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By counting each step, one by one.

Some people seem to walk through life with no fear. I wasn’t one of them. At 5 years old, I experienced the loss of a loved one that left me questioning everything. For some reason, I can’t remember it all. At the time, I first processed the loss “at a distance” emotionally while my parents watched to see what impacts it would have on me. I was told that I became extremely quiet. When I left 1st grade and entered 2nd grade, I remember becoming so quiet that my teacher put me in a class for children who were experiencing learning challenges. I didn’t care because I was content to just “watch the world go by.

In my 5 year old mind, I somehow thought that this approach might spare me another loss in a world that was so unpredictable. If I didn’t "engage” with anything or anyone anymore, I wouldn’t experience any more loss. I lost my confidence about having any predictability in life. Then something happened completely out of nowhere to someone who was a part of my life on a daily basis and that impacted everything.

She was about 60 years old and lived up the road from us. She lived alone and all her children were grown, married, and starting their own families. Her children would visit once a week, usually on the weekends. She had a witty sense of humor, and I felt safe with her. Everyday at around 4:30pm, she walked down the street to our house just around the time my father returned home from work. My dad, mom, and she would proceed to the backyard. We would play while they drank coffee and chatted about their day.

Being the eldest of the three, she sometimes offered advice about work, politics, or told a joke to add some levity to what was for my father, a difficult day. And it worked every time. We enjoyed her presence. I liked her a lot. In fact I grew to love her and looked at her as a grandmother. I addressed her as “Mrs. T“ until one day out of the blue she said “Call me Grandma T.” I did and it felt great since neither of my grandmothers lived nearby. She seemed to me like such a strong and solid person. She truly was.

At such a young age, I was able to watch her face the greatest challenge she would ever have in her life. We both had no idea it was on its way. One afternoon shortly after they had all retreated to our backyard to drink their coffee, I heard my mother gasp after "Grandma T" whispered something to her. I knew it must have something to do with one of the three of them since I knew they never discussed anyone else. They didn't believe in doing that. I was heavily engaged in my "make believe" – twirling and tumbling around with my sister, imagining them watching and applauding us. We were having so much fun.

I drew closer to them - me and my “radar ears”, trying to find out why my Mother gasped. Due to the loss I experienced the year before, I was hyper vigilant when I sensed that something might be “wrong”.

Calmly and confidently, Grandma T explained to Mom and Dad that she was losing her eyesight. She explained that there was nothing that could be done to prevent it. The doctors had done all they could. She said she had already lost about 70% visibility. She held off on telling them prior because she didn’t want them to worry. She waited as long as she could, but now she had to prepare them the way she had prepared herself. She said she would probably be 100% without her vision within a few days. My parents had so many questions: "What will you do?

What can we do for you? Will you move in with your daughter? Will your family move in with you? Who is going to take care of you? How do you feel? Are you sad, scared, angry? How can we ever spend time with you here again if you can't see?”

My Mother started to cry. By now, I was sitting next to Grandma T, stroking her hand. It was all I could do. I knew by that age, how difficult this must be for her. Grandma T listened to all of their questions. Then a smile came across her face.

“First of all, don’t be scared, you guys. It will be fine. I’ve got it all worked out. I’ve had time - two months to work this through. Don’t worry.” she said. I was shocked. "My daughter is insisting that I move in with her. She’s trying to treat me like a baby, but I am not helpless. I am fine. I've figured it all out.” She paused and stared directly at all of us.

“But what about our visits?” my Mother said. She was more than a friend, she was a sister, a mother, a confidant for both of them. "Well, I’ve been counting.” she said.

“What do you mean?” my Father said.

“Counting. That’s right. It's exactly 100 steps downhill at a 20% angle from my front porch to your back yard. And it's exactly 100 steps uphill at a 20% angle going back. I’m leaving an extra key under the stone to the right of my front porch steps in case you guys need help.

If I don’t answer the phone know it’s because I’m sleeping. Open my front door and call out to me. I'll get up and come help you whenever you need. I've worked out a system to use my stove by marking the corner edges with tape and measuring with my fingertips. I know exactly how to turn it on and off and I notched the highest setting and lowest setting differently on each knob. I’ll be here M-F at 4:30 so we can talk story and life will be good. Just watch. I’ve figured it out.” she said.

Like she said, she did have it figured out because she visited us every day like she said she would. Once in a while we’d sneak in the house and sit in her living room to see if she would notice.“I know it’s you two.” she'd say referring to my little sister and me. "Come on in the kitchen. I'll make you some hot chocolate. Do you want your apple pie with or without ice cream?” That’s how it went and that’s how it was.

One day I asked her “Grandma T - how does it feel when you cannot see?” She paused, then said, “Not so bad. I picture everything and I enjoy those pictures in my mind and now I don’t worry about dust on the floor. I sweep but I can’t see the dirt so that’s even better. I visit with you guys and that’s the best thing, every day.” she said.

“Weren’t you afraid? Aren’t you afraid now?” I asked.

“No.” she said.

“Why?” I asked.

"Because I trust myself. I am confident that I am doing the very best I can to take care of myself and that feels great.

I’ll never forget that. She was not afraid because she believed in and trusted herself. This story reminds me of who I am, what I have come through, and to trust myself completely.

By counting each step, one by one.

© 2015 Streamline Now LLC - USCF™, All Rights Reserved

All primary photographs and writing are produced and copyrighted by SNL and USCF™, 2015.

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