Monday, January 06, 2014

Not Like Him

I had an interesting chat the other day with an elderly woman who was attending an event with her grandson. The pair of them were having a blast and clearly loved each other. They knew how to make each other laugh and they kept themselves quite entertained  while waiting for the event to start. I was near them because we were corralled into the 'disabled seating area' so she with her wheelchair and me with mine were certain to meet each other.

When her grandson left to get some snacks from the snack bar I mentioned that he seemed like a nice young man. She exploded into pride about how much she loved him - what a wonderful young man he was - how fine a person he is becoming. She wasn't shy on the praise. I asked if she had other grandchildren and she paused and said, "Yes, but not like him."

Then she told me that she was only a recent convert to the use of a wheelchair. She had been stubborn and didn't want to give up walking. However, one day she realized that walking was giving up on her. She was slowly making decisions that were taking her out of her everyday routines. She was giving up her life simply because she refused to consider other ways of getting around. One day, while in her pharmacy, she went to the back where they had wheelchairs. She sat down in one, gave herself a push, and that was it. She got someone to help her find the right chair and her life opened up again.

Problem was that her family didn't react well to the chair. They thought that it was too soon for something so drastic, that she was giving up and becoming lazy, that the chair would make it difficult to get her from place to place. The only one to react differently was this one grandson who saw it as a whole new adventure. He throws her chair into the truck of the car and they go off places. She hadn't been to movies or to theatre or even to the mall for lunch for a very long time. Everything was available to her again.

"They feel sorry for me now because of the wheelchair, so now they visit less and spend less time with me," she said shaking her head. "It doesn't make sense because now I actually can go to the places that they've been inviting me to - and I haven't been able to go."

Her grandson got back with the snacks and she introduced us briefly, he shook our hands, said hello and then returned to his seat by his grandmother.

I wish a wheelchair was just a wheelchair and not an allegory for pity or sympathy or loss. She got her mobility back but lost much of her family. It doesn't make sense.

I only hope that his example will become their practise. But if it doesn't, she's still got a couple of precious things, her mobility and a grandson who's very good company.


clairesmum said...

I'm impressed by her willingness to look hard at how her life was changing and take a step back into the world....and kudos to her grandson for "getting it"
As you have so eloquently described, people who assume that physical impairments automatically mean intellectual impairments as for folks over 75, whose greatest fear is usually of dementia, using a wheelchair in public seems to be a terrifying admission of total dependence....instead of an energy conservation measure that helps them stay alive.
Preventing "hardening of the attitudes" is the key to successful living at every age!

Anonymous said...

It is a sad reality that some love and support their family and friends UNTIL "disability we do part."

I think back several years to when our daughter was being assessed for Autism. I had seen the red flags since she was approx. 15 months. Our family(well intentioned of course)::no sarcasm here::, -disputed the fact that our daughter was developmentally delayed. Shortly after our daughter was officially dx'd, we noticed the invites and visits began to take a sharp decline. We found it very hurtful then and still do now.

It has been 6 yrs since our daughter was dx'd and she has made huge gains in her development (far exceeding the expectations of the diagnostic team)BUT the divide between our family still exists. Instead of family members asking what they can do to support our daughter- they simply exclude us. Over the years,friends who have supported us along our journey-have become family and I thank God for that.

Anonymous said...

I just returned from Vegas. Not exactly the most welcoming for those with disabilities, but fun all the same. If I hadn't booked a wheelchair for the airport or a mobility scooter for the time there, I wouldn't have been able to enjoy the many things Vegas has to offer. Having the "tools" made it possible. People often buy fancy headphones (vs. ear buds) to go with their phones or MP3 players. Why? Because the better headphones increases their listening experience. They are able to hear more, better. A wheelchair/mobility device is the same. Society can certainly take lessons from the lady's grandson!

Anonymous said...

"Hardening of the attitudes"
Wow, I like that. And I do believe I need to work on preventing that.

Another great thing to remember along with "Doing Damns the Darkness." Can't tell you how many times a week I remind myself to keep DOING to banish the chill and dark of this wintry world.


Anonymous said...

My daughter was about 7 when I rented a wheelchair for the weekend, and decided I needed to buy one. She loved to shop, and would happily spend hours looking at clothes (She hasn't changed). But over the years, I'd become more and more impatient. It hurt too much to just stand around the store. One of my first memories with the wheelchair, was being able to let her spend all the time she wanted shopping. Without Mommy getting all grouchy!

Wheelchairs are enabling. They let you do things you couldn't otherwise. Mine lets me have a mostly normal life.. instead of being stuck in my bedroom.