When my mother-in-law Evelyn was living alone as a widow, she had a universal remote for the TV that controlled all the functions. She had a system for using it that worked for her; follow certain steps and everything you want to do is possible.

From time to time, someone would inadvertently use it and leave it in an altered state, and she would panic over the change. She didn’t really understand how it worked and so it was difficult to figure out how to bring it back to its functional state.

I used to smile at how much it bothered her to have someone change her comfortable status, but now I find myself in much the same situation, because so many of the things that I rely on are things whose function I don’t really understand.

I just never took the time nor did I really have the interest to learn how things work, so I find myself unable to figure out how to make them work when they stop functioning. I wonder sometimes, why that’s the case, but I realize my entire life has been based on my ability to get by without ever having to read through the directions on the box or in the manual.

For all of our married life Angela fulfilled the role of official direction reader and she usually had the ability to figure out how something worked. That ability provided her with the additional skill for getting to the base of the problem. “Why,” I wondered, “can she figure these things out?” I usually assumed that it was connected to her mathematical ability and the eternal quest to get to the root of a problem.

So she took care of all the mechanical challenges in that she would go to the manual and look at how to apply the instructions in search of a solution.

Whenever we bought something at IKEA, for instance, I would bring the flat box home and she would provide the step by step instructions that turned it into a three-dimensional object. Without her directing the process, the finished product would never have materialized. So IKEA was my last resort choice for anything we needed in furniture. I always preferred to go to a store where you could have the piece delivered to your house ready to use.

So now, it’s my son Frank who has stepped in to Angela’s place as my go-to person for how to get something to work when it stopped working. Or, even more critical, how to get the electronic gadget that I’m having a problem with to function as it should.

I too, have a set of remotes that serve specific functions, and when they fail to produce the intended results, my first source is Frank. He will Face Time me and walk me through the step by step process for getting it on track.

He doesn’t complain or ask how what happened happened even though I very often give a pretty lame excuse for some unexplainable occurrence messing everything up.

He tries to find ways to set things up so that they require the most basic level of maintenance and functional understanding. He is always patient and non-judgmental and he is an absolute treasure to me.

Why am I so addled in this area, I wonder? Is it some kind of mental block or is it just the result of my having gone through life without ever actually following the directions as they were meant to be followed. Even when I was in elementary school and we would be given those standardized reading tests, while all the other kids read the paragraph first and then answered the questions, I went straight for the questions and looked for the answers in the paragraph. Why waste time.

So living alone and being electronically challenged can be a real dilemma; finding a way to fix the things that go wrong while not giving in to self-pity or panic.

I’ve found that there usually are solutions within easy reach, you just need to change the way you respond to the situation. I know that I will never be as adept or interested in finding the solution as Angela was, but I’ll figure out how to connect to the person who is.

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