Saturday, July 28, 2012

Struggling in America - Victoria P.

This is the first story in this series.  I am still collecting your stories on an ongoing basis.  My desire is to show many perspectives of real life in America where real people are or have struggled.  Please send them to

Victoria's story is a perfect one to kick this off.  She writes about her parents' struggles in raising her and her sister due to their severe disabilities.  Victoria is now a successful person and is a true testament to what America can do when we pull together.

Now...her story:


My experiences involve disability and illness. My mother was a polio survivor, stricken at age three, and paralyzed from the waist down. She was able to walk with braces and crutches. She also suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. My father was in a work-related accident before they met, and suffered traumatic brain injury. They actually met in a government sponsored rehabilitation training class at a local Y in 1952. The company that employed my father at the time of his injury was at fault, and in today’s environment, there would have been a massive lawsuit. However, my father’s parents never considered that, I don’t really know why. The company took my father back when he was able to work, and kept him on as long as they could, possibly out of worry about such a suit.

My father was able to recover enough to continue working, and my parents married about 3 years after meeting. My mother’s disabilities and health meant our family sometimes needed help, however. This mostly came through government programs. My father’s family was pretty well-off, but had been dead set against the marriage for some reason, and had actually tried to “buy my mother off” by offering her money to call off the wedding. They pretty much disowned my father after he defied them and they wrote us off. My mother’s parents helped as much as they could, but they were elderly and not well off.

I was born a couple of years after they married. From the time I could toddle, I was the most “able bodied” person in the house, and my relatives tell stories of seeing me acting as my mother’s legs as early as two. My sister was born when I was about seven, and I know I did a lot of the child-care. The pregnancy was very hard on my mother, and she was restricted to bed for the last months. She never walked again, but was confined to a wheelchair. By the time I was ten, I was mostly running the house, in terms of cooking, cleaning and such, while attending school. I never resented this. I understood the need early on, and I always felt that having these responsibilities helped me to grow up both confident in my abilities to handle what life throws at me, and compassionate towards those around me. I think that’s a pretty good combination, and not as common as I would like.

When my sister was two, a calcified aneurysm in my father’s brain shifted, causing further damage. He suffered a massive seizure, and almost died. He had to be medically retired. He received Social Security disability, State Worker’s Compensation, (since his disability was caused in a work-related accident) and a small company pension. My mother was able to earn some money as a custom seamstress, and later taught sewing for a retail outlet, but her earnings were always meager. Her own disability wouldn’t permit much of a work schedule. I was nine at the time, not exactly able to shoulder the burden of supporting my parents, no matter how responsible I might have been.

Again, my father’s family was of no help. I don’t know why. My mother’s family helped as much as they could. My parents were active in a main-line Christian church, and they did the usual “casserole” sort of assistance, which was appreciated, but they couldn’t do much more. No one person or small group can. The burden of supporting a family is too great. Without governmental “entitlements” our lives would have been hell. The family would have been broken up, my sister and I would have gone into foster care, and my parents would have most likely died.

I took care of my parents to the best of my ability, and helped raise my sister. We both went to college with the help of Pell Grants and scholarships, and are both professionals today. She’s a teacher, and I’m a graphic designer. We’re both married. She has two sons whereas my husband and have decided not to have children.  My parents have both passed away, my mother at 49, due in part to a collapsing spine as the result of the polio damage, and my father at 62, due to damage caused by another shift in the aneurysm that disabled him. However, they lived fairly dignified, happy lives under the limitations they faced. I consider our family to be a success story, one that might not have happened in the world as the current incarnation of the Republican Party would have it be.

Private charity couldn’t have done this. No private group can take care of a family, raising children from nine and two, providing shelter, medical needs, and care for two frail adults until they die. The burden is too great, the need lasts too long. Also, the dignity I spoke of is a factor. People seem to want to see those who are suffering beg, and to be able to sit in judgment of them. Frankly, that’s creepy. You can never know the pain of another person, and we often judge others by standards we ourselves couldn’t meet. Saying, “Those other slobs are lazy, and shouldn’t get help, but I’m truly deserving,” is all too common.

As to those who say my sister and I shouldn’t have been born to disabled parents, remember, my father was able to work for the first seven years of my life. There was no way of knowing that this old injury could rear up and bite him years after it occurred. The future is always in motion, and no one is truly secure. We are all one accident or illness from helplessness. Also, if my sister and I hadn’t been born, my parents would still have been there. They still would have needed care. In the end, because my sister and I grew up and were able to care for our parents in their later years, society was most likely saved a great deal of money.

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