[Nfbmo] Light at the end of the tunnel.

Fred Olver goodfolks at charter.net
Wed May 22 21:08:01 UTC 2013

>From today's St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Christopher was born 47 years ago at Barnes Hospital. His mother called him Mikey. He inherited from his mother a hereditary condition called aniridia. His eyes did not have irises. He had four older sisters, two of whom also had the condition.
His mother was a single parent. She put her son up for adoption. He was adopted the day before his second birthday. His adoptive parents were Ethel and James Lee. Mikey became Christopher. Christopher Lee.
Ethel and James were both blind. They were unable to have children themselves. They were among the first blind couples in this country allowed to adopt. Their efforts to do so were long and difficult. Eventually, a television movie was made about those efforts - "Eye on the Sparrow."
After adopting Christopher, they adopted two girls. Then they had a biological daughter, a so-called miracle baby. There were also foster kids. It must have been a loud and lively home.
Christopher attended the Missouri School for the Blind. He was a troubled child. By the age of 8, he was having hallucinations. He was hearing voices. He began cutting himself. He had thoughts of suicide. At 10, he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.
He lived in a very fuzzy world. He was legally blind, but not completely sightless. It was as if he were looking at the world through very strong wax paper. More importantly, his grip on reality was tenuous.
At 14, he became a ward of the state. His recollection is that he asked to leave his adoptive family. He lived in group homes. He continued to attend the Missouri School for the Blind.
One day at recess, a young woman approached him. A blurry, indecipherable figure. "I'm your sister," she said.
He knew of his biological sisters, but it was as if they existed in another dimension. They belonged to his imagination rather than his memory. He turned and ran back into the school.
His sister was waiting when he got out of school that afternoon. She said the family wanted to reunite with him.
He talked to his caseworker from the Division of Family Services. The caseworker was concerned. Christopher was a fragile teenager who was holding on, but barely. He could be hurt. On the other hand, his biological family could be a godsend. She authorized a visit.
His mother had moved to Mexico, Mo. An aunt and uncle picked him up and drove him to Mexico. His mother said, "Hey, Mikey." The sister from the playground was there. She was blind, too. His other blind sister had died in a car accident. His two sighted sisters were not at the reunion.
One of his sighted sisters was a nurse in Kansas City. He met her later. Her name was Julie, and she and Christopher quickly developed a bond. Perhaps that is because they fought the same demons. Julie had schizoaffective disorder, too.
Eventually, she came to live in St. Louis. Her illness got worse. Christopher tried to support her, just as she tried to support him. She urged him to quit drinking. He finally agreed to see a doctor. She said, "No matter what happens today, I will always love you." He thought she was talking about his appointment with the doctor. She wasn't. She took an overdose of pills later that day. She was 27 when she died. Christopher was 20.
He worked on an assembly line for Lighthouse for the Blind. He lived in cheap hotels. He continued to drink. He continued to cut himself.
He began to turn himself around when he found a church - the Third Baptist Church on Grand Boulevard. He began attending the Prayer Partners Sunday School class, which is geared toward people with special needs. One morning, he heard a man from the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The man talked about his sister's suicide.
Christopher visited his own sister's gravesite. "It's time," he said.
He stopped drinking. He sought help for his psychiatric problems. A social worker directed him to Life Crisis, which later merged with Provident, a social service agency. He stopped cutting himself. He volunteered at NAMI of St. Louis. He began writing poetry. He is now on the board of directors for the Self Help Center.
His accomplishments will be highlighted on a video tonight at Provident's annual dinner.
I met with him last week. He told me he will be going to Washington, D.C., at the end of the month for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's annual walk. He was wearing a T-shirt with his sister's picture, and her dates of birth and death. He was wearing a cap with the name of the walk - Out of the Darkness.

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