My First Christmas With a Disability

Gifts under a treeYou know my story: the spots first showed up when I was 25. I began to notice dark patches in my vision and a lot of blurriness. “You have retinopathy,” the eye specialist told me. Laser treatments and eye surgeries didn’t help. A year later, I was blind.

After three months at a residential facility where newly blind adults learn daily living skills, I was able to go home for the holidays. Christmas of 1985 marked my blind debut to the entire Finke family.

Before then, holiday conversations had focused on everyone’s latest adventures. But this year, I was sure things would be different.

Our family is large — I am the youngest, with four older sisters and two older brothers — and our tradition is to give a handmade gift to the person whose name we draw out of a hat. I wasn’t let off the hook that year, despite my hospitalizations and ongoing rehab. When it was my turn to give my Christmas present, I proudly held out the gift I’d made and wrapped myself: a wooden box designed and assembled in my home maintenance class at the residential facility. I was proud of that box, and eager to talk about how I’d made it myself.

One of my brothers-in-law asked, “Someone else cut the wood for you, right?” I indignantly replied, “No!” But he persisted: “Really? How did you measure the wood? How did you cut it? You didn’t use a saw, I know that!” I started explaining how a Braille ruler works. But by then I’d already lost my audience to another conversation.

But eyebrows up! The rest of the day felt like any other Christmas. My blindness took a backseat to the usual Finke Christmas chaos. After dinner, I spent the rest of the evening as always, camped at the dining room table, drinking coffee and laughing with my sisters.

Later that evening, my husband Mike asked if it bothered me that no one had checked in on how I felt. I felt fine. My family has always focused more on practicalities than the emotional stuff. Aside from my brother-in-law’s disbelief that I could use a saw, my blindness and my feelings were not the focus.

Between interruptions to ask “You need anything?” on their way to the kitchen, family members were happy to let me sit back, listen to the music of the conversations surrounding me, and decide on my own when to join the chorus. Homemade gifts were opened one by one and, just like always, described out loud. That Christmas, my family treated me more or less like they always had. They helped me believe that I was still . . . me.

Over the years, I’ve learned more about what my first blind Christmas was like for my family. My brother Doug told me that he’d been afraid to talk to me, worried that he would say the wrong thing — although in the din of Christmas cheer, I never noticed his silence. Doug is a professional musician, and some years later he drew my name for Christmas and wrote me a song. The lyrics mention my blindness, but only once. But my favorite line is repeated in the refrain, in which he calls me “charmingly annoying.”

I think we’re back to normal.

This year I picked one of my nieces’ names out of the hat. She will receive something big I made this year. You guessed it: a copy of Aunt Beth’s latest book, Writing Out Loud.

Merry Christmas and…thanks for listening.

*The original longer version of this story was recently published on, where you can find it and other stories of resilience.

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  1. Beth Finke Says:

    You’re welcome. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Steven Davies Says:

    Beautiful story. Thanks for sharing…

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