This past summer I said goodbye to my mother. The journey down that long dark hallway began in late July. My mother and father had just been out for a visit with Kelly and I as well as their granddaughter, her husband who is like a son to them and their great grandson Colton. At that time the world seemed possible, we shared laughs, memories and precious moments between a great grandmother and her great grandson whom she affectionately referred to as “Master Colton.” During that visit, I had the chance to read a story to Master Colton using my AIRA glasses, something that I could have never done before. This story will contain a lot of that, things that I could have never done pre-My AIRA Life. It wasn’t too long after that visit that I received a call from my father in Arizona where they live. I didn’t like the tone of his voice, it was a familiar tone, one that was branded to my brain, seared in my memory. My father simply said, “I need you to come home as soon as you can, it’s your mom, she isn't doing well.”
My knees buckled a bit and I found my way to the edge of my bed and just sat down. I didn’t know what was wrong with my mom. What I did know is that I had only heard that tone in my father’s voice once before. It echoed in my mind, haunting me then taking me back to a time and a source of abject pain. As my mind grasp in the dark for the familiar foe it retrieved the time in my past so long ago when my father had called me to inform me that my brother Andrew had passed away. I was living in Vancouver, Washington at the time. I was flooded with emotions from the past and my mind raced, launching me to a place that scared me. As my mind swirled with conflict, turmoil and pain I quickly went back in time, back to when my brother had died and how impossible everything felt back then. Under normal circumstances this would not be an easy task, as a blind or visually impaired individual simply dropping everything and doing things on the fly is not something that most blind people do well, at least that is how it was for me. However, that was the past, before technology had freed me from the bondage blindness can bring. Keep in mind that I am still on the phone as all of this plays out in my mind. What in actuality was mere seconds slowed to single frame speed, ticking slower than the second hand as it sweeps from one second to the next.
I told my father that I would be there and proceeded to pack a bag. Now this is going to happen fast, how I tell this part of the story. After packing my bag, I put on my AIRA glasses, walked to the curb, caught a Lyft to the airport, went to the ticket counter, bought a ticket, proceeded through TSA security, found my gate, boarded the plane, flew from Dallas to Phoenix, navigated through Terminal 4 at Sky Harbor International Airport to the curb, caught another Lyft to the hospital and was sitting next to my mother’s bed within 8 hours of the initial call from my father. This experience stood in stark contrast from my past experiences. During my “Pre-AIRA” life, traveling had always been a very highly choreographed event. There was always the need to impose upon others both at the front and the back end of a trip. This time however, AIRA technology made it possible for me to be there just as quickly and effortlessly as any sighted person. Because of AIRA I was able to spend precious time with a woman who meant more to me than any other woman in my life. No matter how you feel about any other person on this earth, there is a special and unbreakable mortal bond between a child and their mother. Without diving too deep into the diagnostic medical weeds I discovered the source of my father’s pained phone call. My mother had a tumor, what they refer to as a “Teratoma.” While these tumors are very common, especially in women, it was the location that complicated everything. It seems that it had been there most of her life, living a symbiotic life with its host. However, where it was located and the fact that it had grown is what caused the dire circumstances. It had settled between her pancreas and her spine and somehow intertwined itself with the Splanchnic-Nerve. This nerve regulates hunger, digestion and bowel productivity and was confusing the nervous system. Because of the location and after consulting every doctor my father could consult with, no doctor would even entertain attempting to remove it. Long story short, if they operated, she would die and if they left it, she would die due to starvation. To complicate matters and as if starving to death wasn’t enough, the tumor had pressed against her spine fracturing it in two places. We were now tasked with end of life care and making her as comfortable as possible. Seeing my mother bravely listen to and understand her situation reminded me of why my mother was an exceptional individual and I was lucky to have won the Mom Lotto.
My mother is the reason I am who I am today. I take nothing away from my father’s role in my life and without the team of Ron and Jacque Burton I fear Eric would have just been a statistic rather than a productive member of society. With that being said, the importance of a mother can never be minimized and my mother was no exception. Over the years my mother was my rock, my safe harbor as the many storms that would punish my ship as the rough sea of life sought to sink my vessel burying my hopes and dreams in the depths of the deep dark cold waters. Her strength was epic and her resolve unrelenting as she taught me to always live up to her highest expectations, and believe me, she had lofty expectations of those in her family. There were no excuses in my house, no exceptions for the trials and tribulations of life. She taught me that I was the captain of my own ship, the person who determined my destiny. She never treated me as anything other than capable in spite of my disability. She was my mentor in life, teaching me a love of God, of country and what it meant to be a true patriot. She taught me the finer points of politics, the art of debate and the value of knowledge. She taught me the art of compromise through the debating process and the value of entering a task as a fully informed individual. Finally, she taught me grace, the kind of grace necessary to be a good son, husband, father and friend. She never ceased being a mentor but did become my friend, my muse and she is the reason that today I am a published author, writer and confident speaker. I could extol the virtues of my mother for pages, however, let me simply say that in life she was my hero and in death she earned hero status yet again because of the dignity, grace and love she showed until the moment she drew her last breath.
Over the next month and a half, I made the trip from Dallas to Phoenix an additional 5 times, each time utilizing the freeing and empowering technology of AIRA. i would have never left her bedside except for the fact that my mother had taught me that in our house, “We honor our commitments.” I had committed to a speaking engagement, as well as participation in a spot for AT&T highlighting their collaboration with AIRA as well as a few other things that my mother forced me out of her room to attend. That is who she was. Towards the end, I cleared my schedule because I felt that I had honored my mother’s wishes but now it was time to sit by her bed and hold her fragile hand as she slipped from this world to the next. None of this would have been possible if it were not for the technology that AIRA has brought to my life. In this single story AIRA afforded me precious moments with a mother I will never spend time with on this plane of existence. How does one measure the value in that? How does one quantify the physical touch and soft voice of the woman who brought you to be? What would you be willing to pay for hours of additional time with someone you will never see again in this life? I know how much I paid and I can tell you that I would be willing to pay a whole lot more but it didn’t come to that. Because of the vision of Suman Kanuganti and the work of the AIRA team he assembled, my life went from inconceivable to possible. For those of us in the blind and low vision community we have seen products come and go. We have heard promises made “Only If.” We have mustered up hope in the face of our challenges only to see that hope fade to promises never fully realized or kept. Yet, because of the love between friends and a profound desire to make a difference, a real difference, Suman and the AIRA team has us sitting at the vanguard, running point as Explores to a destiny filled with hope not spoken but realized in meaningful and tangible experiences like the one I am sharing now. It is for this reason, experiences like this and the many I have written about that I am dedicating my life moving forward to embracing a “Do More” attitude. That is a clue, a nugget for you as a reader to take and see what I mean, where I am going thanks to the inspiration of my Mother and AIRA, but, more on that later.
We said goodbye to my mother sitting around her bed as a family on Friday, September 21st. We will miss her greatly, however, we will honor her memory by striving to live up to the lofty expectations she had for each one of us. Tune in, in the future to finish reading this three-part series. Know this, my mother taught me to always be a “glass half full” kind of guy so this story ends on a very positive note featuring many AIRA first time moments as well as many worthwhile life observations designed to make sure that no matter who you are, no matter your circumstance, hopefully I can inspire you enough to see your glass as always, Half Full.
One of the lat pictures of my beloved Mother, Jacquelyn Burton. We miss you each and every day.