Two people sit together, looking through a photo album.

Before the Fire and After the Flood (Part 1)

Our family used to have trouble remembering when things happened. For example, when did we all go away for that beach holiday together? Or what year did we have seafood for our Christmas meal instead of the usual baked dinner? What year was it that we all celebrated New Year’s Eve together in the city? Everyone would pipe up with a different idea of when these things happened. After lots of suggestions had been thrown backwards and forwards, we were usually no closer to sorting out our memories.

Diastrous events with macular degeneration

But a couple of potentially disastrous events occurred in my parents’ lives over the past decade which now act as unforgettable markers on the timeline of life. And they occurred when my parents both had macular degeneration and Mum was legally blind.

The fire and then the flood

First there was the fire, and then (a few years later) came the flood. Although these were both devastating at the time, and took years to recover from, no-one was hurt. We do, however, always remember what years they happened. And with resilience and a sense of humor we are now able to use them to place family events. Was it before the fire or after? Was it after the fire and before the flood? Or was it after the flood? It’s an effective, if very unusual way, to place events.

Suffering a fire with macular degeneration

Now, we are certainly aren't alone in suffering a fire, but as both my parents had macular degeneration at that time, with Mum being legally blind, they faced additional challenges. They lived by themselves in a large suburban two-story brick house, and were upstairs when the fire broke out. Mum was cutting Dad’s hair (yes, I know, she can’t see well!) and they were out on the top balcony with nothing but a pair of hair clippers.

Additional challenges with a visual impairment

They smelt smoke and realized that their electric heater inside (which they thought was off) was too close to the sofa, and the sofa had caught fire. In a matter of seconds, the flames had caught the carpet and were spreading across the room towards the top of the stairs. They realized pretty quickly that they couldn’t fight it, especially with their sight challenges and being in their late 80s. I am forever proud of my father who said to my mother not to get her purse, not to get the photos, just to get out of the house. They got down the stairs, crossed the road, and sat in their neighbor's front yard watching their house burn to the ground.

Navigating unfamiliar technology

With their macular degeneration, they faced many challenges in the high-rise apartment that the insurance company put them up in. For eighteen months while their house was rebuilt they battled (and mainly coped with) technologies they hadn’t had at home. Mum couldn’t see well enough to work the elevator and to put the card in the slot to start the thing. Then she had to open the apartment door with the card as well. She made a few new friends while waiting in the hall for someone to help her. This was all strange to her, but with a positive attitude and lots of practice, she managed it.

Driving challengesDad, with early-stage vision loss, could still drive, but he had his battles in the temporary accommodation too. He struggled with the underground parking, tight parking spaces, and the inevitable card to lift the boom-gate. He tried for a long while, but the boom gates won that round, and he ended up parking out in the street most times.Unfamiliar device controlsThere were also controls to master on the new stove, washing machine, and telephone without large buttons. Between them, they got these sorted.Their attitude helped them move forwardTheir secret was looking forward, not backwards. I can see now that, despite their sight challenges, they pushed on and were able to cope mainly because of their attitude. They used the appliances they could master, found ways around whatever they couldn’t do, and looked forward to getting back to their new house which was being rebuilt (where they would have yet another set of unfamiliar machines to conquer).By the way, at least now we can work out what year it was that we had seafood for Christmas dinner... it was after the fire and before the flood, because no-one wanted to use the apartment oven.Ah!  -  The flood!  -  That’s another story.

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