Archives for May 2014

Been there, felt that

I look out at the audience and see some heads nodding in understanding. The look on the faces of these nodders tells me they’ve been where I’ve been. They know of what I speak.

This is my experience every time I talk in front of a group about My Father’s Eyes, the story of my friendship with an uncle who had a profound intellectual disability. It doesn’t matter where I am – whether I’m speaking to a church group, a writer’s league, a service organization or at some other gathering.

I’m discovering that many, many people have been touched by disability.

Heart-grabbing stories

One woman said, “My nephew is autistic and I could really relate to your personal story.”

Another woman shared about a relative who was placed in a mental hospital decades ago only because she didn’t behave as a child. She never got out of the hospital and lost touch with her family.

One man spoke up and talked about his son who has schizophrenia and how frustrating the young man’s life is and how limited he is by his illness.

20 percent of Americans have a disability

I shouldn’t be surprised at how common it is to be touched by disability in some way. Afterall, one in five people in this country have some kind of physical or mental limitation – whether it’s mental illness, autism, intellectual disability, Alzheimer’s, lack of mobility or hearing loss.

But what does surprise me is that the negatives about living a life with disability are the same across the board. There are feelings of shame, ostracism, grief, and struggles to belong and to be productive. The pain is the same, regardless of the disability.

What I learned through Uncle Melrose is that we don’t have to let these feelings run the show. It has dawned on me that there wasn’t anything “wrong” with my uncle. There isn’t anything “wrong” with the woman’s autistic nephew or the son with schizophrenia.

They’re just approaching life from a different perspective. And it’s our job as their family members and friends to try to understand where they’re coming from.

Everyone, including my uncle, who could only say a few words and feed himself, has something to contribute to the world. The rest of us just need to pay closer attention to see what they have to offer.