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Guarding the Independence You Hope You'll Never Need

by Phyllis Campbell, Staunton, Virginia

Losing a loved one is a devastating experience, filled with all kinds of emotions that sap physical and mental strength, so that one feels almost paralyzed. For the blind person who depended on that partner for many things often taken for granted, it may seem insurmountable.

Many of you may be thinking, "I'm young. I have plenty of time to think about this unpleasant subject." Actually this is a good time to be thinking about it. You have probably invested in life insurance, maybe as a part of your benefits at work, but there is another kind of insurance that, for some, may be even more important. It doesn't involve monthly premiums; in fact, it costs nothing except some planning. And this planning is especially important for the blind person who lives with a sighted partner or sighted relative.

You may be thinking, "I'm independent!" And no doubt you are, but it won't hurt to take a good look at your situation and decide for yourself. After all, it's your future. Just be honest with yourself, and don't bury your head in the sand, telling yourself that there's plenty of time, or worse, that somebody will come along and help you.

Let's take a look at a couple--we'll call them Mary and Bill. Mary, 25, is totally blind, and Bill is sighted. Mary is a homemaker and proud of her home. Their friends say how independent she is, and indeed she is--a fabulous cook, with an immaculate house. She's involved in community activities as well as in her church.

Their future stretches ahead bright and promising, until without warning, Bill is dead of a heart attack at age 27. Friends and church members flock around, helping with arrangements.

Then the funeral is over, and reality hits Mary. How will she shop for groceries? How will she pay bills, and where are the legal papers, such as the deed to the house? She's crushed. Literally in the space of a heartbeat, her independence is threatened.

Fortunately, she isn't too proud to ask for help. The people at the funeral home put her in touch with a social worker who tells her about the transportation available in the community. Through her church she finds a reliable person who helps her organize her important papers and writes checks for her until, through an agency serving the blind, she learns how to set up check writing software on the computer and learns about online banking and shopping.

Now, we come to the part that affects you personally. Mary's situation probably isn't yours--nor was it mine when my husband died on May 5th after a long illness. I am extremely fortunate in that we did plan from the beginning of our marriage, knowing that he was older than I. Because of this awareness, I was able to take over as his health deteriorated, until finally, I was doing all of the things we had done together. I can tell you from experience what has been helpful to me.

First of all, talk about it. Don't make it a big thing, but treat it as you do insurance, something necessary in the background. Realize that actual plans will probably change over the years, but awareness is the important thing. When we were first married, I don't think I even knew what a computer was. Needs and solutions changed as we and circumstances changed.

Know (and be honest here) exactly what the sighted person does that you will have to deal with if they're no longer there. Shopping is a big one for many. Think about what is possible. Maybe you can find a personal shopper at your department and/or grocery store. Maybe a volunteer will go with you, or you can find someone you can pay. Maybe there are stores in your community that deliver. Ask, and ask, and keep on asking. Don't just sit there hoping the solution will drop in your lap.

Check on transportation available in your area, as well as programs specific to the disabled and/or seniors. Check in with your local senior center--even if you aren't a senior.

Please, if at all possible, learn to use a computer and invest in a reliable scanner, invaluable for reading your mail and countless other things, such as preparation directions. I do almost all of my shopping online, including some groceries. If you can use a computer, learn about online banking, and explore check writing software such as Money Talks available from The American Printing House for the Blind, or the Talking Checkbook available from Reading Made Easy.

If this isn't possible, find someone to help you with writing checks, but be careful. You must trust this person implicitly. You might inquire about such a person at your bank, particularly if there is someone there with whom you have spoken previously about opening an account or a safe deposit box.

Know where important papers are kept, and if you don't have a scanner, mark them somehow, so you know what's what. Budget your money carefully, remembering that you almost certainly will have to pay for some of these services. Be careful, and don't lean too heavily on relatives and friends, telling yourself that they "just love" to do it. Maybe so, but--trust me--it gets old after awhile. I'd rather do without something that I might want to buy rather than wonder if people are cringing when they hear my voice on the phone.

Of course, accept help when necessary, but learn to rely on yourself. If you use volunteer help, remember to show appreciation. This need not be something big. For instance, I knit, and give little gifts such as hand-knit dishcloths or a scarf. If your volunteer likes tea or coffee, invest a few dollars in gourmet tea or coffee. Or perform some thoughtful kindness such as telling your helper about a bargain you've found that might interest him or her.

These are only a few suggestions aimed at making a bad time just a bit easier. You know your needs, but you should also know your resources. Be realistic, even as you're hoping that you may not need such plans for many years.

Here are a few resources that might prove helpful. Obviously there are many places selling special devices. The ones I'm listing here are those I've used myself. (I have no affiliation with any of these businesses.)

Direct Shopping for Food and Household Needs

Schwans Frozen Foods, Phone: 888-724-9267. Frozen foods delivered to your door; order online, by phone or at the door. A little bit of everything--clothing, music, household items, appliances, some groceries. Online only. Prescription, and over-the-counter drugs, small appliances, paper products, beauty items. Phone: 800-378-4786.

Talking Checkbook Software

Reading Made Easy Talking Checkbook. Phone 815-927-7390, Option 1.

MONEY TALKS, and various other products including braille books. American Printing House for the Blind, Phone 800-223-1839.

Pen-Friend, a marking device using specialized labels, with a recording device, from Phone 713 893-7277. This site also has many other products including gifts, a currency identifier and bar code readers.

Speak To Me. Phone 800-248-9965. Various talking devices, including novelties and practical products such as talking clocks and scales.

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