A couple of weeks ago, my neighbor “Margo” passed away. Margo was in her nineties, had a successful career in the corporate world, independently survived her husband by three decades and was still driving just a few months ago.
“She couldn’t hear, she was losing her vision and she was getting grumpy” was all a neighbor had to say about her when hearing of the news.
Was this Margo’s legacy after living in this complex for over five decades? I knew her only surviving relative was a nephew who often sent her flowers. She had outlived all of her relatives in her age group.
I walked past her apartment door and approached the elevator as men filled boxes with knick knacks and other mementos that probably only had value to her. Atop the boxes of random items was an opened box of cornflakes. What was her story? Did the contents of those boxes tell a story about her life?
What I remember most about Margo was that she was friendly. She remembered random facts about neighbors. For instance, for five years, my mother was in a nursing home before she passed away. Margo always remembered to ask me how she was doing. She even went out and bought her a pretty sweater to wear in the nursing home. Also, Margo had a relative who had been a professional opera singer, and she knew I like opera, so she would generate a conversation about our mutual love for the topic. Word got out that sometimes in the afternoon Margo would get on the elevator and ride up and down and just greet neighbors getting their mail or returning from work. But she was never imposing. People liked her. In the winter, neighbors would shovel out her car without her even asking for help. Randomly, neighbors would ask her if she needed anything from the store or check to see if she was alright. Even the superintendent and porters were aware she may need a little extra help during an emergency.
Why did Margo’s passing make me ask so many questions? Fifteen years ago this month, I was widowed after a marriage of 32 years. I did not realize how much I relied on my husband to help me with phone conversations, to hear the doorbell or even to ensure I woke up in the morning. Suddenly being on my own, I developed a strong admiration for women, all women, but especially women with hearing loss who rely on technology and others to ensure they are safe and tending to business in a timely way.
Today, more than ever, there are many women on their own of all ages who are single, divorced or widowed. Often, these women do not live with friends or relatives. Apartment buildings are filled with women on their own, especially older women who may begin to experience their own decline. One of the most common disabilities is hearing loss.
What are some of the things women on their own with hearing loss can do to protect themselves?
- Make sure your complex has the name of next of kin or friends who will initiate action if something happens to you. Make sure they have updated information including your doctor’s name and medicine you may take.
- If there is an emergency in your complex such as a fire, management may need to take extra measures to inform you and be sure you are safe. Make sure they are informed ahead of time of your special needs.
- If you are taken to a hospital, make sure you have an advocate who will ensure you are hearing and understanding questions and directives. Also, every hospital has a patient advocate if you need someone to help you. All too often, people with hearing loss bluff and are too embarrassed to say they missed instructions.
- Make sure you have smoke detectors, fire alarms and carbon monoxide monitors. Many people with hearing loss do not hear at night when their hearing devices are off. There are flashing devices and devices that vibrate to alert the person. Many people do not know this, but many fire departments around the country supply these devices free of charge to persons with hearing loss.
- Make sure at night, all hallways are well lit, throw rugs are securely in place, wires are not in a place that will make you trip. You will rely on your eyes to compensate for what your ears don’t hear.
- Consider getting a service dog. This is a big responsibility, but it may supply you with security and companionship.
- This one is just one of my own. At night after turning off the lights, I keep the blinds slightly open. Although I am on an upper floor, if an ambulance or a fire truck pull up in front of the complex, I will see the strobe light reflect on my ceiling. You may have your own little pointers such as where to position mirrors.
What have I learned from Margo?
- When I moved to this complex seven years ago, I was experiencing one of the largest declines in my hearing. I met so many neighbors at the pool, the gym or in the elevator who introduced themselves. I was too embarrassed to admit I did not get their names. Margo talked to everyone. Although she missed chunks of conversation, she was never afraid to ask questions.
- Margo did not let her hearing loss isolate her. She did her best to keep knowing everyone. Keeping connected is so important, especially as we get older.
- Margo stayed active for as long as she could in her church, clubs and social settings. She got her hair done once a week until the very end.
- Margo did not let anyone define her.
So when someone tried to define Margo by her failing hearing and eyesight or a bad day, I have to say he just didn’t know Margo. If there is one thing those of us with disabilities learn as time goes on, it’s that if we don’t let these things destroy us or define us, we will come out ahead more resilient. And Margo was one tough chick.