FALL RIVER — Nationwide, by the year 2025, the number of cases of macular degeneration alone, setting aside glaucoma, retinitis, and all the other causes of losing vision, will exceed the numbers of all causes of cancer combined.
At Catholic Social Services, we are standing on a beach watching as that tsunami approaches. The need for help grows, as many incurable eye diseases are conditions of old age and people are living much longer. Yet the law in Massachusetts only allows state programs to serve the “legally” blind. LEGALLY blind is 20/200 vision in the better eye after correction and treatment. With vision of 20/187 you may be FUNCTIONALLY blind but shy of qualifying for any state services. Our Guild will serve the newly-blind, those with significant vision impairment, and those learning to cope with vision loss while they still have the maximum amount of usable vision.
The trials of sight loss are constant and unavoidable. Simple tasks become major chores. Adaptive aids help people continue daily routines, problems can be helped by technological advances, but only one knows what they are and how to obtain them. Worst is the devastating loss and loneliness and darkness as blindness sets in. When sight is lost, people may withdraw into the safety of home, especially in this time of COVID-19. People naturally participate in their community, but listening to our Sacred Catholic Mass is not the same as seeing it.
At a time when faith is needed most, it has the least to sustain it. Reading a verse becomes a task. Meditation and prayer is less comforting when your daily life is to be alone in the dark. Many have heard of the stages of grief: Denial that it is happening; Anger that it is happening to you; Bargaining with fate; Depression when the darkness deepens; and finally Acceptance and learning to live as a blind person with God’s help. But with losing vision, not only must you pass through these stages, you may have to live through them multiple times as another bleed in the eye or loss of function triggers the need to relearn all the hard tasks and lessons once again, perhaps not for the last time. Without faith, the collapse of sight can turn into the collapse of the soul.
A Catholic Guild would not HELP people, but ENABLE them — to learn, to cope, to accept, and to survive. A Guild could support, inform, refer, educate, and improve the quality of life for visually impaired individuals. To do so we must ask for guidance from our fellow Catholics on this journey, whether at a beginning step or nearing the end. We offer our hand to those who need our help and wish they didn’t. The most frustrating thing for the blind is to have somebody grab their arm and steer them. It is well-meaning, and emotionally devastating. We don’t want to grab your arm, we want to be led by you.
Please, fill out the survey on the Catholic Social Services website, at www.cssdioc.org, and tell us what is most important to you.