How to cope with losing part of yourself

How to cope with losing part of yourself

When my father was a young man, he lost all four fingers on his right hand in an industrial accident.  He has gone on to do a remarkable amount of manual work for anyone, let alone a man left with just a thumb on what was previously his dominant hand.

It occurs to me now that we have only ever referred to this right hand as “Dad’s hand”, or, when admiring the feats of strength and dexterity he shows with it, as “his thumb”. Does it matter that we refer, not to what is missing, but what remains?

I think it does.

For all of my facility with adaptive technologies, it would hold me back to be constantly measuring these new ways up to the old visual way of doing things. How much more intrepid am I when I regard myself as a person with a range of skills for living – a limited degree of eyesight, acute hearing and sensitivity to touch, excellent strength and flexibility, intelligence, humour, compassion, resilience, and a pretty good capacity to face down fear and solve problems – rather than as a person who was once fully-sighted, but tragically lost most of her vision and is slowly finding ways to compensate for that loss?

It takes courage to adjust your self-concept to accept what you are, as distinct from regarding yourself as still being what you were, only having suffered a loss. In my case, I ask myself, am I a competent, capable person with low vision or a sighted person who has lost most of their sight?

While I continue to regard myself as the latter, the loss stays fresh and I find myself constantly assessing my new-found skills as poor substitutes for looking, seeing, watching. People do not compare the need to have heir eyes open against any other way of being in the world, but, for someone who loses their sight, there is always the baseline of doing things visually against which to judge adaptations for blindness.

Would my Dad have accomplished as much if he had succumbed to dejection over how much easier things would be with two good hands?  If he had focused on the missing fingers, rather than the strength and dexterity of what was left? That is a vivid analogy for choosing to look at the skills and abilities I have rather than focusing on the one ability I have lost. On the one hand, I have only a very limited ability to navigate or discern my surroundings visually but, on the other hand, I still have a bundle of other hard-won skills and abilities with which to navigate the world, to enjoy life and to make a difference to others.

After all, none of us has every benefit, advantage and talent at our disposal, and each of us must choose whether to look at what we are missing, or to assess how we can use what we have to its best advantage for the benefit of ourselves and each other.

Thanks Dad, for showing me how to make the most of what you have.  It took me until 37 years of age to realise the significance of that attitude, but I am spectacularly grateful for it now.  Oh, and happy 78th birthday.


Get notified when Karen posts something new.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Sara McCarthy

    The strength from within finding courage to be grateful for a new you

  2. ct mit

    Another great article Karen. What a wonderful role model your Father was! As indeed you are now to many others.

    Back in Plimsoll again now after 4 months away in Ireland with Liz n family. Still in self isolation for a while after 2 wks in quarantine.

    But hope we can catch up one day soon when you’ve got a half hour tto spare. Best wishes Colleen 0432568643

  3. Ruby Peddell

    A small lesson for all parents today.. sometimes your children learn more from observing how you tackle life than all the words you share with them.

    Bravery in facing what life brings is a gift that cannot be measured until life throws you something that requires you to face incredible fear. Karen now moves through her world with confidence, resilience and demonstrates to her children the same attitude her father did for her. They will one day realise all that they faced as a family and how they came through the darkness into a world where they all adapted and won.

    Karen visited on Sunday and I remarked to her father when she had left that at last I no longer look at her and think she cannot see because she is still the smart, intelligent, thoughtful, loving and caring person she always was and nothing that happened to her has taken that away.

    I give thanks that we as parents must have done some things right, and that she is strong and determined.

    1. Karen McCarthy

      Indeed you both did many things right. The truth you have observed that action speaks louder and for longer than mere words is easy to miss as our interactions unfold so rapidly.

Comments are closed.