Many of the women in our family write and I’m glad we have this family blog to share our stories. Writing seems to be a way that we can deal with the hard times in life. My second cousin, Sondra Caposio, sent me a family story written by her mother about sixty years ago. It features Sondra’s older sister, Diane. At the very end is a poem that Sondra wrote about Diane.
Barbara McGhee Fischer with Sondra on her lap, and Diane.
A Heartbreaking Reminiscence
By Barbara McGhee Fischer
Exactly one year ago today—October 10, 1960—I saw in Doctor Berman’s private office with our oldest daughter Diane, three and a half years of age. I was waiting the last few minutes after a long and seemingly endless weekend for the Doctor to tell me just what was wrong with Diane—she had been quite ill for several weeks, running a high fever periodically and in a great deal of pain in the leg joints and groin.
The Doctor had called Friday evening after getting the results of some blood work. He said there was definitely something wrong with her blood count, but he wanted further tests made by the leading Hematologist in Sacramento. Unfortunately, he was out of town for the weekend. Dr. Berman had already arranged for a bone marrow test on Monday and I was to take Diane in for that on Monday morning. I really didn’t have any apprehensions about the test because I didn’t know how it was done. I soon learned it was a very painful procedure and the nurse who assisted the hematologist with the test came out of the room crying. She said it was because it hurt to see Diane, a little deaf child, in such pain. Bob had not gone with me because we both felt they would not be able to have the results back the same day. The hematologist told me to go back to the Doctor’s office right away.
Diane was sitting on my lap very contented—her fever was gone and the joint pain had not bothered her for two or three days. Dr. Berman came into the room, his face drawn and he was finding it difficult to speak. It was quite apparent he would rather I’d phoned. “Mama,” he said, “our little girl is very sick.” I knew that! Only two weeks before, she had been in the hospital, under the care of our family Doctor, with a possible case of meningitis, or polio—those tests had proved negative—and those blood tests indicated she was extremely anemic. The Doctor had prescribed an iron supplement and antibiotics to lick the fever—but the fever and pain persisted—I had changed Doctors. What was the illness I asked—“Mama, our little girl has leukemia!”
“OH GOD”—my first thought crossed my mind—“I had wished this on her.” In those panicking moments, it seemed that the past three and one-half years with our little Diane flashed before me. We had learned in January 1959 that Diane was profoundly deaf—she had a 90-decibel loss in both ears. On some occasions, I had been very depressed when she didn’t progress as rapidly as I thought she should as I worked daily with her teaching her to lip-read and speak. On occasion, during those depressing times, I must admit the thought that Diane would be better off dead rather than deaf had crossed my mind. What a terrible thing to think—of course, I never really meant it. Now she will die because leukemia is as yet incurable—it is cancer of the blood.
The moments that followed, I cannot recall except to say the Doctor sat in his chair feeling helpless, but trying desperately to say the right things and try to comfort me. The next thing I knew was that Diana and I were driving downtown to the department store where Bob worked. I knew he must be told, but just what and how to say it hurt terribly. I somehow found myself in the office of his boss, and I sank into the chair, holding Diane in my arms so tightly as if I were afraid she would slip away from me and be gone forever….
Bob was summoned and I somehow found the words to tell him our tragic news. I cannot remember Bob’s reaction or his words, but I do know he was deeply shaken.
There was a bond between Diane and her Daddy that was very great. Bob had wanted a boy, but when she was born he was very happy. She was the image of her father and her eyes had turned to the dark brown like his—her eyelashes were long and dark and her complexion was a beautiful bronze. Her beauty was angelic. Diane was nearly two years old before we discovered her hearing loss. She was a very intelligent child—“She doesn’t have to speak,” we always said, “she can get her point across with gestures.”
Bob has always adored Diane, but the fact that she was deaf seemed to strengthen this bond. Sometimes I had felt he worshipped her too much.
Bob and I went back to Dr. Berman’s office on Tuesday to learn more about Diane’s condition. We were over the initial shock now and could reason more rationally. Dr. Berman explained that leukemia is cancer of the blood, and at the present, incurable—at least the type she has—acute leukemia. He said that with medication, Diane could live from six to twelve months—without medication; it would be just half that time.
As I sit here beside her bed, in the hospital, as she sleeps in restful peace (she is under sedation continually now to keep her from suffering) I have been thinking of the events and changes in our lives these past twelve months, for there have been many and they have been big changes. In the first week after her illness had been diagnosed, Bob and I discussed its meaning to great lengths. We had always felt that her deafness was caused for some reason, not as a punishment, but for a greater reason, something we were not yet able to comprehend. Now, we felt we had a better understanding—Diane has been a gift from Heaven, she had been placed on this earth in our home for a specific purpose, among this purpose, to make us and all that know and love her understand that deafness is not a stigma, but a severe handicap that is difficult to overcome due to the lack of understanding form the so-called “normal” hearing people.
