Hear me
10:43 a.m. on November 04, 2004
My mother was profoundly hard of hearing. She started to lose her hearing after she had my brother, when she was about 22 years old. They never did really know what caused her hearing loss, but it got perpetually worse as she got older. She wore two hearing aids for as long as I could remember; she could not hear at all without them and had limited hearing with them. This actually worked well in her marriage to my father, because he is the loudest snorer on planet earth, but it would never interrupt her sleep.

My brother, sister and I used to make fun of her, although my brother usually was the instigator. If you made a certain pitch with your voice, it would cause her hearing aids to make a ringing sound. Sometimes we would make her think her hearing aids were ringing when they really were not and we would laugh as she stuck her finger to her ear trying to adjust them. Sometimes we would talk without making sound just to make her think her aids were not working. She always figured us out and laughed along with us, but I do fear our teasing hurt her. The best trick was to invite a friend over and use a lot of cuss words or talk about stealing wine or the Tylenol with Codeine. They would always say: “Shh, your Mom is in the next room”, and I would always shrug and say: “I don’t care”, or “It’s OK, she is cool”.

She was able to read lips really well, but her hearing loss did cause her to be left out, as she could never follow a conversation that was had by several people at once during a party or a group dinner. Talking to her meant constantly having to repeat yourself, which could get frustrating. I think this affected her self-esteem, especially in new situations.

I did sympathize with her when we would go shopping. Cashiers would always talk to her while looking somewhere else or with their mouth covered. My Mom would look to me to translate and I would make sure to make the cashier feel bad for not enunciating. It did teach me to talk directly to people’s faces in case they needed to read my lips.

One time someone asked my Mom what time it was and when my Mom walked on by with out responding, the person mouthed the words: Bitch! I came right up to them and explained that my Mom was deaf, but it is 4:45 PM, you are very welcome.

Sometimes she would use it to her advantage. If she did not like what you were saying, she just would not look at you.

She could still sort of talk on the phone until about 1990, but she could not always hear it ring, so my Dad got an extra loud ringer and hooked up a light to the phone. Whenever the phone rang, it would scare the shit out of you, because it was so loud and sudden with a light going off in unison with the loud ring. It was also dangerous if you had a cat on your lap, because they would inevitably scratch up your leg while trying to escape the wrath of the telephone. There was also a volume control on the earpiece that she would have to turn all the way up in order to hear the person on the other line. It was easy enough to ease drop, because she would talk loudly into the phone and you could hear both sides of the conversation perfectly well. Sometimes she would forget to turn the volume down once she got off the phone, so lord help you if you were the one to answer it the next time it rang, the person on the other end would blow out your eardrum. When it got difficult for her to hear on the phone, she got a TTD machine. This was a typewriter hooked up to the telephone where she could type in her responses and an operator would relate her message to you and would type your message back to her. Trouble was, no one wanted to take that extra time to relay messages through an operator. One of her friends also had a TDD machine, so they could type directly to each other, but eventually stopped using it.

She could not hear if someone was knocking on the door or hear an alarm clock. She wanted to get a hearing ear dog that would alert her to such things, but my Dad said no.

She took a sign language class, but the only other person she could speak to in sign was her sister who was also losing her hearing. I wish we as a family took the time to learn it, too. I did learn how to sing: “We wish you a Merry Christmas” in sign language, but that is it.

When I moved away from home, she could still sort of hear on the phone, but I did not like talking to her. I had to shout into the receiver and constantly repeat myself. I was embarrassed when my roommates were home. I hate that I had no patience back then, because I would give anything to talk to her now.

A year after I moved to Seattle, she came and visited me once by herself. This was a brave feat for her, because she usually had my Dad or someone there to help her. I was proud of her. She wore buttons that said she was deaf, but reads lips, so please look at her when speaking. This was before I had a car, so she was going to take the shuttle to my hotel downtown, but there was some sort of horrendous delay and she was stuck at the airport for 4 hours. I was worried for her and felt so bad. We had a good visit, though. She had a device that she would use when we went to a loud restaurant. It was a microphone she would put in the center of the table hooked to an earpiece. That way she could just hear me talking and it cut out most other noise. It was nice to talk to her, as we had spent years not really saying much to each other.

The invention of email really helped to bridge the communication gap. It was just really great to be able to have these written conversations with her that was so much more immediate than letter by mail. I suspect the Internet has become a wonderful tool for the deaf community, in general.

On 9/11, she was visiting her parents in another town. She watched the footage with them and then had to drive for over an hour back home by herself. She could not hear the radio, so she had no idea what was going on, if more planes were falling from the sky. It was very scary and lonely for her.

When she got sick, not only could she not talk on the phone, but also she could no longer sit at the computer and email. Her chemotherapy prevented her from seeing a lot of people at once; with her immune system compromised, they could make her even sicker. She mainly had to depend on my Dad to relay messages and he never relayed them quite correctly. She was pretty isolated, so I tried to visit as often as possible, flying back and forth from Seattle to California.

She wore her hearing aids up to the end, not wanting to miss any of the last moments she had on earth. When she passed, my brother removed her hearing aids from her ears, as she did not need them anymore. I know that she can hear, now, wherever she is.

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