Loida’s Journey out of Silence
As told by Loida’s mother
LIKE any expectant mother, I worried that my baby might be born with some type of defect. Still, I was not prepared for the heartrending screams of Loida, my third child, as she came into the world. Inadvertently, the doctor had broken Loida’s collarbone with his forceps. A couple of weeks after corrective surgery, Loida was sent home. Our joy, however, was short-lived.
During the next few months, it became apparent that something was terribly wrong. Loida’s medication caused adverse reactions—including fever, diarrhea, and convulsions—and treatment for these symptoms only seemed to make her condition worse. Soon Loida could not control her bodily movements. Finally the doctors told us that Loida had cerebral palsy. They said that she would never walk or speak—or even understand us.
Early Attempts at Communication
Despite the grim prognosis, I still felt that Loida could understand many things. So I read simple books to her and endeavored to teach her the alphabet. But Loida could not speak, nor could she indicate any awareness of what I was saying. There was no way of knowing what—if anything—she could grasp.
As the years passed, my efforts to teach Loida seemed to have little success. Still, I spent many hours reading to her. We even included her in our family Bible study with Noemí, our youngest daughter, using the books Listening to the Great Teacher and My Book of Bible Stories.* I read many of the chapters from these books to Loida repeatedly.
Not being able to communicate with someone you love is truly frustrating. When I took Loida to the park, she would cry inconsolably. Why? It seemed to me that she was tormented by the fact that she could not run and play like the other children. On one occasion, Loida burst into tears when her sister read something to me from a school textbook. Clearly, something bothered her, but I had no idea what it was. Loida’s speech was limited to a few inarticulate sounds, which indicated her basic needs for food, water, bed, or toilet.
At age nine, Loida began attending a school for children with special needs. During the next three years, however, her condition worsened. She was afraid to walk even a few steps without help, and she all but stopped uttering any speech sounds. My husband and I decided that it would be better to educate Loida at home.
For the next six years, I taught Loida as well as I could. I wrote letters on a blackboard, hoping that Loida would copy them. My efforts were futile. Was the problem a lack of comprehension, or was it that Loida could not write because she had no control over the movements of her hands?
By age 18, Loida had become so difficult to manage that I earnestly prayed to Jehovah, begging him to help me communicate with my daughter. The answer to my prayer came in an unusual way.
Breaking Through the Silence
A turning point came when my daughters were redecorating our bedroom. Before stripping off the old wallpaper, Noemí wrote some names on the wall—names from the Bible and names of friends and family members. Out of curiosity, my daughter Rut asked Loida if she knew where “Jehovah” was written. Surprisingly, Loida went to the wall and put her head next to where God’s name appeared. Rut wondered if Loida could recognize the other names, so she tested her. To Rut’s amazement, Loida could identify every one of them—even the names she had never seen spelled out before! Rut gathered the entire family to see it for themselves. Loida could read!
In time, we came up with a method that would help Loida “speak” to us. We attached letters of the alphabet to the wall of our long hallway. Putting smaller letters on a hand-held board would not work, since Loida does not have enough control of her hands to point to each letter. So when Loida wished to communicate, she would spell out her message by walking up to each letter on the wall. As you can imagine, this would be quite tiring. In fact, Loida had to walk miles just to compose a single page of communication, and it could take hours for her to complete it!
Nevertheless, Loida is thrilled to be able to “talk” to us. In fact, this was her first message to us: “I am so happy that, thanks to Jehovah, I can now communicate.” Astonished, we asked Loida: “What were you doing while you were sitting all day?” Loida told us that she would work out in her mind what she wished she could say to us. Indeed, Loida said that for 18 years she had longed to communicate. “When Rut started going to school,” she said, “I read the school textbook to myself. I moved my mouth and emitted some sounds, but you couldn’t understand me. That is why I often began to cry.”
I tearfully apologized for not having understood her better. Loida replied: “You are a good mother, and you never gave up. I have always been happy alongside you. I love you very much. So don’t cry anymore. OK?”
Loida already had a knowledge of the Bible, and she had memorized some Bible verses. But soon she told us that she wanted to offer comments at the congregation Watchtower Study, a weekly question-and-answer Bible discussion. How would she do this? One of us would read the entire article to her. Then Loida would select a question she wanted to answer. We would write down her comment as she spelled it out to us. Then, at the meeting, one of us would read Loida’s comment. “It’s thrilling for me to be able to participate,” Loida once told us, “because it makes me feel a part of the congregation.”
When she was 20 years old, Loida expressed the desire to get baptized. When she was asked if she knew what it meant to dedicate oneself to Jehovah, Loida replied that she had already done this seven years earlier—when she was just 13 years old. “I prayed to Jehovah,” she said, “and I told him that I wanted to serve him forever.” On August 2, 1997, Loida symbolized her dedication to Jehovah by water baptism. “Thanks to Jehovah,” Loida told us, “my greatest wish has come true!”
Loida enjoys talking about God’s Kingdom to relatives and neighbors. At times she accompanies us as we preach to people on the street. She has also prepared a letter that we leave at the door when no one is at home. Loida takes a special interest in the elderly and those who are sick. For example, we have a sister in our congregation who had her leg amputated. “I know what it means to be unable to walk,” Loida told us, and so she prepared a letter of encouragement for this sister. Then there is Jairo, a young boy in another congregation, who is practically paralyzed from the head down. When Loida heard of his plight, she wrote a letter to him. In part, it stated: “Soon Jehovah will make us well. In Paradise there will be no suffering. Then I will challenge you to a race. I am laughing because it will be great fun. To think that we shall be as Jehovah created us, without sickness . . . Isn’t it marvelous?”
Helped to Endure
I now understand many things about Loida’s former behavior that used to baffle me. For example, Loida says that when she was younger she didn’t like to be hugged because she was so frustrated. “It seemed so unfair that my sisters could speak and learn things and I could not,” she said. “I felt so angry. There were times when I would have preferred to have been dead.”
Even with the gift of communication, Loida faces many challenges. For example, every month or so she has a series of convulsions during which she seems to be choking and her arms and legs move uncontrollably. In addition, any infection—even a simple cold—weakens her considerably. Occasionally Loida gets depressed over her condition. What helps her to endure? Well, let her tell you in her own words:
“Prayer has been an enormous help. It makes me so happy to talk to Jehovah, to feel close to him. I also appreciate the love and attention from others at the Kingdom Hall. I feel very fortunate that despite my physical problems, I have been brought up by two wonderful parents who love me so much. I will never forget what my sisters have done for me. Those beautiful letters on the wall saved my life. Without Jehovah’s love and the love of my family, my life would have had no meaning.”
Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. Listening to the Great Teacher is now out of print.
[Picture on page 24]
Loida and her family