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October 8, 2012 | by  | in Features |
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Flying Blind

Learning to deal with the devastating.


The instinct to be there for the ones we care for is drilled in to us from birth. Be it the coach who yells about the sacred bonds of teamwork or the mother who makes you hold your sibling’s hand when they cross the street, we all know
the importance of looking out for each other. Sometimes, that’s easier said than done.

Let me explain. Since I was young, my mother (who is amazing, by the way) has been going blind.Years of cataracts and glaucoma in both eyes took their toll slowly but surely. It wasn’t that noticeable in the beginning. She’d wear special glasses to read and had to be told where the stairs began and ended if we went anywhere at night. Over time, one eye lost nearly all sight and the other began to cloud. She couldn’t make out figures on our 52-inch television or see my face clearly from two feet away. Because I was so used to my mother’s slow-but-debilitating condition, and because of her determination to remain as independent as possible, I was blindsided by two realizations.

The first was how much complacent I had become. The state of her vision was something we had lived with for years, and its creeping, gradual pace had meant that I wasn’t noticing when things were getting worse. I stopped asking what the ophthalmologist had said, or how she had been feeling, and remained in an oblivious fantasy world where her blindness was as newsworthy as the colour of her hair. It was selfish, clueless, and a self-defense mechanism.

The second realization came earlier this year, when after a lifetime of denial, the inevitable happened. Our doctor confirmed that there was nothing more we could do to slow the deterioration, and total blindness would not be far off.What surprised me most was my reaction to it. Despite knowing, subconsciously, that it was coming, I was devastated, and it was because I had never allowed myself to process it as a reality.

So, in the spirit of helping others avoid my mistakes, my contribution to the opinion issue is a brief checklist pertaining to family and friends whose whanau are going through similar circumstances.

Be aware, but not overwhelmed

As unhelpful as total denial is, obsessing over a disability can be worse. It’s important to incorporate the disability and everything it entails in to the regimes of your everyday life, but not to the point where you cry in the shower every morning.

Be united

When illness strikes someone in your whanau, it’s not uncommon for reactions to be mixed. Some might take it upon themselves to be the ‘strong’ ones, while others can fall to pieces. Family cooperation is vital in helping newly-disabled people come to terms with their conditions, but make sure to keep an eye out for how everyone else is coping.

Get informed

Knowing the facts about the condition will show that you care and will help you to anticipate future challenges.These can range from knowing where to find support groups, to dealing with possible emotional breakdowns.

Stay respectful

Telling someone to look on the bright side after they’ve suffered a permanent physical impairment is sanctimonious and douchy. That said, the doom and gloom approach is no better, so the key here is ‘respect’. Knowing how (and when) to help is a valuable skill, and one that you’ll hone by communicating honestly and respectfully. ▲

Fairooz Samy is one of Salient’s two paid feature writers. Fariooz is currently a Bachelor of Arts honours student.    

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