Steve and Leann Derwent went on their first date in November 2011. Steve is a quadriplegic, and Leann says he made no attempt at hiding his disability. One of Leann’s biggest concerns, when her and Steve’s relationship started getting serious, was how her children were going to be affected.
She says, “I think that is the case with most parents when “someone new” comes into the picture. For me, that was increased substantially because of the wheelchair. What would they think? How would they handle this? What would it mean for their lives and our living situation?”
For the family, the new relationship brought change and the opportunity to learn. Leann shares four principles her family has learned as her relationship with Steve grew and eventually led to marriage.
Adapting To Change Is Essential In Life
Leann states that the biggest change her family has had to adjust to is life with a wheelchair.
“Anytime there is any kind of blending of families, there’s going to be change.”
Leann and her children had to adjust to aides coming and going multiple times a day, living in a wheelchair accessible house (which can be very different depending on the number of modifications needed), and riding in a van set up with modifications for Steve to drive.
Leann states her family has had to adjust to navigating life outside the house with preparation, patience, and a fair amount of flexibility.
“And lastly, there was navigating life outside of the house: going to restaurants, attending various social gatherings, traveling…all of that requires preparation, patience, and a fair amount of flexibility,” she says.
Our Life And Health Are Not Guaranteed
Leann says that it was an eye-opening experience for her children to learn that Steve played four sports in high school prior to his injury.
“Sometimes you see someone in a chair and you just automatically assume that they were always disabled.”
Hearing about Steve's life gave Leann’s children a new perspective that no one is invincible. Leann states, “Young people especially tend to think that they are invincible, but no one is. Seeing pictures and hearing stories of a life once lived before paralysis truly puts the uncertainty of life into perspective.”
Different Is Not Always Bad
Leann says the older a person gets the more aware they become of someone’s differences and the way those differences are “received” by society.
“Culture teaches us that the best way to be accepted is to blend in with everyone else and a 450 lb wheelchair doesn’t exactly blend in with anything.”
She gives the example of people staring at Steve's wheelchair when they are in a social setting. “Whenever we enter a social setting, all eyes seem to go to the chair. Some look at us with pity, some with inquisitiveness, and honestly, some with disgust (probably thinking how much they would hate living that way),” says Leann.
However, by people staring Steve will never be forgotten. He has the opportunity to influence others and Leann says that in itself comes with blessings and responsibilities.
Patience Is A Virtue
Leann states that as independent as Steve is there are still many things he is unable to do. It often takes time for Steve to complete tasks and Leann has had to learn the value of patience. “I am not a patient person, so this has been something that has and still is pushing me outside of my comfort zone. All of us have areas in our lives though where we need people to extend that patience to us, and so it becomes just as much of a lesson in empathy, as it is patience,” she says.
What are some life lessons that you have learned? Share your story with us at AbleThrive.com!