One morning in August 2013, during the days leading up to the bathroom renovation, I heard an unaccustomed sound. I’d gotten going on the day ahead of Priscilla, as I often did, starting some freelance work to give her the chance to get ready at her own pace. My signal to meet her for a late breakfast was the sound of her walker as she came out of the bedroom and headed for the kitchen. But this morning, instead of small squeaky wheels, I heard the smooth gliding of larger ones. And there was Priscilla, seated in the wheelchair we’d gotten months before for “when it was needed,” propelling herself along. “I just couldn’t face dragging myself out behind the walker,” she explained. She had a serene smile on her face.
“This would be a nice morning for breakfast out on the deck,” I told her, wanting to be encouraging. “It’s not so humid today.” I pushed her in the wheelchair over to the sliding door that led out from our dining room and backed her gently over the small step down onto the deck. Following the way of thinking that was proving so helpful to us, we agreed that the wheelchair was our friend, enabling us to keep doing what we wanted to do. Because it really was a nice morning for breakfast out on the deck.
From that day on, Priscilla used the wheelchair to get from place to place if she were going more than a few feet. She could still get up to sit on a couch or in a regular chair for visiting and meals, and she still used the walker to go short distances, such as from the kitchen door to the car in the garage. But the wheelchair became our “new normal” for everything else. I slid our bedroom furniture towards the far wall to give her more room to maneuver in there. Her decorator’s sense knew that it was now off center, but she agreed not to let this keep her up at night.
We hadn’t been able to attend the Grad IV Bible study that summer because of accessibility issues (it was held in a house with steep front steps that had widely separated railings), so we’d been meeting weekly with some friends from church instead. Previously Priscilla had used her walker to get from our car into the home where we met. But this time I used a wheelchair to bring her in. She quickly transferred herself into a living room chair, but even so, as I recorded in my journal, “Everyone was sad and abashed, and stood around uncomfortably.” But Priscilla put everyone at ease by saying cheerfully, “Why don’t you all have a seat, too?”
That Sunday she wanted to use her walker to get into church, but we had to make a quick switch to the wheelchair when that proved too much. “More sad faces,” I noted in my journal. But Priscilla was undeterred. She spotted a new student attending that morning and got him to join us for lunch afterwards, along with three other students. No matter that she now had to go into the restaurant in a wheelchair. She just told the hostess that we’d like “a table for six, not a booth,” and that we wouldn’t need one of the chairs.
But something still wasn’t quite right. Eventually I recognized that I was feeling depressed. As I put it in my journal, “Priscilla moving into a wheelchair had hit me hard, and we hadn’t talked it out.” So we did talk it out, and we cried together. I realized then that I needed to walk a fine line between bravely carrying on without talking about the emotions (this allowed them to sink down into depression) or paying so much attention to the sadness that it would overshadow the time and opportunities we still had together. Yes, we needed to talk, but after that we did need to carry on bravely.
Armed with this insight, I immediately felt energetic and ambitious enough to agree that we should attend Priscilla’s uncle’s funeral that week, a few hours’ drive away in a neighboring state. She’d wanted to pay tribute to his life in person and also renew friendships with her cousins, but I hadn’t seen how it would be possible to go to the church service, the cemetery, and the reception if she were wheelchair bound. The answer was that we just needed to go do it. So we did it, with lots of assistance and support from her extended family.
Shortly after we returned, an international graduate student asked Priscilla’s advice about buying a used car. This was something we’d helped several other students with over the years. She went online and found a car for sale that she knew would be dependable. “I know it’s beyond your budget,” she told the student, “but this is the kind of car you should be looking for.” He very enterprisingly called the dealer and said what his budget was, and the dealer agreed to bring the price down significantly so that it was within that budget. The next Saturday we took him out to the dealership, went for a test drive, finalized the paperwork, and arranged the financing.
Priscilla transferred between the cars, and went in and out of the dealership and bank, in her wheelchair. It came along for the test drive in the trunk.