Friday, February 15, 2008

Tough Love

We've had a little tough love around here lately with Papa T.. He's always been very independent, so we knew it would be difficult for him to accept help when his vision was almost gone. Knowing it didn't really make it any easier to deal with when it actually happened. Combined with the early stages of dementia and severe hearing loss, his blindness has made him especially hard to deal with sometimes. Who am I kidding? I'd be a cranky old poop if I were in his shoes.

At times during the day, he has a little vision, but for all practical purposes, he is blind. The other day I opened the front door to let him into his house, and he couldn't see that the door was already open. He often mistakes me for Teen Angel because we look and sound alike. He can't see his food when he eats. After months of experiemental surgeries and visits to specialists, he recently began to accept that his vision will never return. He asked us to remove him as a driver from his car insurance. He stopped searching the country for new doctors, and he agreed to talk with the Bureau for the Blind to see if they could help him learn how to get around without holding onto one of us. For months now, we've been taking his arm and leading him around when we go out, giving him instructions about steps and such when we walk and cutting up his food. We don't mind doing that, but we're not really helping him in the long run. What if we're not with him? He needs to be able to find his way around the house in the middle of the night, and right now he's not doing such a great job at that.

The educator from the Bureau for The Blind has been fabulous. He has spent long sessions with Papa T., showing him things that help him around the house, like a device he clipped on a cup to help Papa T. pour his own drink. Sissy's been taking the classes too, so she can help Papa T. practice. He's been very good in the classes, and practices at home, but he hasn't overcome one big challenge....using the cane. The long, white cane. A symbol to the world that he cannot see. That's he is less than whole. He is embarrassed to use the cane. I would be too. Heck, I was embarrassed just to wear glasses when I was a high school freshman. I stumbled around the hallways every day, putting on my glasses only when I needed to see the chalkboard. I was afraid some stinkin' boy would think I was ugly in my big, brown frames. That went on for more than a year until I finally convinced my parents to buy me contact lenses for my birthday. What a day of rejoicing that was.

Because we ALL understand, we've been very patient with Papa T., but at some point we had to force him to use the cane, because he was never going to do it himself. Here comes the tough love. As we headed out the door to (where else) Cracker Barrell the other night, Sissy plopped his hat on him, handed him his cane and said, "Here you go, Daddy. See you in the car." She walked away from him and let him find his way to the van by himself. Whew! He was ticked off. He fell into the seat, slammed the door and began to pout like a toddler. He let us know he didn't appreciate the the lack of help and gave us the silent treatment for the fifteen minute drive to the restaurant. Sissy made him use his cane again when we got to the restaurant and that really fired him up. We all fought over the seats on the side of the table opposite him. He sat with his arms crossed and his face screwed up during our wait for the food, and he didn't speak through dinner until he asked for a spoon near the end of the meal. Sissy wasn't going to push the issue when we got ready to leave. We'd had enough distress for one night. However, Papa T. stood up and mumbled, "Where's my thing"? He used the cane to get back to the van.

He softened up pretty quickly when we got home, admitting his embarrassment and asking if he could use the cane only when one of us wasn't around to hold onto. As painful as it was to say no, Sissy and Hubby did. Mama J. talked to him about how embarrassed she was the first few times she used her walker, but that she knew she didn't have a choice. We also pointed out that friends who saw him in the restaurant made a point to introduce themselves to him and speak directly to him because they saw the cane. Strangers didn't get mad at him when he stood in their way and blocked the aisles. I think he slowly started to realize that the long cane is not just a symbol of his blindess, it's a cue for people to be more understanding and patient with him. He also got from the front door to the van quicker than he had in months. Of course, that could have been because he was stomping mad. It will take some time to completely overcome his embarrassment over the cane. He'll do it though. He's always managed to endure and overcome hardships. Then look out. We'll have to be careful with the tough love 'cause he'll have a long reaching weapon he can wack us with.


oreneta said...

Aging is not for pansies is it.

Tough all round.

Mama Mia said...

I only hope and pray if I make it to that age that there will be such loving, patient, willing people surrounding me!!

Jason said...

I agree with mama mia! What a bittersweet story. Beautifully written, as usual.

janjanmom said...

Be nice to people with long canes...words to live by!

I may need some grace lessons from you before I make it through our "fun" times. My smart-aleck sarcasm just doesn't seem to be making things easier.