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by Phyllis Campbell
"Every man deems that he has precisely the trials and temptations which are the hardest of all others for him to bear; but they are so, simply because they are the very ones he most needs." -Lydia Maria Child
That we all have problems is a fact of life, and one that can't be avoided. At least once in life we all ask, "Why me?" and it is a pretty good guess that often we don't find the answer either to our question or to the problem.
At the risk of sounding like Pollyanna, the fictional character who saw a blessing in the simplest things, I sometimes see a personal problem as a means of helping someone else who is dealing with the same problem and whose circumstances are worse than my own. On the other hand, a problem which seems insurmountable to me may be brought down to size by sharing it with someone else who has experienced the same thing.
No matter how one feels about this philosophy, it can't be denied that the sharing of experiences can be helpful. This is demonstrated by the number of support groups that meet in every city, every town and every country in the world. E-mail also plays a huge role in support groups from everything from cat ownership to cancer survival. Crafters find new projects, singles discover clubs, events and travel opportunities, and people with various disabilities learn coping techniques for everything from daily living to dating problems. All over the country one can find support groups for families of blind people, both children and adults with special emphasis on older people who suddenly find themselves losing their sight and for parents of blind children from infancy through young adulthood.
In researching this piece, I found few groups devoted specifically to the needs of blind and sighted partners. This group, in my opinion, is especially in need of help whether the couple has been together for many years and suddenly find that one is losing his or her sight, or even if the couple is younger and faced with the same problem. Each need is individual, and that is where the support group comes in.
No problem is entirely unique, so that somewhere out there someone has faced a similar situation. Perhaps nobody can actually help to solve the problem, but there is consolation in knowing that someone else has "been there, done that." Experiences somehow seem less serious when shared, and what might have seemed downright disastrous at the time, sometimes becomes hilarious when shared with others. The sighted partner finds consolation in knowing that others have walked the same path, felt the same inability to help, the same guilt because they can still see, the same triumph and pride as their partner overcomes a difficult hurdle. Plus, let's face it, there is nothing like sharing your knowledge and experience with someone who stands where you once stood.
I frequently share an experience with support groups. Early in our marriage my husband and I had a rather heated disagreement about something, and honestly I don't remember what. We agreed before we were married that we would strive to keep my blindness in its own little compartment, blindness-related issues in one place and marriage things in another. How well this was working was demonstrated that day when my husband suddenly stopped telling me just why he knew he was right and I was wrong to say, "Did you know you were joining a skein of blue yarn onto that green sweater you're knitting?" "No!" replied I and the disagreement continued to its conclusion. He didn't spitefully let me join the wrong color, and I didn't think he was being condescending.
One person asked if I didn't feel guilty disagreeing with him after he told me. My answer, "No, he doesn't feel guilty disagreeing with me even though I've cooked dinner or have done the laundry." The blind partners in the group have often admitted that they have never quite thought of it that way. That little story has been the springboard for many discussions on the subject of putting feelings of guilt into perspective. One partner's blindness can't realistically be kept out of the relationship, but the couple has to decide just where it is to be kept, and the experience of others is invaluable.
Vision Loss Resources, an organization providing services to people living in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, has long known the value of support groups. Vision Loss Resources runs around 45 groups per month, covering a multitude of needs and interests. The organization was founded in 1914 with the main focus on finding jobs and providing rehabilitation services to blind people. Although the organization has evolved as needs and technology have changed, the goal to "provide programs to enhance independent living, increase leisure opportunities and educate the community about vision loss" remains the same.
Vision Loss Resources provides programs for people ranging in age from young adult to senior. Programs include in-home assessment, in-home vision evaluation, peer counseling, support and growth groups, life skills classes, community education and outreach. Hearing evaluations are also offered as well as information on diseases of the eye. Volunteers help with personal needs such as transportation and shopping. All of these services are provided free to anyone regardless of race, gender or creed who lives in the area served by Vision Loss Resources. Care is taken to provide services for specific needs as determined by the in-home assessment which is given to each applicant so that his or her needs may best be met.
The support and growth groups are especially popular. After the in-home assessment, a counselor invites the participant to the group meeting which best meets individual needs and interests. Whenever necessary, the counselor helps with transportation or other concerns.
Meetings are held on Saturdays to accommodate working people. Spouses meet separately and topics such as when and when not to offer help and special needs brought to the attention of the group are discussed. Panel discussions are presented by staff members. Workshops for friends and family are conducted twice per year, giving everyone an opportunity to get together and see the work that is being done. Family members and friends are also invited to all activities, thus giving what I would call a wonderful sense of unity between organization, participant and family members and friends. Emphasis is placed on simply having fun. In my experience, this is essential, and often neglected when dealing with the problems of blindness, or any other so-called disability. Vision Loss Resources recognizes the importance of this and provides ample opportunities for participants, family members and friends to socialize.
For more information about Vision Loss Resources, visit www.visionlossresources.com . Vision Loss Resources is certainly a model worth a look.
A database of other agencies and organizations that run support groups for blind and visually impaired people can be found at www.afb.org . Visit www.nfb.org and www.acb.org for information about additional groups.
The following resource appeared in the January-February 2008 issue of DIALOGUE in the "Notes from Readers" section. I am including it here in case you missed it.
Blind Family is a list for the discussion of topics of concern to blind and sighted family members. Send a message to blind family firstname.lastname@example.org .
Readers are encouraged to let us know about any other resources for blind and sighted partners. Perhaps you would be interested in starting a group in your area. It doesn't have to be elaborate, just people willing to reach out and share that problem, that frustration, that solution.
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