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Women tells others about how it is to be blind

August 21, 2000

Women tells others about how it is to be blind



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro


MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Darlene Kriner is at her best making the best of what she doesn't have - her sight.

She remembers the day she went blind: July 29, 1992.

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"I was at Rehoboth Beach with my daughter. I woke up and all I saw was black. I was scared. I yelled. I said take me to the beach. I just wanted to sit and hear the water."

Kriner, 52, of the 5900 block of Charlestown Road, was diagnosed in 1986 with retinitis pigmentosis, a degenerative eye disease. Her sight was getting worse, especially her peripheral vision and depth perception, but she said she wasn't worried. "The doctors said I would never go completely blind," she said.

While her doctors blame her condition on the disease, Kriner said it was caused by the many summers she spent on the beach without sunglasses. "I know the sun had a lot to do with it, but I loved being at the beach where the ocean was always at my front door."

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Two aunts took over the job of raising Kriner after her parents split when she was 6. One lived in Chambersburg, Pa., the other in Long Beach Island, N.J. "I had the best of both worlds - winters in Chambersburg and summers at the beach," she said.

Kriner is divorced with two grown children and three grandchildren. She bought a lot near Mercersburg three years ago and moved a new mobile home onto it which she shares with her guide dog, an aging, friendly yellow Labrador retriever named Triscuit. The dog is 8. Kriner got her at a guide dog clinic in California six years ago. The two are glued to each other even when the dog's harness is on a hook on the wall.

"I don't know what I would do without her. Some blind people give their dogs back when they get old, but not Triscuit. It's the first thing in my will. If something happens to me, Triscuit goes to my son."

When Kriner looks back on eight years of darkness, she said she has come to realize that going blind was worse than actually being blind.

Walking into her home shows why. It also shows how well she has adjusted. There's no hint that a blind person lives in the home. A thimble collection hangs in a case on a wall. There are paintings and other decorations around the room. Some of the furniture is modern, some antique. The floors and kitchen are spotless. Sitting on the stove are mason jars of newly canned tomatoes and peaches which she canned herself. A large pot of chicken corn soup stews on a burner, its tantalizing aroma wafting over the room.

"Two weeks ago I made crab vegetable soup for 42 people. My daughter was home on vacation so I invited a lot of friends and relatives," she said. "I had to make two big pots."

She sets her oven temperature by the number of clicks on the dial. She chooses spices with her nose. She walks on bare feet in the house so she can feel where the carpet ends and the hard floors begin. It also helps her keep her equilibrium. "Blind people lose their balance a lot," she said.

Kriner believes that being blind from birth is much worse. "When someone hands me a peach I know what a peach looks like," she said. "How do you describe the color red or a snowflake to someone who has never seen one? I've got my memories. It would be worse if I was deaf. Then I could not hear music or never hear my grandchildren's laughter."

The hardest part for Kriner is getting around. She's independent yet has to depend on others to leave home. "I just can't get up and go when I want. That's the roughest part," she said.

Kriner spends about three days a week on her lecture circuit - schools, churches and area civic clubs.

She likes the schools and talking to children. "I sit on the floor and Triscuit sits beside me. I listen to them read and help them with math," she said.

She also helps in the guidance department at James Buchanan Middle School. "I listen to the girls' problems. They know I can't see them so they open up to me. I talk to them like a mom."

Her usual topics when speaking before groups are coping with depression, how blind people depend on their other senses and what it's like to go blind and get around with a guide dog.

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