COMING TO MY SENSES
Waterville, Maine: Five Star, 2002. 280 pages.
by ABBIE JOHNSON TAYLOR
When you start losing your vision due to age related macular degeneration, it can be devastating. Some elderly people are reluctant to admit they have a problem and do not seek the help they need. In some cases, well-meaning relatives attempt to remove their visually impaired loved ones from their own homes and place them in assisted living facilities or nursing homes where they will be safe. Such is the case of Addie Marsh, the main character in Pam Rice's novel Coming to My Senses. When I read this book, I found it so inspiring and true to form that I would like to share my knowledge of this book and its author with others.
Pam Rice lives in Beulah, Colorado and is a rehabilitation teacher for the state division of vocational rehabilitation. She teaches adults who are visually impaired in the southeastern part of the state and has facilitated several vision support groups. A graduate of the university of Southern Colorado, she has always wanted to write. But marriage, family, and a job were in the way. Finally, in 1997, when her children were grown, she began work on Coming to My Senses, a novel inspired by her work with the visually impaired. After several years of writing and editing, the book was published in 2002 by Five Star, a subsidiary of the Thorndike publishing empire. It was recently re-released in large print. The book is available on cassette from the National Library Service.
In the book, Addie, a woman in her mid seventies, is losing her vision to macular degeneration. She lives alone in a rural mountain village in Colorado. Her son Joe and his family live in a city about thirty miles away. As the book opens, Joe is trying to convince his mother she needs to move to an assisted living facility. When he arrives at his mother’s cabin unexpectedly, he finds her fast asleep in a rocker on her porch and stew burning on the stove because the heat was on too high.
As the book progresses, Addie gradually comes to terms with her visual impairment. Her close friend and physician encourages her to join a support group where she makes new friends. When she is offered help in learning daily living and mobility skills by the group’s facilitator who is also a rehabilitation teacher, she is at first hesitant. But a fall which causes a concussion convinces her she needs this help. And not only does she have the appliances in her home marked but she also learns mobility and starts learning braille. She eventually convinces Joe she is capable of living independently in her isolated mountain cabin where she has lived for years.
There are several subplots to this story. First of all, the story of Addie’s struggle to come to terms with her visual impairment is intermingled with flashbacks from Addie’s past. Addie and her sister who were orphaned as small children were raised by a rich uncle in Denver. Addie married her first husband just before World War II and he was soon sent overseas after she became pregnant with her first son. He was killed in action soon after the birth. Addie’s second husband was an Army buddy of her first husband and Joe was born soon after she married him. She and her family eventually ended up in the little cabin in the mountains where the book begins.
As Addie adjusts to her visual impairment, she befriends a teen-aged girl who moves into the cabin next door with her so-called husband. She also becomes acquainted with a gentleman who moves into an old lumber camp across the lake from her. This gentleman is a loner at first but by the end of the book, she manages to draw him out. All of this make Coming to My Senses a delightful book to read.
Being visually impaired and having worked with senior citizens who have lost their vision, I find Coming to My Senses a realistic portrayal of visual impairment. Addie and the other participants in her support group are like several of the elderly people I have encountered in my experiences as a facilitator of such a group. I was convinced that Pam Rice is visually impaired. But a friend in Colorado who participated in one of her support groups pointed out that she’d driven him to some of their meetings. So I realized that Pam Rice is one of those rare sighted rehabilitation professionals who understands visual impairment. I would recommend her book to visually impaired senior citizens and anyone interested in learning more about visual impairment and reading an uplifting story at the same time.