We felt this was part of her purpose, but there must be more—this was not enough. We decided that same week to donate Diane’s inner ear to the University of California in San Francisco, with the hope that a possible answer to nerve deafness might be found. The arrangements were made with Dr. Francis A. Sooy of San Francisco, that at the time of Diane’s death he would come to Sacramento and perform the necessary operation.
We read the book, “Angel Unaware,” by Dale Evans Rogers, and it was that book that gave us the strength to carry on during this heartbreaking period in our lives. I truly felt that Diane too, is an “Angel Unaware” and in only four and a half years, she has performed a mission for God that few people can accomplish in many years of living on earth.
We have prayed for guidance and strength and we have been blessed with more than most people are given. Although we have not attended church regularly since we were married seven and a half years ago, we have grown to believe in God and placed our complete trust in Him more than perhaps others that attend church regularly.
At one time during this past year, I was told by an elderly Catholic woman that because we did not attend church, we should not pray, because God would not listen. She said she would pray for us and we would be blessed because of her prayer. I had only met this woman on one occasion and she knew about only from her daughter-in-law. We meant nothing to her mother-in-law, and I am sure her promise was soon forgotten, but we continued to pray and the strength Bob and I received has been unbelievable. So many people say they cannot understand how we can accept this. What else can we do? We would have been miserable if we had mourned this past year—instead, we have lived each day to its fullest, and our happiest memories will be during the period from October 1960 to April 1961. This was the period the leukemia was controlled and Diane was in relatively little pain. She led a perfectly normal life—she was scolded when she did something wrong and she was loved always. Most of the time was spent in happy childhood play for Diane, but Bob and I lived in a beautiful dream of happiness that she was with us. We were thankful for each day she was with us, for she could have been taken immediately.
Beginning the end of April, Diane became progressively weak and needed transfusions more often and once her arm was broken two days before I realized it. At that time, she had been able to get around in a tiny wheelchair which we pushed in whatever direction she pointed us to—in the house, neighborhood and of course the hospital corridors. The Doctor said he could not set the arm as her bones had become too brittle, so we just put two tongue depressors on both sides of her tiny arm and wrapped with gauze. It worked beautifully.
Now Diane is very weak and it is now a matter of days—possibly hours before her brief life on earth is ended. She has seen so much in this short time—because of her hearing loss, her sense of sight has been phenomenal. Everything was beautiful to her—she took nothing for granted—everything was exciting for—she was so easy to please. Now Diane is very weak, bedridden for two days now, she has been in the hospital for two weeks. This is the eighth time this year. Always before when she had been in a couple of days, she would ask to go “home.” She has not mentioned it this time—she is just too weak to think of home. Of course, she does not understand death—she has never heard a spoken word. She can only relate objects to what she “sees” on my lips and those that “talk” with her. She has learned to read lips and she does associate the lip movement with the object referred to because we have shown her. She cannot associate lip movements with something she has never seen—this is the blessing for she is not frightened—she cannot understand what death means to us. But we know she will be happy and free from pain, for in Heaven she will be whole again. She will hear and speak—God has helped us to understand this.
I feel that because of Diane, I have been given a purpose in life. I have become very interested in helping the deaf and hard of hearing, and in my small way, I have and will continue to devote my life to helping other parents of hearing handicapped children. God will help me to accomplish this.
NOTE: Diane passed away six days after I wrote the above reminiscence—Monday, October 16, 1961. Bob and I were together at her bedside in her final moments. She took a deep breath and she was gone.
Bob and I continued working for the hearing handicapped for sixteen years. We are proud to have played a significant role in bringing a hearing diagnostic center to Sacramento and to establish newborn testing for hearing impairments at all local hospitals.
I Remember When…
I was 1, she was 3
We would always play together
I remember when the two of us
Painted each others’ face with mud
We were a sight to see.
I was 2, she was 4
I was just learning a strong vocabulary
She was deaf, so I helped her to speak
I remember how, when I was small,
She would constantly carry me in her arms,
But then she couldn’t carry me anymore
She was sick and weak,
I was too young to understand,
But how I wanted to laugh and play with her again.
I was 3, she would be 5
Now she was gone forever
I could never play with her again.
Oh, but how I remember…
by Sondra Fischer