what you can’t see

My mother was diagnosed with macular degeneration when she was in her 70’s.  She kept it quiet for five years (in true mom fashion).  Then she let us know that she was slowly losing her sight.  By the time she died she was legally blind.

The funny thing was that I could never tell exactly what she could see.  She always claimed to see the birds flying in and out of her favorite tree.  I walked across the lawn one day and waved to her while she was sitting in the window.  She waved back.  And yet I’m sure she could not tell who I was when I approached her, unless I said something.

One of the first things she lost was her ability to see faces and read lips.  Interestingly, this increased her inability to hear.  I wonder if she had been slowly going deaf but had compensated for it by reading lips and expressions.  Once she couldn’t do this anymore, she stopped being able to hear as well.

Despite this affliction (and I still think it was the meanest handicap she had to deal with), mom found beauty and art in everyday life.  Even if she couldn’t see her favorite things, she knew they were there.  She pictured them in her mind.  (I always described this as “seeing it in my eyes”.)

In this day and age of visual representation at our finger tips, we tend to forget that art can be viewed, stored and remembered.  We also forget that art is not just about the seeing, but the experiencing through all senses.  Touch, smell, hearing, tasting…all of these senses are a gift with which to experience the world, and experience the art in the world.  The only thing you need to do is make time for the experience.

VBV 02/19/49
VBV 02/19/49

I’m including this picture of mom on her wedding day.  She was beautiful, young and could not see all the blessings and trials to come in her life.  I always have been in awe of her natural beauty.  The funny thing is that while she was able to take in much of the beauty around her, the one she couldn’t see was herself.  She never thought she was all that good looking.  I guess blindness comes in all forms.


7 thoughts on “what you can’t see

  1. A great title to your post and a great post on a fascinating subject. Your mother looks very beautiful and her gown is gorgeous. My mother was married in February 1948. My mother is profoundly deaf and has been for years. Once my sister was trying to show her something in the distance and she said instinctively, ‘But I can’t hear it because I am not wearing my hearing aids.” when she meant to say she couldn’t see what we were pointing to. That says to me, as with your mother, how closely each sense affects the other. I also find it very difficult to cook if I can’t hear what I am cooking; just seeing it isn’t enough and neither is tasting. Another aspect of our very visual age that is raising concern in New Zealand (probably elsewhere) is that the deaf community which has worked tirelessly to get captioning on TV programmes, now finds that they are being shut out from a lot of the internet/digital world because of lack of captioning. They feel they have to start the battle for accessibility and equality once again. I know you are very aware of these accessibility works when you make your sculptures.

    1. My mom had a stroke when she was 49 and was handicapped for the rest of her life. I am very sensitive to this issue.
      I have to say that when I first read your post I thought you said your mother is profoundly dead and has been for years. After I laughed, I reread it and realized that I should slow down when I’m reading…
      Interesting about the senses. When mom had her stroke, it affected all of her senses including taste. I can still remember the look on her face when she ate a grapefruit for the first time after her stroke. It tasted soooo bitter. She loved grapefruit but it was a while before she could eat one again.

      1. Oh dear , oh dear, you have me giggling as I read about your misreading of my post. The funniest part is that I am perfectly capable of writing something like “profoundly dead’ in my typing haste. Am I correct in remembering that your mother made the cushions on the porch chairs? Or was that you? I think you would appreciate one of my favourite TV programmes called Attitude; which features wonderful stories from our disabled (or differently abled) community.)

  2. Virginia–I wanted to comment on your post, but I don’t know what to say, just that it is very moving. I read it twice.

    Even before I read about your mother’s reaction to her looks, I was struck by her beauty. She was stunning. Perhaps it was good that she couldn’t see her own beauty. Or perhaps she saw it early on in life, realized how superficial outer beauty is, and chose to dismiss it.

    1. Thanks Someone for commenting. I’m glad you liked my post. I really believe (because I witnessed it often) that my mother really didn’t believe that she was beautiful or talented. Perhaps it came from a serious desire not to toot her own horn, something that she considered very gauche. But I think it was deeper than that.

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