for all of us.

When he went to The Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton, Massachusetts for six months of training in the fall of 1989, we family members were given occludes to cover our eyes for a while. (Actually, each staff member is required to wear them one day a month.)  At the end of the exercise, the kids and I, and Ed’s parents, could take off our occludes. But, Ed could not … his vision loss was permanent. It was a stark reminder to us with sight as to how blessed we really are … and how to better understand his loss and frustration in recovering and learning a new way to function.

For it has been hard for Ed to face the world without vision along with his other disabilities. Our world is not always as understanding as we would like to think. There are folks who rush past as I guide my husband, and their feet have become entangled in his outstretched cane which feels ahead for obstacles ... and I have had to stop unexpectedly because someone cut us off sharply in their hurry, throwing him off balance, nearly falling. We have found that people will sometimes talk louder to him; he’s blind, but not hard of hearing. 

Once, when he was hospitalized, the nurse’s aide actually said to him, “Hey! What’s the deal with the sunglasses? Think you’re a movie star?” Ed calmly replied, “No. I’m blind.” And she stumbled profusely trying to apologize. Then there are the adult stares, which I hope are due to their being impressed with his ability.  Once during mobility training with his specialist, he was learning to find his way through the mall while she followed from a distance. A kind gentleman came up to him, grabbed his arm and started walking, i.e. pulling, him along, asking where he wanted to go. Ed thanked him, but gently explained he was learning to find his own way around. As for the children who stare with curious questions, we explain why he uses a white cane to help them understand what it’s like to live in a world without sight.

But, there are so many limitations placed on someone with any disability that we often don’t think about.  Ed simply cannot do whatever he wants. He cannot get in the car and drive wherever and whenever he wants. Without sight, there is so much that is missed … in the beauty of a sunny day, of flowers blooming in multitudinous hues, of storm clouds gathering, in watching brilliant flashes of lightning, of seeing a rainbow at the storm’s end … of loved ones’ dear faces … of a newborn’s precious face, never having been seen before to hold onto the memory … of having lost the ability to simply pick up any book or paper to read, or a pen to write, now having to take the time to accomplish those tasks a new and slower way by having them read to him or by listening to books on cassette … and so much more.  But, to be honest, there are times when he wishes not to have us describe the beauty around him for the painful reminder of what he’s missing.

In time, though, an understanding and acceptance is gained by going through the grieving process, as for anyone with a loss. Life is no longer the same, and never will be. But, gradually, acceptance comes with the change by gaining confidence in the ability to move forward a new way … in learning new processes for what was once familiar and easy.  

Our faith in the Lord has been our support when we feel overwhelmed … when Ed can’t do what he’d like and I’m stretched to the max to pick up the slack. The Lord has listened to our prayers in the needs of every-day life. He’s been at our side to see us through this journey we never expected.

Take the time to understand life for someone with a disability of any kind. Take the time to put yourself in their shoes … to walk their path to understand their limitations.  Take the time to love them, to share and question … and then listen between the lines for what they might be hesitant to express. Encourage them, and laugh with them.  Walk with them, and you will both be blessed on the journey.

I Cannot See
Linda (Visscher) Roorda

I cannot see this beautiful day
And I long to bask in its brilliant glow
Taking in rays that uncover the dark
But instead I feel its warmth like flames.

I cannot see tender smiles that beam
As voices carry the tones of your heart,
And tears that flow in sadness or joy
Are a gentle touch felt deep in my soul.

I cannot see love’s beautiful face
Though I hold you near in image faded.
I take your hand and with gentle kiss
Shower affection from memories dear.

I cannot see what your eyes behold
As the world moves on and leaves me the past,
So let me borrow your words to describe
Changes in life without an image.

I cannot see somber cloudy days
Instead I hear your voice cheer me on.
You tenderly hold my heart in your hand
For without your strength I could not go on.

I cannot see the path that we walk
Yet wisdom shared from the depth of trust
Embraces our hearts to cover what lacks
As you guide with love in step at my side.

~~

03/25/16

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 At 89, my mom says she's pretty much lost the senses or smell and taste, so I have to make food more spicy for her to notice.  Not a big problem since we're used to eating our food spicier than average.  But on the whole she doesn't complain because a friend of hers since university is blind, has Diabetes type 2, Parkinson's Disease and almost constant pain.  Unfortunately for my mom's friend her daughter and granddaughters who live with her constantly move stuff around without telling her, so she can't find what she needs, and it has happened that the poor woman ACTUALLY brushed her teeth with Preparation H! They don't mean to but I have seldom met more thoughtless people in my 57 years of life.  Now the eldest son of this lady has told his sister that she needs to find herself a place to live, and she's panicking because she and her daughters have lived in her mother's house for 20-odd years without contributing a penny to pay the Hydro bills, the phone, or other utilities except a bit of groceries once in a while.  In short they've been freeloading on her, and now they're upset because the eldest man in the family called a halt to the free lunches.  The husband oof my mom's friend could see, and so could she before she developed macular degeneration, but he passed away in 2005, and she was already too blind to live alone, so her daughter moved in with her daughters who were little kids at the time, and who are now young women, the youngest at 21 is studying Pharmacology at the University of Montreal. This woman is well off financially, but my mom often says that despite their difference in material wealth she would not trade places with her friend for all the gold in the world.  Can you imagine being so handicapped and having two of your kids PLUS THEIR kids mooching off you for that long? They're not even helpful! The daughter does cooking on the weekend but she puts it in containers without identifying the contents in any way, so when my mom's friend opened the fridge door all she could see--if we can call that seeing--were lids, so she'd give up, close the refrigerator and eat a banana.  So this man is fortunate that at least his family isn't being a nuisance on top of having to live with restrictions caused by his blindness.  My mom's friend is a practicing Catholic, but not the rest of her family.  Not that there are any guarantees of finding consideration or thoughtfulness in all Christian families, but that's another story.

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I'm so sorry about your mom's losses, but also about her friend's difficult situation. Praying for them.

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 Thank you, but my mom doesn't consider herself unhappy.  She often tells me that she thanks the Lord for her good fortune several times a day.  Compensating for a loss of taste is relatively easy to do, and at 89, she still drives her own car and does pretty much anything she wants without depending on others for help.  Of course, because of her medications's side effects there are days when she feels more dizzy, but even that depends on the days.  Some days it's worse than others, and if I'm with her she lends me her credit card, and I do the grocery shopping for her.  There is a joke going around that with advanced old age, if you wake up and nothing hurts or is missing it's because you're dead.  But thank you for your prayers on behalf of my mom's friend.  She really needs it.  My mom suspects that the poor woman wouldn't mind dying to get a relief from everything's that's wrong in her life.