48: The Love that Frames My New World

48: The Love that Frames My New World

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

The Love that Frames My New World

Oh, my friend, it’s not what they take away from you that counts. It’s what you do with what you have left.

~Hubert Humphrey

My “careless” driving became the joke of the neighborhood. The third time I backed into the mailbox at the end of our driveway, I muttered another excuse trying to disguise the real reason for my ineptitude—I simply didn’t see it.

“Yes, your retina is deteriorating,” the ophthalmologist had said four years prior. He paused, then added coldly, “You need to prepare. There is no cure, and no one knows how long you’ll have your sight.”

By the time I reached thirty, my life had turned out better than a storybook. My husband’s quick climb up the corporate ladder brought a special gift for me—the ability to stay home with my little ones. I took care of our three sons with delight and sighed with contentment at our perfect life, paved with success and prosperity.

Until one day my world began to shake. While my three-, five-, and seven-year-old sons wiggled in the back seat, I drove down a familiar street near our home. I turned on my blinker, glanced to the side before changing lanes, and unexpectedly, a loud metal clunk to my left startled me. Heart thumping, I glanced to see the car I’d sideswiped. It had come from nowhere. With the same shock, the effects of the retinal disease scraped pain into my life.

The bleak news from the ophthalmologist hovered over my sleepless nights. After years of experiencing increasing night blindness, my peripheral vision began to close in. I fought the notion I was losing my sight, but the evidence fought back, emphasizing the inevitable blindness that awaited me.

During nap time, I’d kneel beside my sleeping son’s bed. With tears burning my eyes, I stared at his features—his long eyelashes resting on his chubby cheeks, his dark hair strands slipping down on his forehead and his lips that resembled his dad’s. I engraved that image in my heart, not wanting to ever forget.

A few months swept by, along with more of my sight. I could only see what one sees through a keyhole. Struggling to see the phone book, I searched for specialists, healers, and herbal treatments. I inquired about transplants, even experimental developments in foreign countries. But, adding to my anxiety, all responded with negative answers.

The desperation also infected my family. My mom placed a large casserole dish of baked chicken on my kitchen counter. “I made extra for you and the family.”

I heaved a pained sigh at the ugly reality that even cooking would be erased from the tasks I could perform. I wanted to thank her, but angry thoughts ricocheted in my head—angry and bitter at the unfairness of the whole thing. My sight loss affected all of us, bringing aching helplessness to our family gatherings.

I was losing something I valued, something vital for my survival. And I was losing it way too quickly. Finally, the day came when the faint light I saw turned to a dark gray nothing. And the prognosis that I’d be blind the rest of my life shoved me into an emotional dark prison.

For weeks, I’d cried out to God, prayed and begged umpteen times. With wrinkled tissue in hand, I dabbed my tears, held my breath, and in the silence heard the rumbling of my sons in the other room. Their world hadn’t changed, but mine had been turned upside down. I still had to meet their needs, but no one could meet mine. They had a lifetime of possibilities, but mine had vanished.

Rather than bringing on despair, this comparison sparked something foreign and unexpected—the jolting realization that my blindness hadn’t changed my role as their mom, nor altered my contribution to our marriage. Although sightless, I was still the same inside. A new sense of determination to care for them surged in me. I finally realized that, even though unable to journey on my own, their love would help me to navigate through life.

I vowed then to focus on their needs, to seek ways to still be their mom, and not to shuffle through life. Instead, I would take sure steps while holding the banner of victory. Shedding self-pity, I’d be the best mom I could be.

Though my world was dark, a renewed outlook shone light on my path. In the horizon, I perceived my family still together, thriving through tough times. And, using the white cane of perseverance, I’d still care for their every need.

To accomplish this, a willingness to readjust became my best tool. I sought rides from friends, relied on my husband to do the grocery shopping, found creative ways to still do the cleaning, cooking, laundry, and to monitor my three boys’ busy activities at home.

One evening I came home from a prayer meeting. “Hey guys,” I greeted them. “I’m home. Did you behave for Daddy?” I tossed my purse on the couch and scooped my three-year-old, Joe, into my arms, “I need a big hug.”

“Need some help?” my husband offered.

“Nope, I’m home, and I’ll take over,” I assured him. “Come on, all of you. It’s bath time.” I rounded them up.

Instinctively, I counted the steps down the hallway and felt for the banister to head upstairs.

Once in their bedrooms, I pulled their one-piece pajamas from their dresser drawers. I reached in the closet for towels and then groped to find the soap in the tub.

While all three giggled and teased each other, in a matter-of-fact voice my three-year-old said, “Mommy has eyes at the end of her fingers.”

I smiled at his unique reasoning. He was right. My fingertips had become my eyes—the effective sensors transforming what I touched into clear images in my mind.

My hearing also sharpened. I could differentiate their every sound, one voice from the other. I recognized each utterance, from their rambunctious screams to their faint whimpers. And each time they attempted to “trick Mom” by eating treats before meals, to their disappointment, my sense of smell tracked any aroma wafting from their direction.

Each trick they pulled became an opportunity to teach them to laugh, to find a sense of humor crucial when facing adversity, and to look beyond the circumstance into the lighter side of life.

The loss of my eyesight gave me the eyes to see the richness of a life with them—one that didn’t need perfect health, a hefty bank account, or a bright and secure future. I saw more than that in the present.

I recall when I’d stare at my napping boy’s face, fearing what I was losing. Now, I relish what I gained—a new portrait of life, painted with hues of possibilities, with vibrant colors dancing in my new horizon. And best of all, it’s surrounded with love that frames my new world.

~Janet Perez Eckles

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