With today being Women’s Day I felt it was appropriate to pay tribute to two women who played a significant role in shaping my thinking when I lost my sight.
Though each of these women surely deserve far more than just a few words, today I want to focus on what I learned from their extraordinary courage.
My mother, Cynthia Lois Agar Gowans (18 April, 1940 – 14 November 1993) was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) shortly after we moved to South Africa from England. MS is a degenerative condition that affects the immune system and causes muscular weakness and increasingly impaired mobility and balance amongst other symptoms.
I remember my mom having to steady herself with a walking stick when collecting me from junior school, needing special adjustments to enable her to drive her motor car when I was in middle school and catching the bus home from school when I was in high school because my mom could no longer drive. By the time I lost my sight, my mom was bedridden and I recall spending long hours with her chatting and watching television while she lay propped up in bed.
Yes, my mom had a strong support system and wonderful caregivers but I still find myself pondering how she endured the inevitable weakening of her body with such fortitude. I’m not saying she didn’t ever complain, but only on rare occasions did she give in and rail against the hand that life had dealt her.
My mom passed away just under two years after I lost my sight. , I can only hope that I live up to the example she gave me with the incredible courage and fortitude with which she withstood her MS.
My grandmother, Sylvia Jessie Agar Simpson (22 May 1909 – 8 October 2002) was a wonderful hostess whose reputation was founded on her engaging conversation, her interest in people and the world around her, her intelligence and wit, and in her ability as a captivating storyteller, (and of course, her delicious food!).
I have vivid memories of my gran sitting in her favourite comfy chair in the corner of the lounge with all us grandchildren gathered at her feet listening spellbound as she related a story from her childhood. And not just us kids – all the adults would stop what they were doing to catch the fascinating stories of people and times gone past.
What we didn’t realize was that this was one of the creative ways my gran coped with her increasing hearing loss. By telling the stories, gran remained in control of the conversation and didn’t have to struggle to make out what others were saying to her. Additionally, it was likely that questions that were directed to her were about the story, and that helped her work out what people were asking. It was such a simple, yet effective, way of managing her hearing loss.
My gran was also a great correspondent and wrote a vast number of letters to friends and family round the world until shortly before her death at the age of 92. Even gran’s blind granddaughter received letters on a regular basis, because gran knew that Craig would read them to me. On one memorable occasion she posted me a curry recipe because I wanted to make a curry for Craig but had no idea how to do so (back before I could find recipes online) So, while telephone conversations with my gran grew increasingly hard, she found a way to communicate with everyone without difficulty, always with her characteristic humour, wit and intelligence, and of course, her enthralling stories… reading gran’s letters almost felt like I was in the room listening to her speak!
So today I want to pay tribute to my mom and my gran: to my mom for teaching me courage and the determination not to let my disability conquer me, and to my gran for giving me the gift of stories and the understanding that even challenges can be overcome if you can find creative ways to do so. Both these women had a profound influence on my life and played a huge role in me becoming the woman I am today.