My friend Pete passed away in 2014. As I couldn’t attend his funeral. I paid this tribute to him. Pete’s funeral was held on 4th July. Although the date does not have the same significance in England where the funeral was held. There is a link between Pete’s life and the concept of independence.
For most of the time we were friends, Peter was legally blind. As far as I understand could not see at all. He had previously had a little vision, which he eventually lost. He also had a severe hearing impairment along with a number of other chronic health conditions. Pete was much more than a man with a disability. He was a person who had many skills and abilities and was able to teach the rest of us something about life. Pete was often forced to rely on people for help to get things done, but always worked to be as independent as possible. When I met him he was playing bass guitar and piano for a number of churches and community groups.
When people first got to know Pete, sometimes having watched too many romanticized movies, they would offer their opinions and advice. Often firstly noting, “Well you will have other senses that are heightened right?” Well no. Pete did not benefit from advanced hearing or any super powers due to being blind. Once this was clarified the next bit of advice was “Why don’t you get a guide dog?”. Ok guilty. I think I suggested this once. Pete would then patiently explain. Not everyone was eligible for a guide dog. They did not magically appear trained and ready to go. More importantly, not everyone wants a dog or the added responsibility that comes with caring for an animal.
One of the fun things Pete and I did was to go shopping and have lunch. I regularly forgot that I was also supposed to be a helpful pair of eyes when we were out and about. More than once Pete narrowly avoided flipping backwards. As he clung to me for dear life he would ask, “Escalator?” I was supposed to let him know in advance, but we were often involved in some debate and I would forget.
Pete once told me that as a blind person, if he wasn’t prepared to walk into something with his face occasionally, then it probably meant he would never go out. That is a great lesson for us all. Anything worth doing has some form of risk. We can stay home and safe, thus avoiding the potential for bruises or we can get out there and enjoy what life has to offer.
Another time I failed miserably as Pete’s guide was when eating at one of our favorite Indian restaurants. He held up the stalk of a large raw chili and asked, “What did I just eat”? Those were the last words he spoke for a while as we frantically summoned the waiter for more water. I make no apology for my mishaps. I was not Pete’s guide, I was his friend.
Pete’s life became fuller and happier when he met his lovely wife Sally. Our shopping trips then became even more fun as we shopped for Christmas and birthday presents for Sally. I convinced him to buy her gorgeous gifts that I secretly wanted myself, encouraging him to surprise her with things that weren’t on her list. As far as I know she didn’t complain!
Peter had a very technical brain, he wanted to know how everything worked and drove me nuts asking me to explain and describe things in detail. This often meant probing and poking things to get a picture in his mind. This resulted in him getting his fingers stuck in a coffee grinder on one occasion!
Pete told me that he had always wanted to know what it felt like to drive a car. This got my mind working overtime. I was part of a team planning a surprise party for Pete’s 40th birthday. As part of his gift I arranged for Pete to have a driving lesson from my own very patient driving instructor. Pete later told me that not only did he drive the car around a parking lot, he also drove on the road, a quiet one I’m assured! Once more proving that nothing is impossible with a little creativity.
The first time I saw Pete use a computer I watched as the computer began audibly and endlessly reading the contents of the screen. I realized I would never have the patience that Peter had. I had to remind myself when he didn’t reply to emails immediately, that it was a much bigger effort for him than for me. Watching Pete make me a coffee for the first time was also a revelation. He had a little gadget that buzzed when the liquid level reached the top of the cup. The next time you pour yourself a drink, think about that. Something so routine had added complications and the potential to be problematic. Pete did not stop drinking coffee, he found another way.
Pete had many talents including reading and writing braille. I discovered that one of my friends also could braille and she helped me to “write’ a card for his birthday. He didn’t spare my feelings telling me that of the few carefully embossed words on the card, one was spelled wrongly, his name. He could type proficiently, play violin, tune pianos, ride a tandem, yes the back seat before you ask.
We had many fun occasions playing together in a gospel group and visited a range of Churches and other organizations. Pete also greatly enjoyed being part of a national talent contest ‘England Entertains’ where we got to perform on a big stage and placed third in the local heat. Pete had a wonderful sense of humor and when I think of him I will think of him laughing. I will always be grateful for his friendship and for helping me to see the world differently.
Rest in peace dear friend I will miss you.
Featured image is Pete at my wedding.