by Carol Goar
Welcome back to the Vision Mate blog, a weekly exploration of the role a volunteer can play in helping an individual see beyond vision loss. This week’s chapter highlights the paradox of giving.
One of the first discoveries a Vision Mate makes is the benefits of volunteering flows two ways. Most volunteers see themselves as givers; donating their time, energy and talent, but they quickly realize they are receivers; learning and growing in ways they never imagined.
That certainly has been my experience as a Vision Mate to Verna Letourneau. Thanks to her, I’ve become a better listener, a more patient friend and a more open human being. To put these gifts in more concrete terms, I’d like to enumerate some of the lessons my 77-year-old CNIB partner has taught me:
Slow down. Verna manages perfectly well without rushing to the store to satisfy every impulse, making a daily things-to-do checklist, meeting people’s demands instantly or allowing circumstances to set the pace of her life. She fits her priorities into the time she has.
Be thankful. One of the attributes that makes Verna so resilient is that she constantly counts her blessings. She thinks about all the things are going right in her life when she hits a rough patch. She tells people how much their kindness means to her, and she remembers good deeds the next time she sees the person.
Do what keeps you healthy even when it requires more effort than you feel like making. Sometimes Verna dozes off without putting in her medicated eye drops. She wakes herself up and does it. Some mornings she doesn’t feel like spending 20 minutes pulling on her support hose, but she makes the effort. She has days when she’d like to be a couch potato, but she gets herself moving.
Say yes. Losing her vision hasn’t stopped Verna from acquiring new skills, meeting new people, trying new activities or re-learning what she once could do easily. She sews with a special lens attached to her machine (available from CNIB) that capitalizes on her limited sight. She cooks from scratch in her adapted kitchen. She plays a portable keyboard. She goes to fitness classes.
Ask for what you need. Verna learned the hard way not to wait for help or let people guess she is struggling. She now explains to doctors, social workers, members of her family and CNIB specialists exactly what is wrong. She isn’t placated by vague promises of action at some later date. She is not pushy; she just knows how to be her own best advocate.
Don’t waste time on bitterness. There have been numerous let-downs in Verna’s life. At least two doctors have failed her when it might have been possible to save most of her vision. Former friends have drifted away. She doesn’t dwell on these disappointments or hold grudges. She makes the best of the hand she’s been dealt.
Most of us could learn – or relearn – these life lessons. Since I became a Vision Mate, my perspective has changed. I think more about how lucky I am and less about the barriers that hold me back.