Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Bert: I got this great new hearing aid the other day. 
Chester: Are you wearing it now? 
Bert: Yep. Cost me $4,000, though. But it’s top of the line! 
Chester: What kind is it? 
Bert: Twelve-thirty. 

Hurt. Denial. Fear. Depression. Bewilderment. Anger. Disappointment. Resentment. Grief. Everyone who experiences major hearing loss as an adult goes through the entire array of emotions. Some days you’re ready to kill the cashier at the store, because you can’t hear the total or see the screen and she won’t write it down. Other days you laugh so hard you pee in your pants when your body-building friend tells you that, because his friends weren’t around, he had to do his sets all alone that day, and you misread “sets” as “sex.” Still other days you sit alone in your room, feeling completely isolated and left out—sure that you will never be able to have a “normal,” causal conversation again. You go through so many different feelings within even one day, that you start suspecting you may have multiple personalities.  

What you don’t feel, or even realize, is that what you’re experiencing is completely normal for anyone with such a major loss in his or her life. So, what do you do? How do you cope? Well, there’s a ton of suggestions available out there—whether you ask for them or not. 
“Learn Sign Language.”
“Practice lipreading. It can’t be that difficult.”
“Just get over it.”
“Join the local deaf community and get involved.”
“Eat green tomatoes on Wednesday at 6 PM.”
Like it or not, everyone seems to have an opinion. Problem is, most of these opinions come from people who have never experienced hearing loss of any kind. You’ve lived your entire life; you have dreams, goals, and ambitions; and then suddenly one day….POOF! Your plans disappear like your kids when it’s time to clean out the litter box. 

There are many options for dealing with late-onset deafness. No one size fits all though. But whether you decide to go this way or that way with your communication methods and life ambitions, there’s one thing that is a ‘must have’ in this situation: You must have a sense of humor about it.
Oh, it’s not easy. I never said or suggested that. However, without humor, all that’s left is quitting. And we don’t want you to do that! 

Perhaps you’re reading this and wondering how in the heck you are supposed to find humor in deafness. Oh, ye of little faith. It isn’t hard, actually. It’s there. You just have to have a clear head and an open mind to find it.

Take my friend, Sarah. Her hearing loss was gradual. At one time she was able to use an FM loop at our little church here in Michigan. One day, right after the morning service had started and the pastor began to introduce his new series about abstinence before marriage, she started fumbling with her FM system. She realized that the pastor had forgotten to turn his mic on. So, without missing a beat, she raised her hand, stood up, and asked the pastor (very loudly, as most late-deafened adults do), “Pastor, are you turned on?” Needless to say, it was an amusing anecdote to bring up at all subsequent church gatherings.

Then there was the story I was told about my Aunt Doris. She’d become deafened during a car accident over in England, had come back home, and decided to teach herself to lipread to help facilitate communication. Well, “facilitate” might not be the right word….

After a while of working on and honing her “skill,” she was soon put to the test at a family reunion. As the family gathered around to eat, drink, and be merry, Aunt Doris began to choke. Ever the fast thinker in a stressful situation, Grandpa Joe leapt up, and started slapping her on the back. A minute went by and everything seemed to be OK. Grandpa then lovingly leaned over, and very gently told her, “Big breaths, Doris.” Her response? “They used to be…” Hmmmm……….

And then there’s my dear husband, Kenny. He’s hearing, you see, but because I cannot lipread and use sign language as my main mode of communication, he decided to learn it, too. Sweet, huh? Well, one day I was in a healthcare meeting with Kenny and three Deaf professionals. When one of the Deaf attendees told us that they would be cutting us a check that day, Kenny enthusiastically responded (in sign, of course): “That’s perfect! I can deposit the check right now!” Sounds good, eh? Only two problems: the sign he used for “perfect” was actually the sign for “penis,” and the sign for “deposit?” Well, use your imagination. All I can say is that it was very amusing to watch everyone in the room roar with laughter so hard that they were crying…all at my poor hubby’s expense. Thank goodness he’s a good sport!

Humor. There’s nothing funny about living your life as a hearing person and then being thrust into a world of silence, discrimination, and, sometimes, downright torment. There’s no negating that fact. But if you stop and try…really try…to see if you can find something in the situation (even if in retrospect) that can help make you smile, eventually you’ll find yourself agreeing with the old saying: “Life is short, so laugh it up!” Or, in lipreading, that might be: “Lie for sure. Do I have a gun?” Fitting, wouldn’t you say?