You are here:

Mom Was My Special Friend

Editor's Note: Penny Leclair was elected 1st Vice President of the NFB:AE at our 2004 annual general meeting in Saskatoon. She is married and lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

Mom gave birth to twins three months premature. I was not expected to live, as my brother weighed more than I did. After two days, however, Kenny died.

Mom had been urged to name her twins soon, as they predicted that both children would die. She named me Penny, and the boy was named after my father, Ken. Mom wanted the names to rhyme--Kenny and Penny. Mary was my second name, after a nun. Since I wasn't expected to live, it seemed like the right thing to do.

Mom's little daughter lived. I was two pounds, twelve ounces at birth. In 1951, this was considered a very small baby.

At six months I was diagnosed as being blind--almost totally blind. It was a difficult time for mom--she didn't have a support group, she knew nothing of blindness.

I beat the odds--that counted for a lot! My nature was to be included in all that my sister did, and later with the addition of two brothers, I continued to insist on doing what they did. I depended on mom more than the other family members, but I also had a streak of stubbornness to not be different from all other neighbourhood children.

Mom was protective of me, yet I would not be held back from doing what others did. Over the years I grew to be an outgoing lady. Mom was always there to provide me with feedback, all the visual things others received by looking in a mirror. She was my mirror, telling me what looked good, when clothing was stained and what the styles were. She was my contact for knowing if I fit into the seasons, that I looked my best--something all women want to know.

After I got married and had a baby, mom was a big part of my life. She started giving me feedback about my son too--when his pants were too short, when his clothing was stained. She continued to be that mirror.

We had a close relationship. I had independence, yet felt supported by her closeness in my life.

Mom had a hearing disability. She started to have difficulty understanding speech, even with hearing aids. She couldn't use the phone, and began to withdraw from the community. I tried to encourage mom to learn sign language, but she was of a generation where sign language was not understood, and people who are deaf often were considered dumb as well, dumb in that they couldn't speak. For those who heard that word dumb, it was more of a mental disability. So mom was not willing to learn sign language.

I became her interpreter. Although I had no sight, I helped her with important tasks. Going to doctors. The hairdresser. Everything. I tried to lesson the isolation her disability was causing.

We had a mutually supportive relationship then because we both were dependent on one another. I enjoyed being with mom. It wasn't the usual mother-daughter relationship. It was more of a friendship. I never felt that I was doing a duty. I was helping in a way that I knew was important, and I enjoyed her help too--that reliable mirror of mine.

As the years passed, she became sick and depended on me more and more. My friend was slipping away into the fall of her life.

I inherited her hearing disability. She saw I was struggling to hear others, and I often misunderstood people. It was mom who helped me through the denial stage, and it was mom who demanded to know why I didn't use a hearing aid.

How could I continue in denial when mom was giving me feedback? From the love of this friend, I learned to cope with the disability of deafness.

I don't think anyone had understood my initial inability to accept deafness as being my reality, but mom knew the extent to which my hearing assisted me. Without sight I depended on hearing for so many things. She understood my denial, and she wasn't angry. She presented my reality to me with all the respect of a true friend.

I lost parts of our friendship as mom declined. We couldn't go out together, stopped shopping for clothing, and there were no more visits to my home to help spray stains. When I came dressed in something she had helped me buy, we talked of that particular outing. This always sparked memories. Our visits had a quality to them because we shared more than most mothers and daughters share.

Then mom declined more, and she no longer recognize me. I felt lost. She had become very thin, and even hugging her seemed different. When mom died, the loss wasn't as great because I lost my friend gradually.

My mother remained someone I knew as a special friend. Our disabilities brought a special need to our relationship. I knew mom's abilities, and she knew mine. What we could do for one another was more important than our disabilities. We put our trust and love into this special bond.