In 2013, Julie Yip-Williams, wife and mother of two, was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. In her memoir, published posthumously, she details events during the five agonizing years leading to her death. She flashes back to her earlier life: being blinded by cataracts as an infant in Vietnam after the war, escaping with her family to the United States and settling in southern California, having most of her sight restored through surgery, growing up to become a lawyer, traveling all over the world, meeting and marrying her husband, and the birth of her children. In her last chapter, she encourages us to take advantage of the time we have. Her husband Josh wrote the epilog, and in the recorded version I downloaded, he reads it.
I admire this author’s courage in the face of adversity, and I’m not just talking about the cancer. She was born into a society that considers disability a weakness. Although she regained most of her vision, it was a struggle for her to learn to use what she had. When she was a kid, she was excluded from movies and other social events with her siblings and cousins because she wouldn’t be able to see anything and someone would have to take care of her. Despite all this, she went on to do remarkable things. I respect her decision to stop treatment and let the disease run its course, despite having a husband and two young children who loved and depended on her. Knowing the outcome, this is a hard book to read, but the story is well worth it.
This collection starts with a prologue in which the author, who is also an artist, describes how knitting sustained her during difficult times after she lost most of her vision in 2007. The poetry and prose that follow are divided into twelve sections, one for each month of the year. Some pieces reflect the time of year while others discuss the author’s faith in God, nature, art, music, and other topics.
My favorite piece is “A Wintry Tale” because it reminds me of many tumbles I took in the snow when I was younger due to my lack of vision. My second favorite is “A Pennsylvania Christmas” because it brings back memories of my own childhood Christmases, even though I’ve never received coal in my stocking.
I’ve known Lynda for years through our association with Behind Our Eyes, a not-for-profit organization for writers with disabilities. I’ve always been amazed by how, despite her sight loss, her appreciation of art and nature comes through in her vivid descriptions. Even if you have normal vision, this book will open your eyes, ears, and heart to life’s wonders.
When I published my first book, We Shall Overcome, my late husband Bill was confined to a wheelchair as a result of two strokes. I’d written the book several years earlier. Getting it ready for publication was a great way to escape from the stress of being a family caregiver.
One evening during the summer of 2007, I held my first book in my hands for the first time. Bill was sprawled in his recliner, as I removed one of the fifty author copies I’d ordered from the box. “Wow,” I said, as I gazed at the cover image I’d chosen, then turned it over to see my profile picture on the back.
“Let me see it,” said Bill.
He was totally blind, so of course he couldn’t see it, but he could hold it in his hands and share my pride and joy. I handed it to him and described the cover. Despite my limited vision, I could imagine the shit-eating grin that crossed his face when he said, “My wife, the published author.”
I held him. It didn’t matter that he would never walk again, that he could do little for himself and depended on me for everything. I had a man who loved me and a published book.
What about you? Can you think of a time when you dropped the mic’? Please tell me about it. I look forward to reading your stories either in the comment field or on your own blog with a pingback here.
This short memoir is autobiographical in nature, spanning the author’s life from birth till the present. David Russell talks about being born prematurely in the 1950’s and blinded as a result of receiving too much oxygen. He then touches on his life growing up in Michigan, living in a succession of homes, being sent to a public elementary school, then choosing to attend the state school for the blind during his junior and senior high years.
After describing his high school graduation, which occurred in 1970, he shares his experiences attending several colleges over the next decade, describing how he became a registered music therapist, completing a six-month internship at a mental health facility in Georgia. He then touches on his adult years in a variety of locations before finally getting married and settling down.
I liked the author’s description of how he was born and how his parents learned he was blind. For those of us who know that too much oxygen at birth causes blindness, the scene where his parents tell the doctor to do everything he can to save their child and the doctor puts baby David in a crude incubator so he can be transported to another hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit is a good foreshadowing of what’s to come. After that though, the author rushes through his life’s story with little dialog or interaction with others. He provides some detail on his music education, playing the piano for a living in various locations, his college experiences, his internship, and his job working with developmentally challenged clients in Florida, but it’s not enough. His book is divided into two parts with the first being about his life in general and the second being about a specific year in college. This doesn’t make sense.
