Loss Of Sight Leads To New Blessings
April 8, 2011
- Losing her eyesight at age 32 taught Joan a lot about the life-sustaining value of friends, family and a deep faith.
- And when life brings troubles, she urged her audience to seek the strength of friends, family and God.
- She fell in love with her mission at the school.
- Despite her loss of sight, Brock went on, continuing to teach at the school for the blind.
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--Losing her eyesight at age 32 taught Joan Brock a lot about the life-sustaining value of friends, family and a deep faith.
"Because," she said, "we simply don't do life alone."
Brock, who was the featured speaker at the Team Redstone recognition of March as Women's History Month in Bob Jones Auditorium on March 30, shared her story of loss and rediscovery in both humorous and touching comments that traced her journey from sight to blindness and then back to a new level of sight.
Brock told her audience that the most important things in life - courage, faith, hope and love - can't be seen. But they can be felt, and they can lead people to do amazing things in their own lives and in the lives of others.
And when life brings troubles, she urged her audience to seek the strength of friends, family and God.
"Turn to your faith, not away from it. We simply don't do life alone. The lame will walk. The deaf will hear. And the eyes of the blind will be open," she said, paraphrasing well-known scripture.
Brock shares her inspirational story with audiences around the world, and has written a book - "More Than Meets the Eye: The Joan Brock Story" - that has also aired in 2003 as a Lifetime original movie of the same name. She has been named one of the 35 inspirational women in America in a coffee table book titled "Believing in Ourselves."
Married and living in Iowa, Brock was working at a school for the blind when life brought her an unexpected and heartbreaking set of challenges.
"I had never seen a blind child. I had never worked with a blind child," she said. "And I was teaching 10 boys ages 7 to 11 who were blind. I had to teach them how to go down stairs safely, how to tie their shoes, how to put toothpaste on a toothbrush.
"Those little boys quickly taught me how to teach them."
She fell in love with her mission at the school, becoming a certified Braille instructor, working as a dormitory liaison and serving as the school's community spokesperson.
Then, one day, five years later, she couldn't see the pink socks among the green, blue and white socks in her 3-year-old daughter's sock drawer. At work, the fluorescent lighting made it difficult to see and gave her a headache.
Brock went to her doctor and several tests later she was told she was suffering from the beginnings of macular degeneration, which usually affects older adults and results in the loss of vision in the center of the visual field. Macular degeneration can make it difficult or impossible to read or recognize faces and results in being legally blind, although enough peripheral vision can remain to allow other activities of daily life.
At age 32, this young wife and mother was facing a prognosis that left her blind in three weeks.
"My doctor said to me 'The deterioration we're seeing, Joan, is irreversible.' My world stopped because I knew I would never see my daughter's face again," Brock recalled.
Despite her loss of sight, Brock went on, continuing to teach at the school for the blind.
"How could I make the choice not to go forward when I had been teaching these boys to go forward with their blindness' With a little denial, I took the tools I'd been teaching the last five years and integrated them into my life," she said. "We use the history in our lives to go forward positively and productively."
So, Brock kept working, coping and moving on despite challenges. Her organizational skills helped her to handle daily tasks. "When I got disorganized the obstacles came glaring through," she said.
Four years later, life sent her another challenge when her husband was diagnosed with cancer of the sinuses.
"Seven months after surgery at the age of 36, my husband Joe died," Brock said. "So, there I was. More changes. More challenges. More coping."
Brock and her daughter, then 8, moved back to Brock's home state of California, where they could be close to family. With a small life insurance settlement, Brock and her daughter made a new home for themselves.
"Somehow, I had to show my daughter a positive, productive life," she said. "I was a blind, disabled, single-parent widow ... But I put a roof over my daughter's head and I started over."
Brock began writing a journal, which eventually became the basis for her book. She remarried and moved to Arizona. Her daughter has grown up to lead her own positive, productive life. And along the way, Brock became a motivational and inspirational speaker.
"I am very happy because I choose to be. I believe it is a choice," she said.
"There have been difficulties. There have been little things that can drive you crazy, like not being able to drive to the store to buy a card for your husband. In the midst of all the difficult issues, you need to find what helps you balance your life. There are difficult, sad, frustrating days. But you have to have something that helps balance your life."
Things like the music that songbirds bring to her in the backyard of her Arizona home and the memories from her sighted years help balance Brock's life.
"Continue to create those memories with your family, your colleagues. No one can take your memories from you," she said.
An appreciation of the body's senses, gratitude for the blessings in life and a sense of humor all help with balance, as will the love, comfort and encouragement of friends, family and God.
"People don't know what you are going through," Brock said. "I knew nothing about those 10 little boys who began teaching me what I needed to teach them. On the most difficult days, think about one thing that will lift the edges of your mouth up, not down."