Friday, January 1, 2010

Inspiration from Goodlife Zen Question 4

The posts until Saturday, January 9, will be in response to Mary Jaksch's questions on Goodlife Zen, 11 Questions that lead to Gratitude. Please visit the site and subscribe for daily inspiration.

4. What changed you?

My older sister [we’ll call her Lala] had a stroke two years ago, leaving her with limited use of her arm and leg on one side. Her devoted husband works 14 hours a day, then comes home and tackles whatever housework she is unable to do, plus helps her dress, undress and bathe. He has lovingly cared for her for those two years, never complaining or taking any time for himself. Last August, my sister called and asked me if I could come and stay with her for a few days so her husband could go on a well-deserved fishing trip.

Weston and I drove to Wyoming to stay with her. I love Wyoming. We drove for hours and hours, seeing roughly ten other cars in a four-hour time span. It’s beautiful, but very sparsely populated.

One of the first things Weston and I did was to take Lala shopping downtown. She doesn’t get there often since most stores are closed by the time her husband gets off work. And, as I soon learned, her trips out are not without great difficulty.

Getting her into and out of the car with a stubborn leg caused me to have to be mindful of the logistics of every trip. Are we close enough to the curb so that she won’t have to try to take a step up from the street? Is there a handicapped spot close enough to the store we want to visit? Are there any impediments in the sidewalk—unique textures, slopes, garbage, loiterers—that will cause her to stumble or fall?

The town Lala lives in is quite charming. It’s full of unique shops and friendly people. Our first stop was the bookstore where she used to work. The owner of the store is a good friend of Lala’s and tried for a long time to allow her to work around her disability. In the end, it was just too much for Lala. She tires easily and stumbles even more easily. A bump in a store’s carpet that we may walk over without noticing, becomes a small hurdle for someone who has to be conscious of every step her sluggish leg takes.

We next went to a cute coffee and pastry shop. Both employees and patrons yelled out Lala’s name. It seems she is well-known and liked in her town.

Just a few of the experiences that helped me become more aware:

  • Helping her with her shower was no big deal for me. It was humiliating for her.
  • A small irregularity in the street almost caused her to fall as I was helping her across.
  • The “Walk” lights don’t last long enough when helping a disabled person get across the street. “Don’t Walk” flashes before we are even one-third of the way across. Luckily the drivers in her town are very patient and wait while we struggle across.
  • Trying to walk through a swimming pool’s changing room is annoying for most of us as we watch our steps on the slick wet concrete. For Lala, it was terrifying. We walked very slowly, which embarrassed her when we were forced to make others walk slowly behind us. Luckily, the first person behind us as we struggled through the slippery area was her former physical therapist who said, “Don’t worry. Take all the time you need.”
  • Someone who has had a stroke and has limited arm/leg movement may need help with things like opening a can, getting toothpaste on a toothbrush, buttoning clothes or tying a shoe.

Once I was shopping in a mall with a friend of mine and her wheelchair-bound daughter. I started to go into a popular clothing store when my friend said, “I can’t go in that store.” When she noticed my puzzled look she said, “Look at the aisles between clothing racks. No room for a wheelchair to navigate.” I was amazed as store after store was off-limits to her and her daughter.

I had thought at that time that my eyes were opened to what people with disabilities have to go through. The few days I spent with Lala changed my perceptions further. I hope I am more aware and sensitive. I know I am more patient as people seem to thwart my progress as I am out and about. Who knows what disability or impairment is causing them to drive slowly, or appear to be dawdling in front of me?

What changed YOU in 2009?


  1. This brought tears to my eyes to know how bad off little Lala is. We all need reminders of how lucky we are to be mobile and able to attend to our daily needs without assistance. Greg sets an example of the vow "in sickness and in health."

  2. Oh how difficult it must be for Lala. This is a truly moving post that we all need to read and share. I can't imagine her fear and anxiety with tasks that we take for granted. I love this series of posts Randi.

  3. Auntie M: He is indeed a saint. He told me a story of going to visit her every day before and after work while she was in a facility an hour away. One of the nurses finally commented that he did not need to come and visit every day--that her needs were being satisfied. He replied, "This is what I meant a long time ago when I said 'in sickness and in health.' It was not an empty vow to me. This is MY job, to take care of her. Not yours." They never again told him to stop coming. I came away from my visit with her being very grateful. I remember on one of our trips to town she looked in fear at a strip of sidewalk that had raised bumps all over it. It was meant to look decorative but to her it was a trap.

    septembermom: It really is difficult for her, especially since she has always been an active person who walked 1+ miles to/from work every day. It is depressing for her to feel like she is a burden to others, even though others--her husband, friends and family--really don't mind helping. I'm so happy you are enjoying this series. I'm having a good time reflecting on the past year.

  4. I'm falling behind, but I promise I will catch up and try to answer all of the questions.

    Just wanted to say thanks for the bday card Randi!

  5. This is such a good reminder for me, especially since I can be pretty impatient.

    I know the focus of your story was on your sister, and how she handles the limitations of her disability, but I couldn't help but think how ROMANTIC their story is.

    He must love her so very much.

    I know ya'll had a great time together and, even in spite of the shower, I'm sure she loved spending time with you and having the opportunity to go around her home town.

    You're awesome.

  6. Daisy: I hope your special day was a good one. Remember to celebrate Post-Daisy!

    Hayden:It really is romantic, isn't it? The trip brought my sister and me even closer together. Until I visited I hadn't really realized her limitations and how frustrating they are to her. I'm so grateful that her husband is so good with her otherwise I would be worrying about her daily.

    You're awesome too. :)

  7. Hi Randi
    Yes, I feel very grateful that I can get by without assistance. A touching post. Thank goodness for faithful husbands and wives as well as caring family and friends.

    I'll have to think hard about what changed me in 2009.

  8. Ken: I too am thankful for faithful husbands and wives, wherever they are found. May they be blessed for their dedication. It saddens me when I see a husband or wife leave in the middle of a spouse's physical affliction.

    These are hard questions, aren't they?

  9. Randi,

    Talk about making you focus on the little things..

    I can not even imagine what it must be like for Lala. I hope that she is getting inspiration from these questions though... has she thought about these same questions? It's a great exercise to go through, and it is through the hardships, and tough times that we seem to learn the most, and begin to appreciate the most.

    Having said that I'm struggling with my own "what changed you". Wow. 2009 sucked. :)

    When I want to curl up into a tiny ball in the fetal position and yell at the unfairness of the world, I can't. I gotta get out of bed, get dressed, and turn around and motivate others into enjoying their moment, their lives. I need to put on a happy smiling face, and tell others they can do it, even though I may have just struggled to get out of bed.

    I have heard others tell me time and time again after a class how amazing, wonderful, and life-changing exercise has been for them and how I've played a part. They've changed me. By affecting them positively, they've changed me positively, and on the days when I don't feel that I can, I know that I have no choice because today, there might be another person who's trying the class for the very first time and they need me, as much as I need them.

  10. Daisy: Sadly no, my sister has not seen these questions because (*gasp!*) she does not even have internet. You are so right though---it IS through our tough times that we become stronger and more appreciative. I know that has been true in my life.

    Your lesson on not wanting to get out of bed, but doing so anyway for the sake of others, was sooo inspirational! It reminded me of "It's a Wonderful Life." As in how we touch people every day that we never know, and how their lives would be changed if we were not in them. Exercise really is life-changing and that is so cool that you can be there when people experience those life-altering feelings. What a beautiful example of what changes you.


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