It's a Debbie Downer Story So Consider Yourself Warned!
I can't imagine losing my sight, but then, until it happens, who could?
My husband phoned me this evening on his way from the office to remind me that he had a meeting with a client.
During that conversation I asked if he would be late and he mentioned that he wouldn't be because the client had to get home somewhat early to prepare dinner for his wife who is going blind.
I immediately asked if these were elderly people and found out that they weren't. In fact, Mike said they were actually younger than we are (yikes!). Apparently the wife has some sort of degenerative eye disease that will eventually rob her of her sight completely. At this point, she is considered legally blind and can no longer drive.
Im not sure why but this information really disturbed me. Maybe its because Im keenly aware of being at the age where I notice that peers are succumbing to all the diseases and ailments and even death that seem to go hand in hand with ageing.
And it scares me.
I thought about what it must be like to have been a sighted person all of your life and then lose your sight. I cannot put into words the incredible sadness I felt for a woman I don't even know and have never met and most likely never will meet. I imagined her life without the ability to read a book, watch television, look at a sunset, gaze into the eyes of her husband or rest her sight on the faces of her children and grandchildren.
I can't fathom how you would ever sort out a life without all of those things and so much more. Try as I might, I don't know how I would cope knowing that for the rest of my life, I would never be able to see. How hard is it to learn Braille? And would I ever be able to be completely self-sufficient? All of these were thoughts dancing through my mind.
There is a difference in congenital blindness and losing one's sight later in life. Although to be honest, I don't know how anyone can equate that difference. Blind is blind and it would be horrendous to spend your life in total darkness.
I know this might sound odd and perhaps even somewhat morbid, but after I finished talking to my husband, I stood up, covered my eyes and tried to navigate around the house that way.
I am sure I looked like an utter fool. Admittedly its not a scientific study of what its like to be blind and lets face it, most of us know the layout of our homes well enough that we could get around OK. Yet I found myself bumping into things and turning corners too soon and bumping into walls and more than once I stepped on cat toys scattered around the house. Im pretty sure Im going to have a bruise on my knee after hitting it against the new refrigerator.
I know why I did this. Im the sort of person who needs to go to the bottom line and imagine what I would do if I were actually at that bottom line, in any situation. So Ive always projected how I would handle the “what ifs”. My family, I am sure, calls this “being negative”. I call it being prepared. I will be the first to admit that walking around my house, this evening, with my hands covering my eyes, is hardly preparation for going blind and God knows I am not suggesting that I am going to go blind, want to go blind and please God don't make me blind!
But I want to know, on some level, what it would be like.
I had a grandfather who was blind. I never knew him sighted and so my memories all revolve around him sitting in a chair, in the “front room” listening to radio. He was a gruff old guy. Perhaps he was always that way, but for sure being unable to see didn't help that gruffness. He rarely went out and I can remember hearing the “tap, tap tap” of his cane as he made his way down the hallway to the bathroom or the kitchen when it was time for meals.
If I were staying with my grandparents for the weekend, as I often did, I avoided sitting at the table when my grandfather ate his meals. There is no kind or PC way to say that it was disgusting to watch him try to feed himself. And there was no way he would allow my grandmother to help him. So food made it into his mouth but also onto his chin, his clothes, and the table.
I look back on that time and I feel ashamed. I recognize that I was a little girl and unprepared for life with a blind person, but now, especially after thinking about this woman whose husband was coming home tonight to prepare dinner for her, I understand some of the minute details of what it means to be blind.
It isn't just the glorious sunsets or the billowing winds thru trees or the smile of a baby or blue skies in summer that you miss when you lose your sight. You lose dignity and finding it and reclaiming it, must be a tremendous effort. You are dependent and taking back independence is a heroic feat in itself.
There are so many things we take for granted in our daily lives because we CAN see. I remember several years ago, after having a badly broken arm, trying to apply makeup. I looked like a circus clown because I had to use my left hand because it was my right arm that was broken. Little, inconsequential things suddenly become overwhelming. Personal care and needs have to be re-learned and everywhere in our world, obstacles are set up to make it difficult for a blind person to navigate safely.
There are millions of blind people who have overcome all of it and I am more than ever aware, if even on a small basis, of the challenges they face in everyday living. I am also aware more than ever of the gift of sight.
I am reminded tonight that I can see to type these words and that I am surrounded by photos of my loved ones that I can look at and that when my husband walked in the door tonight, I could walk over to him and greet him without using a cane or stumbling around as I imagined that poor woman doing.
Its just like everything else..we take things so for granted until something happens to remind us that nothing is guaranteed. If, God forbid, I should ever lose my ability to see, I know that my little foray around the house with my eyes covered, wont matter much. But for me, tonight, it was enough to open my sighted eyes to not only the beauty of my world..but also to the world of darkness that so many others live in.
How odd that a complete stranger has no idea that her story of sorts, opened my eyes.
I hope that she can “see” how very lucky she is to have a husband who is there for her and cares for her.