I just took a small plaque off the wall here in my office. I can no longer read the words, but it has been around for so long I know what it says by heart: “Grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked. The good fortune to run into the people I do like — and the eyesight to tell the difference.”
Those of us with macular degeneration deal with a genetic disease that steals the vision you once had. There are two forms of A.M.D. The wet and the dry; the A is for “age-related.” My mom probably had the fast-moving wet form as it seems she went from driving, cooking, sewing, reading the newspaper and her Bible to being legally blind in a few short weeks. Dad was so stressed with worry he got shingles. My oldest brother, Jim, was a high school math and music teacher, but lost his job when he could no longer see to teach and support his family. Jim took his life at the age of 33.
When Dr. John Haines, who comes to Newport from the Eugene Eye Center, gave me the dreaded diagnosis in 2005, I had my husband, Burt, for support. Haines has been our ophthalmologist and friend for many years. How well I remember that awful day. Burt was sitting nearby in the exam room when John rolled his chair back and said, “I feel so sad to have to tell you …” And there it was, me fighting tears so Burt and John wouldn’t look so glum. Although there is no cure for A.M.D., there are a few things a patient can do, as in special vitamins and a diet loaded with greens and berries. I believe refusing to give up on life has also helped slow down the progression.
Losing Burt six years ago forced me to make painful new decisions and changes. The worst thing is possibly giving up writing for this newspaper and “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” Writing has been a top passion since I was a kid. My friend, Gina Nielsen, started helping me even before Burt died. In fact, Burt found Gina where she was working as a bookkeeper for the chamber of commerce. He had an incredible intuition about people, and now I realize he also believed he would pre-decease me and I would need someone with ethics and financial smarts.
Turns out there isn’t much Gina can’t do. She reconfigures my computer, iPad and phone so I can continue to function — more or less. She knows how important the writing is, both for me and for my readers. I can no longer read snail mail, so I add it to the pile of bills on the dining room table, and she comes weekly to do what I can’t do. My writing has always been extra rewarding since readers respond with happy mail — probably because I never mention politics.
Three months ago, I “chose” to stop driving before being told to quit. My beloved brother, Jim, taught me to drive on Nebraska country roads when I was 14. I’ve never had a fender bender or a citation, and I could not live with myself if I ever hurt a person or hit someone’s pet. Sometimes it’s best to quit while you’re ahead — another big lesson from Dad, although he never knew it. He refused to give up the car keys and continued to drive. His vision was okay, but his reflexes were not. He misjudged a left-turn arrow and was broadsided by a truck. I flew back to Omaha to be there when he had brain and hip surgeries. Dad never walked again, and now we had two parents who needed full-time care.
The very personable Dr. Peter Karth, also from Eugene, is my retina specialist. I see him monthly in Newport for eye injections. Two weeks ago, Dr. Karth said, “Don’t give up your car, yet. Let’s wait until Christmas to see if the injections help.”
Life is full of lessons, losses and changes. Not recognizing the face of someone who says “hi” from 10 feet away is frustrating. My choice is to fake it or ask that person to come closer because I can’t see. Although I’m blessed with friends willing to help, it’s hard to ask if you have been disgustingly independent your entire life. I’m very careful to not abuse a friendship. Speaking of friends, check this out.
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A woman in the elevator just complimented me on my hair, and then I complimented her on her shoes. When we got to our floor, my 5-year-old whispered, “Are you friends? Why are you saying nice things to each other?”
And then, straight out of a scene from a movie, the woman reopened the elevator door and said, “Because we are women, and honestly, honey, it’s our job to hold each other up.” (Source unknown)
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As for that plaque, it goes to the next female friend who answers my call for help.
Bobbie Lippman is a professional writer who lives in Seal Rock with her cat, Purrfect. She is the author of “Good Grief: A Collection of Stories As One Woman Journeys From Heartbreak To Healing Through Honesty and Humor.” The book, with all proceeds going to the Rotary International Foundation, is available at JC Market in Newport and directly from Bobbie, who can be contacted at [email protected]