Thursday, February 15, 2007

In Loving Memory

I first wrote about my Aunt S. in August 2005 on my old blog. She was born deaf and blind and lived most of her life at Woodlands, a famous (and infamous) institution in the Vancouver, BC suburbs. For some reason it was important to me to find her, even though I'd never met her. The family had lost track of her since my grandmother died. When my Dad and his brother did finally locate her in October 2005, they were making arrangements to meet with her when we got the terrible news of her unexpected death in December of that year.

Since then I've been meaning to read some of Helen Keller's writings to get a first person account of what life is like for someone who is both deaf and blind. I just finished reading The Story of My Life, published over 100 years ago in 1903. It really is a remarkable story and is surprisingly modern in its style and form. I knew the basic story and I saw The Miracle Worker years ago, but I had forgotten many of the interesting facts. I feel like such a slacker after reading that she was able to learn how to read and then later speak not only English, but also French, German and some Latin and graduated magna cum laude from Radcliffe. She was also a life-long dog lover and had many dogs in her life including pit bulls and mastiffs, and is credited with introducing the Akita to America after a puppy was given to her by the Japanese government on one of her several visits there.

This is part of the text on Helen Keller from a site called "Americans Who Tell the Truth"...I haven't looked through it to see what their point of view is, but I found this quote to be especially applicable today: [She is] primarily...remembered for her advocacy for the disabled, but as a member of the Socialist Party, she also strongly supported such groups as the ACLU, IWW, and NAACP, and campaigned for birth control, civil rights, women’s suffrage, and world peace. "We, the people, are not free,” she once said. “Our democracy is but a name. We vote? What does that mean? It means we choose between Tweedledee and Tweedledum. We elect expensive masters to do our work for us, and then blame them because they work for themselves and for their class." There are some who called her a Communist and all sorts of other things I won't repeat here, you can form your own opinion, and my interest was not in her religious or political leanings.

Getting back to my Aunt, if you will forgive me the indulgence I want to share excerpts from the eulogy at her memorial service, given by a supervisor at one of the group homes she lived in:

"She may have been deaf and blind, but she had a strong personality and fought for her independence all her life. When she was at Woodlands she made 30 roommates' beds every day and participated in Day School 5 days a week. She usually walked with a cane from her ward to school by herself. After she moved into the community she continued to help with housework and enjoyed swimming, music, cooking and walking in the neighborhood park, even getting on buses for the first few years until her arthritis forced her into a wheelchair. She was a diligent perfectionist. She liked to dress neatly in her own way. She liked to fix her sleeves with no wrinkles and made beds to the standard of a 5-star hotel. If her work was disturbed by others she would re-do it. She enjoyed jokes and sensed other people's humor accurately many times. She would burst into laughter when others laughed. She was an ordinary woman. She liked to be pretty, to have her nails done or facials just like many other women. She will be missed."

Rest in peace. I will never forget.


  1. Very touching. You've got a good soul to see the beauty in this.

  2. This is such a beautiful tribute. And it truly sounds like she was a happy and beautiful person. She made her way quite nicely.

  3. Despite growing up in an institution, your Aunt sounds like a very independant person who was well loved by all who knew her.
    I wish you would have been able to meet her...

  4. What a beautiful memory. Thank you so much for sharing.


  5. A lovely tribute to a wonderful woman! Thanks for sharing her story and for reminding me of Helen Keller's many accomplishments. (And thank you so much for your kind comments on my Never satisfied post).