Ray Gerring, BVA member and artist, served as an airplane mechanic in the Army Air Corps during World War II. Later in life, he found joy in his family and his painting. However, one day in 1994, Ray was shocked to wake up unable to see anything but a jumble of colors in his left eye. Diagnosed with retinal vein occlusion, a condition that occurs with higher frequency in those over 65, Ray lost sight in his other eye about ten years later. He was now legally blind.
Like many newly blinded veterans, the loss of vision drove Ray into a severe depression. “It just destroyed me. I’d get so angry; I was like a crazy person,” Ray says.
At times, his wife of 58 years would watch helplessly as her husband sat with his head in his hands. Other times, Ray lashed out over little things, like knocking over a glass of water.
Doctors prescribed antidepressants, but according to Ray, “I didn’t have the patience to take those drugs.” For a while, Ray spent much of his day sleeping, abandoning everyone and everything, including his beloved brushes and canvases. Eventually, Ray decided to give painting — and life — another chance. Standing in his studio one day, he picked up a jar of acrylic paint and began dabbling on a canvas, since blindness had deprived him of the ability to paint realistic landscapes and seascapes using pen and ink, watercolors, and oil and acrylic. He thought, “Hey, I think that works as an abstract painting.” And Ray was on the road to recovery.
Ray’s vision is 10 percent of what it used to be, and he often has to paint just one inch from the canvas. But Ray is a working artist again in more ways than one. Along with painting, Ray has been writing to lift his spirits. But he couldn’t use a computer to share his short stories. Following BVA advice, Ray recently spent eight weeks at a VA blind rehabilitation center, where he learned how to type and edit on a computer, along with other skills to increase his independence.
And now, 20 years after he began to lose his vision, Ray’s first book has been published. Available on Amazon.com, “Tales from the Emerald City” tells 11 fascinating stories about the wonders of Ray’s hometown of Seattle and its unforgettable characters. Ray’s book, his paintings and Ray himself show us that when we help our blinded veterans, there is no end in sight to what our heroes can do.