I would like to have known more. What was it like for him to be mainstreamed in elementary school? Why did he choose to attend the state school for the blind, and why wasn’t he happy there? Having been a registered music therapist myself, I would like to have learned more about his experiences with his in-class practicum, internship, and how his work helped his clients. I realize his theme is “home,” but it doesn’t work. He has an interesting story but doesn’t draw his readers into it.
Note: I submitted a portion of this review to Amazon, but they refuse to publish it. Here’s the reasaon I was given via email. “Our data shows elements of your Amazon account match elements of other Amazon accounts reviewing the same product.” I suspect what they actually mean is that they won’t publish the review because it’s unfavorable. For this reason, I will no longer veview books on Amazon.
Although this book was designed for children ages four to nine, I think animal lovers of all ages would find it inspiring. It’s the true story of how a blind lamb became the top sheep in her flock on a farm in Wisconsin. The author describes how he and his wife discovered Peanut was blind and how they helped her adapt to her blindness and surroundings. He also explains how other sheep interacted with Peanut and how he and his wife solved a bullying problem.
I had the pleasure of meeting Jim Thompson and his wife Laura when they attended a recent meeting of Behind Our Eyes, a group of writers with disabilities, of which I’m President. Through his experiences with Peanut, he seems to have developed a deep understanding of what it’s like to be blind. As a result, he has ensured that Peanut of Blind Faith Farm is available through the Wisconsin State Library’s Audio and Braille Literacy Enhancement program. Laura narrates their recorded version of this book and does an excellent job.
Jim has conducted presentations at schools and other locations and even given a copy of his book in braille to a blind boy who visited his farm. He has a knack for writing about his love of farming and animals, and I hope he will write more about this in the future. Meanwhile, I recommend Peanut of Blind Faith Farm to children of all ages, blind or not.
This memoir’s title may be a bit misleading. Erik Weihenmayer doesn’t just talk about his big Grand Canyon adventure but also covers other topics. The book starts with a forward by an American journalist, injured while on assignment overseas, who was inspired by Erik’s work. Erik then touches on his Mount Everest adventure, the subject of a previous book, and how he met his wife and married her on Mount Kilimanjaro. After that, he describes how he led various mountain climbing and river rafting adventures with children and adults who have disabilities. He explains how he formed No Barriers, an organization that empowers people with disabilities through hiking and other activities.
Erik also talks about family struggles: his brother’s battle with alcoholism and subsequent death, the arduous but successful process Erik and his wife went through to adopt a little boy from Nepal, and the child’s struggle to adapt to their way of life, then finding out later his mother was still alive. All this is interspersed with stories of his adventures and finally, how he succeeded in kayaking the Grand Canyon, with its multitude of dangerous rapids. In his epilog, he tells us what became of various children and adults with disabilities whom he helped through his involvement with No Barriers. The recorded version, which I downloaded from the National Library Service’s braille and audio site, and which was produced by McMillon Audio, contains an interview with Erik.
I’m not the adventurous sort, but I always enjoy re-living others’ experiences from the comfort of my recliner, and Erik’s story didn’t disappoint. Members of my regional talking book library’s group chose this book to discuss because they wanted to escape winter and cold weather, but I found myself wrapping my blanket more tightly around me, as I read of Erik and his crew climbing mountains in sub-zero temperatures, so I don’t think this was quite the escape for which they’d hoped. Oh well, sometimes, you don’t really know until you read the book, which has a clear message meant not just for those with disabilities. You should never let barriers, real or imagined, stop you from making dreams come true.
