Don’t Take For Granted What You Have
by Lorna Foreman
The world is nuts and what better time to have heroes, because we all need them. For many of us they range from sports figures to rock stars and all the way to what I would consider real heroes: people like Nelson Mandela or Mother Teresa.
Growing up I had absolutely no idea of the concept of heroes except what I read in fairy tales and children’s stories. While I loved my parents, I was absolutely in awe of my uncle Jack. He was my mother’s brother and served in Italy during WWII. We were Montrealers. So, when he returned home, injured, he spent many months recuperating at the Ste. Mary’s Veteran’s Hospital in Montreal. I was only six at the time and would accompany my mother when she went to visit. It was quite a revelation to see so many men with a variety of injuries trying to find their way back into society.
Even at that young age, I became aware of the fact that my uncle, even though he had lost his right arm and right leg, would go around the various wards cheering up other soldiers who were worse off than he was and if I am not mistaken, he even produced some paintings. Eventually he came to stay with us and that was where my adoration took root.
It is not often we get to live with someone who is dealing with a disability. My uncle had to adjust to the loss of two limbs — and they were on his predominant side. We had not heard about Post Traumatic Stress in the 40s — they were wounded veterans who had to rebuild their lives. I would watch as he dealt with learning to adjust to doing everything differently. Just think, this was long before Velcro and he learned to undo and do up buttons, not only with his left hand but with only one hand. Small activity but difficult — go try it. He had not yet been fitted with prosthetics as it was necessary for him to completely heal before he could be fitted and that would entail a whole new series of adjustments.
He had to learn to do everything with his left hand and only accepted help when he really needed it. But what I really remember was his spirit, his sense of humour and his joie de vivre even with an uncertain future.
As you can imagine, it seemed to be synchronicity when I recently picked up a book by Lisa Genova, entitled Left Neglected. In this book, “left neglect” is described as an actual syndrome: a car accident resulting in brain damage.The author was brilliant at describing the frustrations arising from having to re-learn what was once taken for granted – the many baby steps required to relearn everything.
I did not understand those frustrations when Uncle Jack lived with us. My memory is of how he used to amuse my friends by doing a balancing trick with his crutch — something none of us could ever duplicate.
He was my hero and so I emulated him. He had to learn to eat with his left hand? So did I. As a result I am quite ambidextrous. Even now I can hit a baseball from either side of the plate, and I can catch and throw with either my left or right arms and do it quite well, thank you. I find it now comes naturally and no matter what I am doing I can switch hands to do it … except the writing.
I admired his spirit and I hope this is the one valuable lesson I retain from my uncle. He used humour, which I also do because I feel if you can laugh when things go sour, it helps. No whining allowed.
I have always wondered what the element is that makes one person react to a problem by giving up and another rising to the challenge. I knew two young sisters who came from the same dysfunctional family, yet one gave up and suffered from depression and also repeated her own upbringing when she got married. The other sister studied hard and got herself a scholarship that took her away from the toxic environment.
My Uncle Jack is my hero. Whenever I have a challenge in my life I think of him and besides having the same sense of humour, I invoke his spirit.
Just to continue Jack’s story. He married his nurse and they had one child — a daughter. He died in his 70s but he spent many years back at the job he had before the war with Northern Electric. A very full life and he never lost his marvellous spirit and humour.
I can only hope I carry that ability to any challenge I’ve yet to meet. n
Lorna Foreman is a self-described 50-plus writer, author and artist who lives in Cornwall.