In Touch: Blindness and bereavement

Coffin bearers carrying a coffin Image copyright Thinkstock

The loss of a loved one is tough, but blindness presents particular challenges when coping with a death in the family. Dave Williams, who works for a software company in Worcester, is blind and shares his recent experiences of bereavement on this week's In Touch.

I was on holiday in the Mediterranean when I got the call - my mum had been taken critically ill and I had to return home as soon as possible.

In the UK, blind people intending to travel by train or plane are often encouraged to book assistance well in advance. But what if your journey is unexpected, as mine was?

Luckily the staff at Lisbon airport were helpful when I turned up clutching my passport and white cane. A few hours later, I arrived at intensive care.

When you can't see things like skin complexion, the flicker of eyelids, or facial expressions, your imagination attempts to fill in the blanks. To get a sense of Mum's condition, I became fixated on the mysterious sounds of life-support equipment and the medical jargon I heard.

After hours at Mum's bedside, the prospect of standing up was nerve-wracking. I feared becoming entangled in the profusion of tubes and wires leading to and from the hospital bed.

I was aware that family and friends were waiting for news. Getting outside the hospital building in search of a decent mobile phone signal is easier said than done, especially when faced with the mobility challenges of secure entrances, cavernous foyers and a maze of corridors.

Thankfully I was not alone. My sister, who is also blind, was a great comfort. Together we adapted to our surroundings, located the canteen, and other facilities. A problem shared and all that.

The doctors and nurses on the front line were very supportive and willing to answer our questions up until our mum's eventual passing, and beyond.

The hospital gave us a bundle of leaflets detailing how to register a death and where to find emotional support.

Image caption Dave was on holiday in the Med when he received the news his mother was ill

With the bottom just fallen out of our world, it didn't occur to either of us to ask about Braille or large print alternative versions of Care After Death or The Bereavement Guide. Surely this information has been made accessible somewhere?

The funeral directors helped with form filling and advised on flowers and how Mum should be presented in the chapel of rest but, inevitably, we were forced to take some of the visual decisions on trust. We felt more confident choosing music though, and writing a eulogy which I read in Braille.

I felt a slight sense of relief that Mum had chosen a cremation rather than a burial. I didn't fancy teetering on the edge of a freshly dug grave as the coffin was lowered in to the ground.

Putting our mum's affairs in order would have been complicated had she not made a plan. Making arrangements would have been harder without our energetic relatives who drove us everywhere, and supported us in so many other ways.

Sighted people are able to look at old photos and letters to help the grieving process. My photography skills leave a bit to be desired, and Mum could see so didn't write to me in Braille.

I have ended up with: some old crockery, a couple of sound recordings and lots of memories. It doesn't feel enough. Can my sighted friends and colleagues tell from my face when I am thinking of Mum, I wonder?

I doubt I will ever fully understand the relationship between blindness and bereavement. But I have come to appreciate that a little planning and preparation goes a long way, even more so when the people left behind can't see.

Make a will. Write a funeral plan. Make sure these documents are accessible to the people who need them. It makes life so much easier.

And to our Mum. For being stoic and thoughtful throughout your life, thank you.

Dave's story was broadcast on In Touch, the long-running programme for blind and partially sighted people which airs every Tuesday at 20:40 BST on Radio 4. You can listen to past editions on their website or receive a podcast of the programme each week on your smart phone or portable device.

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