The following short story was published in the fall/ winter 2018-19 issue of Magnets and Ladders. I can think of no better way to commemorate Christmas Day and the 200th anniversary of the creation of “Silent Night” than to include this story along with a recording of me playing and singing the song. Merry Christmas, everyone.
The day before Christmas, my seven-year-old daughter Hannah was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. I opted to spend CHRISTMAS Day with her. My parents, as they’d done every year since the divorce, had invited Hannah and me to their house for Christmas dinner, but I couldn’t leave my little girl alone in the hospital.
Hannah wasn’t on solid food yet, but a nurse offered to bring me a tray, perhaps realizing it would be difficult for me to navigate to the cafeteria with my limited vision. While Hannah slept, I sat by her bed and enjoyed a delicious turkey dinner complete with stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and pumpkin pie. The food was surprisingly good for a hospital.
I said as much to the nurse when she came to collect my tray. “We have a chef now,” she said. “Of course many of our patients are too sick to appreciate it, but it’s certainly better than the fare we used to serve.”
The little girl in the other bed moaned and then started crying in earnest. I looked over and couldn’t see anyone sitting with her. “Oh, that’s Jessica,” said the nurse in a conspiratorial tone. “Poor kid, she fell out of her neighbor’s treehouse yesterday and broke her leg in three places. She’s in a body cast from her chest to her right foot.”
Hannah must have awakened for she said, “Ou, I guess I won’t complain about my tummy anymore. I’m glad I don’t have a treehouse, and I hope Santa didn’t leave me one.”
I marveled at how sensitive my daughter was. As the nurse went to Jessica and tried to comfort her, I said, “How are you feeling, sweetie?”
“I’m okay, but my tummy still hurts.”
“I thought you weren’t gonna complain about your tummy anymore,” I said, as I ruffled her hair.
Hannah giggled, then winced. “Out, Mommy, it hurts more when I laugh.”
“It sounds like you could use some pain medication too,” said the nurse, as she started to leave the room.
“No, it only really hurts when I laugh,” said Hannah.
“Well, in that case, laughter’s the best medicine,” said the nurse. “I’ll be back soon.”
“How old is Jessica?” asked Hannah.
“Oh, I think she’s about your age,” answered the nurse. “I’ll be back in a bit with some medicine for her, and that’ll make her feel better.” With that, she was gone.
Jessica was still sniffling, but it wasn’t as loud as before. “Mommy, you should go sing her a song,” said Hannah. “like you did for me last night when I was really hurting. I’m not hurting as much now, and I think she’s hurting more.”
Years earlier, I’d worked as a registered music therapist. That was before Hannah was born, before I’d started losing my vision, before my world changed. My husband hadn’t wanted a child but was resigned to the idea once he learned I was pregnant. The vision loss after Hannah’s birth was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Fortunately, he paid plenty of child support. That, along with my disability payments, allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom, and once I learned to use a computer with screen reading and magnification software, I brought in a little income from freelance writing.
Now, I looked over at the little girl in the other bed. My specialty as a music therapist had been with elderly nursing home residents, not hospitalized children. I hadn’t even done a clinical practicum with that population. I remembered bed-ridden residents who smiled and relaxed when I sat by their beds, held their hands, and sang. I even performed at some of their funerals. The fact that my singing in the emergency room the night before had calmed Hannah made me think that perhaps I hadn’t lost my touch. I rose and pulled my chair next to the other bed, where I sat and took the child’s hand that lay on top of the white sheet covering her.
“Hi Jessica,” I said. “I’m Joan. My little girl Hannah is in the other bed. What’s wrong?”
“My leg really hurts,” she answered. “I’ll never play in that stupid treehouse again.”
“That’s too bad,” I said, stroking her hair. “Would you like to sing a song with me?”
“Will that make the pain go away?” she asked.
“It’ll take your mind off of it. What’s your favorite Christmas song?”
She was quiet for a minute, then said, “I like Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.”
“All right, let’s sing it together, shall we?”
