Braille Monitor March 2007
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by Maria Davis
From the Editor: All kinds of things happen at NFB conventions. While the overwhelming majority are positive and empowering to blind attendees, occasionally a negative, even tragic event occurs.
An unforgettable event took place at our 1994 convention in Detroit. A young, single mother from Arizona named Maria Buterbaugh brought her two-year-old blind son Justin to the convention. Maria had just discovered the NFB, and she was ecstatic about her new-found understanding that her blind son could expect to lead a fully normal, productive, and gratifying life.
Then tragedy struck. On the second or third night of the convention Justin died in his sleep. Maria was devastated, and convention attendees were devastated as well. But in true NFB tradition the convention rallied, took up a collection, and raised the funds Maria would need to give Justin an appropriate burial back in Arizona.
As the following letter indicates, Maria has moved on with her life. She is now Maria Davis, she is the mother of another fine son, and she has become a special education teacher of blind children. Along with her gracious letter, Maria made a generous contribution to the National Federation of the Blind. Here is her letter:
To NFB Members:
This letter is late in coming, but I want to say ďThank youĒ to all the NFB members who supported me through the tragedy of losing my son Justin Buterbaugh. We were at the national convention in Detroit, Michigan, in 1994, and Justin was just two years old. When we learned that Justin was born blind, I contacted the NFB members in Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona. The wonderful, happy, productive people I met gave me hope for my son. Jim and Sharon Omvig are just two of the powerful people who have had a lasting impact on my life. I learned many things from these people and from those I met at the national convention. I was treated with dignity and respect and was encouraged to look at blindness as more of a personal characteristic rather than a disability. Today I am a special education teacher, and the NFBís positive influence on my life is passed on through my high expectations of my students.
When Justin died suddenly and unexpectedly there at the convention, I canít begin to describe my shock, horror, and grief. The entire assembly passed the hat, and you all donated to raise the money for Justinís funeral. You immediately had counselors and clergy available to me. You arranged for me to be on the first flight home, and you paid for a fellow member, who had become my friend, to travel with me back to Arizona only to return on the next flight back to Detroit. You helped with all the details of hospital, police, coroners, and Iím sure many other things. NFB member Judy Tunnell gave the eulogy at my sonís funeral, and she spoke of Justin so beautifully and shared the wonderful work of the NFB with my family and friends. I continued to receive many, many sympathy cards and letters from people I didnít even know. A scholarship was set up in Justinís memory. I was made to feel an honorary member of the NFB.
Today, twelve years later, I have another son, Zachary. He is happy and healthy, the joy of my life. Like any grieving parent I went through the horror of loss, and with time it has gotten easier. The grief never really goes away, but over the years I have thought of you often. Words will never be enough to express my gratitude, and I will never be able to repay the debt I owe you. I continue to read the Braille Monitor and follow the tremendous good works that you do.
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