Ruth: The Home We Needed
Aside from the rainbow-colored devices behind her ears, you’d never know that there is anything different about Ruth’s daughter. I watch for a while as she reviews vocabulary cards with her mother, sounding out syllables as she traces each word with her fingers. She might have been born deaf, but she runs and plays, giggles and dances like any child would. She must get it from her mother, a woman who refuses to be anything less than whole.
In the three years I have been at 6 Stones, I’ve heard — and wept over — many testimonies. But few have been as heart-wrenching and tragic as Ruth’s. Despite that, however, I left our interview troubled by one specific fact: she didn't think that I would believe she had been through so much.
Some of what she told me was never meant to be shared, and her more intimate, personal struggles have been omitted from my report. What follows is only a silhouette of her struggle; a taste of her triumph. My hope is that, as you read, you will see Ruth as I have come to see her. Not as a tragic collection of identity-defining obstacles, but as a strong woman who refuses to surrender to the incessant drumbeat of sorrow.
I hope that Ruth makes you whole, too.
Struggling Child, Providing Parent
Ruth grew up in an unstable home environment. By her testimony, her parents never had much and mishandled what little money they earned. She remembers because they made a point of telling her about their financial woes constantly; a trait she vowed not to carry on.
“My children are never, ever aware if I’m having a money issue,” she said. “I don’t think children should be stressed with adult things like that.”
Ruth set out to provide everything she could for her children; everything she never had growing up. She got a job with a local newspaper, copying classified ads from fax to page and using her spare time to teach herself graphic design. Soon, she was laying out entire pages of the paper by herself.
Over time, Ruth won the approval of her boss and the right to wear multiple hats. At her peak, she handled customer service, data entry, accounts receivable, and aspects of sales while functioning as the paper’s head of production. Worn out by her many responsibilities, she scaled back to one job and eventually took time off for the birth of her son.
Every one of Ruth’s children has a special need. Her eldest, born at 27 weeks, struggles with a learning disability called Pervasive Developmental Disorder. Her second son developed meningitis in his first month and, as a result, has autism. They struggled in school, and Ruth likened the experience to raising twins even though her boys were born years apart.
A third child — the only girl — came into the world deaf years later. But their mother was determined. They would have an idyllic childhood. And that started with consistency at home.
“I wanted them to know what it was like to grow up basically in the same home, from little kid all the way through High School and college, if need be,” she said. “That’s something that I never had. We moved around a lot when I was a child, and one thing I always wanted to provide for my children was a steady home life, even if it was just me by myself… everything that I do is to provide for my children, to make sure that they have a way better life than I did growing up.”
But Ruth had troubles of her own.
Gone in a Month
Near the end of October in 2010, Ruth noticed blurs in her vision. At the time, she thought nothing of it. She updated the two-year-old prescription on the glasses she wore to save her eyes at work. Two weeks later, she did it again.
By November, she was seeing an ophthalmologist twice a week.
“That’s when the central blindness started; the central white-out,” Ruth said. “The week of Thanksgiving in 2010, I had to turn in my notice and quit immediately because I could no longer see the computer screen, And it was just gone, with no explanation, no reason why. To this day, they still don’t know.”
Her husband left her to care for their two boys alone.
“It would be ridiculous if I said I didn’t have a problem with it. Obviously, I did. But I was a recently single mother. My ex-husband abandoned me and my boys after I put him through school,” she said. “I didn’t really have time to think about me. I had two special-needs boys who needed me.”
Home is a Safe Haven
Ruth did all she could to hide her blindness from her sons. She could see just enough to move around and cook, but the idea of never seeing their faces again began to wear on her. In order to see them, she’d have to explain why she pulled them so close.
“One day, for about five minutes, I found the thickest pillow I could find, and just screamed and bawled into it. That was the only time I had to grieve my eyesight,” she said.
Then, she got to work. Using the money she got from selling the car she could no longer drive, Ruth moved her family out of a dangerous apartment complex and into their current home. The boys now walk themselves to school each day while her daughter takes an hour-long bus ride to a special school. Ruth can only see them until their outlines reach the stop sign across the street.
With a little help from a part-time attendant, Ruth runs the household. On clear days, she can even hear her children playing at recess. The home is everything she wanted to give them. But she can only do so much.
As the yard grew out of control and the roof began to leak, Ruth sought help and found Community Powered Revitalization. Her home is one of more than 40 that we’ll repair this weekend. She can't wait to meet her volunteers.
“Sometimes, when I start to tell my story, a lot of people just find it so unbelievable; that one person can go through all the things that I’ve gone through and still be standing and be on top and have the strength to keep going,” she said, “I hope, after seeing this, that they understand that they are truly, truly helping someone that is very, very thankful… I hope that they take something away from this as well. That people hear my story, and if they thought for a minute that [their work wasn’t] appreciated, that it truly is.”
Ruth understands perhaps better than anyone that the work we’ll do this weekend goes beyond house repairs. We want to make people whole. Grateful. Compassionate. Inspired. And sometimes, the only person who can show us the way is someone who has fought through the darkness and come out on the other side.
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