As I was walking through Laurelhurst Park on the way home from a yoga class, I passed a family also walking through the park. Several adult children were taking their father for a walk in a reclined wheelchair, a cross between a wheelchair and a hospital bed. They had stopped for a moment to ask him if he wanted to keep walking or go back to his room. He was not responding, as far as I could tell.
I thought of my mother who, in her last years of advanced Alzheimer's, also did not walk and did not talk very much. Ten years earlier, just before her diagnosis, I went with her for a visit to an audiologist in Florida, where my mother and father spent their winter. I had convinced my parents to get their hearing tested, and this was the follow up visit for my mother. The audiologist explained to my mother that her hearing was not good and hearing aids would help. Although my mother had worn contact lenses almost her whole adult life, she was resistant to putting something in her ear. She thought her hearing was "good enough". Maybe, she explained, if she had a job where people depended on her, hearing aids would be a good idea. But in her current life, she didn't really see the point. Perhaps she had gotten used to a quiet world by then, and perhaps she liked not hearing my dad so well.
My mother also lost most, if not all. of her vision to glaucoma. As her world became quieter, it also became unfocused. She was in denial about losing her vision as much as losing her hearing, but I watched her cut vegetables staring off into space, and I could tell that she did not rely on her eyesight for much of anything. As her Alzheimer's progressed, she sometimes sat for hours "reading" the newspaper. Honestly, I cannot imagine losing all of one's faculties. And yet, she was gracious and gentle to the end. As my dad would say, it was not her nature to complain about her ailments.
And so today I count my blessings. I am in good health, I live in an era where contact lenses and hearing aides help me function in a world that would otherwise be inaccessible to me, I can walk through the park and appreciate the light filtering through the trees, making the leaves sparkle and dance in a slight breeze. My mother used to say that when she was too old to do anything else, to put her on the train at the state fair and let her ride around and around. I would say: take me for a walk through the park, and if I don't answer you, the answer is "yes", just keep walking.
Labels: blessings, glaucoma, hearing loss