I started, and soon, she joined in, followed by Hannah. When we finished that song, Jessica suggested “Jingle Bells,” then “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” The nurse appeared and said, “What lovely singing. Jessica, I have some medicine that will make you feel better. I’m going to put it in your IV now.”
As she started to do this, I said, “Why don’t we sing one more song?”
“I want to hear you sing something by yourself,” said Jessica. “You have a pretty voice, and so did my mommy. She used to sing to me at night before I went to sleep.” A wistful look crossed her face.
“Why doesn’t she sing to you anymore?” I asked.
“She was killed in a car accident a few months ago,” she answered. A tear rolled down her cheek.
“Oh honey, I’m sorry,” I said, as I stroked her hair. Tears welled in my own eyes.
Holding them back, I said, “What song did your mom like to sing to you this time of year?”
“‘Silent Night,'” she answered.
“Yeah, sing that one, Mom,” said Hannah.
I took a deep breath and began. To my surprise, the nurse joined in, singing alto. Our two voices blending together in harmony was almost too much, but I managed to continue.
As we started the second verse, I sensed a presence at my side and turned to see a man standing there. “Daddy!” Jessica said, her eyes wide with delight.
“Hey princess,” he said, reaching over me and ruffling her hair. Then he said, “oh, don’t stop singing on my account. It’s beautiful.”
His voice broke, and it was all I could do to keep from losing it. We started the song where we’d left off and finished the second verse. To break the spell, I turned to the nurse and said, “You and I need to talk. I sing in a women’s group that could use an extra voice.”
“Wow, that sounds interesting,” she said. “You also have a nice voice. I need to see to other patients, but I’ll come back later after my shift, and you can tell me more about it.” She turned and started to leave the room.
Jessica’s father put a hand on my shoulder and said, “You and I also need to talk. It’s only been two months since I lost my wife, and I never dreamed I’d say this to another woman, but could I buy you a cup of coffee, maybe in the cafeteria?”
From the doorway, the nurse said, “Our coffee here isn’t as good as the food. Why don’t you two go across the street to Starbuck’s?”
We hesitated. “Your kids will be fine,” she said. “They’re both out of the woods. I have your cell numbers in their charts. If anything drastic happens, I’ll call you. Joan, you’ve been here all day. You need a break. Go!” With that, she was gone.
I looked at this stranger, not knowing what to think. Finally, I said, “I’ve been divorced for about six years. I’m losing my vision, and I never imagined another man would ask me out for coffee.”
I expected him to back away, but instead, he said, “Any man not interested in you is a fool. You’re a beautiful woman. You’re good with kids, and you have a lovely voice.”
Flabbergasted, I said, “You just got here. Don’t you want to spend some time with Jessica?”
Jessica said, “I’m okay. My leg doesn’t hurt so much now that the nurse gave me some medicine in my IV. Daddy, Joan could make you happy like Mommy did.”
“Yeah,” said Hannah. “Mom, I think this guy could make you happy like Daddy did.”
Jessica’s father laughed and said, “I think these two, along with that nurse, are trying to play matchmaker.” He extended his hand. “By the way, I’m Don Gray.”
“Joan Clark,” I said, taking his hand and shaking it.
Still uncertain, I turned to Hannah and said, “Honey, don’t you remember what I’ve told you about not going off with a stranger?”
“Yeah, but he’s not a stranger. He’s Jessica’s dad.”
“She’s got a point,” said Don.
“My dad told me not to go off with a stranger too,” said Jessica. “but he’s okay. He’s been really sad since Mom died.”
I could feel my heart melting as more tears threatened. “Jessica and I could sing another song,” said Hannah. “How about 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall?”
“Yeah,” said Jessica. She started the song, and Hannah joined in. Laughing, we both made our way out the door.
“Do you need to take my arm?” Don asked.
“Yes, please,” I answered, realizing I’d left my cane in the room. As I grasped his muscular arm and walked with him down the hall, I had a good feeling about this.