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Monday, 2 December 2013

Reuben

When I was in high school, one of our family friends lost his eyesight because of diabetes that was undiagnosed.  He and his wife didn't live in our community, but 'around the bay,' as Newfoundlanders say. 

We heard the sad news about Reuben but hadn't seen him since he had lost his sight. I remember our first visit to see him. I was apprehensive as we drove west on the Trans Canada Highway from St. John's, headed to Princeton, Bomavista Bay. I had always enjoyed being around Reuben and his wife, Florrie. They were kind, funny, and interesting people. They lived in a tiny seaside community where my brother and I met some of the local children and enjoyed spending time there exploring the area. We also explored other parts of Bonavista and Trinity Bays with Reuben, Florrie and our parents. Summer visits with them never seemed to be long enough.

At the time I didn't realize why I was so apprehensive. However as the car pulled into the driveway, I wondered what I would say to Reuben and how I would approach him. Usually we hugged. What do you do when the other person can't see you? I wondered how a hug could work. Do I mention his blindness? I didn't say anything to Mom and Dad but just followed their lead.

Mom and Dad just went in as they always did. Dad spoke and Reuben put out his hand to shake.  Mom spoke and Reuben called her over and hugged her. He did the same with me. First hurdle over.

At meal time, Reuben learned the location of food items on the plate and could manage well. He could get around the house well, having counted the paces of the various rooms and committed the numbers to memory. Reuben was doing really well with things.

On one occasion when Reuben and I talked, he told me I didn't have to talk loudly, his hearing was fine. He said that many people did the same thing and spoke louder when they talked to him now. We laughed over that one. He also liked to be asked if he needed help rather than for people just to assume that he did.

In those days, Reuben had to give up work when he lost his eyesight, so their financial situation had changed. That fact was the hardest thing for Reuben to accept, after the blindness itself and it's impact on his everyday life. Also, he was unable to drive now and his wife didn't have her license so they were't independent anymore with respect to transportation. That was a big impact on their lives as well.

Florrie was amazing. She cared for Reuben but expected that he could still do many things himself and he did. They had worked out how their lives would work under these news circumstances and they just got on with it. Their relationship seemed solid, devoted to each other.

One of the important things that we did on that first visit was to go for a drive around Bonavista Bay with Reuben and Florrie as we always did. The six of us piled into our car, the front seat could seat three people in those days. Reuben still saw everything we did really. He could see things in his mind's eye, and knowing the bumps and turns on the Old Bonavista highway, could tell where we were. He'd ask if this person's car was in the driveway or if the boat belonging to that person was tied up at the wharf. We had a wonderful time, stopping in various places, seeing old friends, or stopping to see the scenery. It was like it had always been.

I learned not to be afraid to use words about sight around Reuben. He understood and was alright with phrases like 'did you see the news?' He'd say that he had heard it and laugh. He was the same Reuben.

Over the next few years we saw Reuben a number of times at our home and his. However, his diabetes was difficult to control and he was having problems. Then suddenly he was gone.  

Reuben and Florrie didn't have any children of their own. However, I am one of the children whose lives they impacted in a very positive way. They showed everyone who knew them how it is possible to handle what could be perceived as one of life's tragedies with humour, dignity and love.

Reuben and I always sang whenever we were together.  We really liked Credence Clearwater Revival and our favourite song was "Looking Out My Backdoor." 

This one is for you, Reuben.  

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Aae_RHRptRg

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