A funeral mass was held at St. Joseph’s Basilica in Edmonton on March 3 to celebrate the life of a courageous woman, who never let her blindness stand in the way of leading a caring, productive life.
Now, just a few short weeks after the funeral of his beloved sister, Alvin Gaetz tells her story mostly because he believes it is a story that needs to be told.
Doris Goetz was born in 1941, the youngest of 10 children. She was raised on a farm in the Bluffton area.
“She had big blue eyes,” Goetz said, remembering his sister, even from birth appeared to have something wrong with her eyes.
“Anytime she touched her eyes she cried in pain and when she was outside she has to hold her little fists over them as the bright light hurt.”
It was later discovered the child had been born with glaucoma. During her growing up years, Goetz had only limited sight and in her mid 20s she became legally blind.
In 1947 when she was only eight years old, the Red Cross financially assisted the family so they could take her to a hospital in San Francisco.
“The trip was made in the spring in an old 1934 Chev on lots of gravel roads. Many flat tires later they made it,” Alvin remembered.
The child was left at the clinic until October where she underwent electro therapy treatments.
During her months at the clinic, a nurse at the hospital took her under her wing and sent letters home with updates about the little girl.
“In October we got the message that we could bring her home. Dad went by train down to get her and brought her back.”
Goetz said his sister was excited to come home and especially enjoyed the ferry ride from Seattle to Vancouver.
Finally, Doris settled down to school in Bluffton where an understanding teacher put her at the front of the classroom so she could read the blackboard. But her eyesight continued to deteriorate and three years later, the teacher suggested she go to a residential school in Brantford, Ontario.
“I still remember her walking out to the farm to tell us that,” Goetz said.
So for the second time in her short life, Doris was uprooted, this time to travel to Ontario, where she would encounter a completely different way of life, away from her siblings and her parents.
She was 11 years-old.
“It was like being on the moon,” Alvin said. “She didn’t get to come home for Christmas or Easter, just summer breaks.”
When Doris came home on those summer breaks she enjoyed picking peas and beans from the family garden and she loved to shell peas.
One time one of her sisters took out to the cow pasture to let her drive a car.
“We were teasing her. We told her she had done everything, now when was she going to drive a car? She ran over more cow patties than we could even see,” he said with a chuckle.
After she completed her schooling, Doris took CNIB training at the University of Toronto. Her training enabled her to help other visually impaired people to be independent by teaching them Braille, identifying money, using the telephone and being safe around a stove.
In 1964 she moved to Edmonton where she continued to work for the CNIB until her retirement.
Doris adapted to city living very well, Alvin said.
“For the first six years she took the bus to work, he said. “And for 25 years she crossed Jasper Avenue twice a day. “She knew her way around very well. Anyone who got lost in the city could phone her. She would tell them what to do,” he added with a wry smile.
In the early ‘90s she got a guide dog and each and every dog she ever owned became her total companion.
Throughout her lifetime, the visually impaired farm girl, who later became quite used to urban living, believed that blind people needed to be treated with respect, but not waited on as if they were incapable of performing tasks necessary for daily living.
As well as helping other with a gentle nudge of spiritual and practical support, Goetz found the time to enjoy life to the fullest.
She loved balcony gardening. An accomplished pianist herself, she enjoyed listening to classical music and attending the symphony theatre, opera and movies. She enjoyed entertaining, knitting, crocheting and doing needlepoint.
She especially enjoyed the companionship of her beloved guide dogs: Dee, Empress, Tim and Wilda.
Her second last dog, Tim had a different owner, but still he became very agitated when Doris passed away,” said Goetz. “Animals have a sixth sense. They know.”
Looking back on his sister’s life, Goetz realizes that the guide dogs played a vital and important role.
“I would like to see more money go towards guide dogs,” he said. There is a waiting list for those dogs and they can help so many people.
For more information about Canadian Guide Dogs go to www.guidedogs.ca or call 1-613-692-7777.