Here is a link to an article I wrote for Medium a couple of weeks ago. I hope you are enjoying these wonderful summer days.
Here is a link to an article I wrote for Medium a couple of weeks ago. I hope you are enjoying these wonderful summer days.
I am pleased to announce that my very first children’s book, The Legend of Eddie the Whale has now launched! This has been a very exciting week for me with my very first school visit to my grandson’s kindergarten class on lauch day.
While my book is not specifically about any group, it is important for me to show positive examples of diversity in my books. Examples that allow the reader to SEE that we are ALL part of the mainstream and not invisible in literature. It’s about the story, not the difference. We are here. The person first before the identifying factors.
My book includes an example of a man who is homeless.A man with a cochlear implant. A woman in a beach wheelchair. Culturally Deaf individuals using ASL. People of color sharing in a common experience. Positive examples of an aging population. Pictures of diverse populations. Just showing that we all exist rather than making any population invisible—that is what inclusion is all about. Kids need to see themselves and the people they love in books.
The Legend of Eddie the Whale, now available on Amazon by using the following link:
First and foremost, I want to thank all my loyal subscribers for continuing to subscribe to my blog! There are are a lot of good things in the works, and I’d like to share them with you.
As you can see, I’ve enlisted the help of the talented Tina Wijesiri to do a little artwork for my social media pages, and I feel her input gives my blog a look that pops. Her artwork adds a bit of humor to my title. I couldn’t resist asking her to include those pizzas!
My blog will continue to tell stories related to hearing loss. But since we are multi-faceted creatures, there are many sides to our identity. In addition to addressing hearing loss, my future blogs will include topics of interest to baby boomers and an aging population. There will be more articles on diversity as well. Speaking of diversity, my books are really taking form!
My children’s book The Legend of Eddie the Whale will be ready for summer 2019! I have been busy working with a very talented artist who is skillful in capturing images that portray the characters and the story. My book is about diversity, kindness and life’s lessons in a simple format. It will be available on www.amazon.com around the end of June or early July. I will keep you posted on this.
Also in the works is my book Living in the Color Magenta. This book is a memoir styled with individual stories about my hearing loss journey, growing older, growing up Italian overcoming obstacles and celebrating our later years. My purpose is to hopefully inspire and perhaps offer the reader a little humor along the way.
My website has been updated to reflect changes. If you care to visit my website, it is www.marygracewhalen.com.
Once again, thank you for continuing to support my work.
According to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), 1 in 3 Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 have a hearing loss. Beyond that population, about half of those older than 75 years of age have some difficulty with hearing.
While there are many effective solutions to hearing loss such as hearing aids, cochlear implants and assistive devices, health care professionals must always remember to treat the whole person.
For example, let’s take the number of persons with hearing loss who experience depression. Studies often discuss the physical and psychological consequences of aging, but how often are the psychological and emotional needs of the late-deafened population discussed? Is the person of a normal body weight? Do they have an eating disorder related to their frustration with losing their hearing? Do they have co-dependency issues with alcohol or other substances? Has it been addressed? Has a bout of depression been attributed to another health problem when it may be due to the isolating nature of hearing loss?
Years ago when I lost my husband I went into therapy. I was surprised at how little the social worker knew about the consequences of hearing loss. While she thanked me for teaching her all that she ever knew about treating someone with hearing loss, she never discussed why I was engaging in emotional eating. All this made me wonder how much training psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers receive in dealing with hearing loss.
Another issue is factoring in how we feel about all the changes that come along with aging with a hearing loss? How has that affected our lives? Do we feel less attractive wearing a hearing device? Do we WEAR the device as much as we should? Do we socialize less because we aren’t informed about devices or venues that can help us function in situations that we thought were inaccessible to us? Do we feel embarrassed to tell friends we are missing what they are saying? Are our friends and family supportive of us? Do we feel a sense of disconnect because we have lost friends or family members at this time of life?
Hearing loss can be a real challenge. Those of us with hearing loss know about the big bluff. Someone tells us something once, then twice, then the third time we smile and pretend we are with them. Are we in denial of our hearing loss? Do we accept this new older late-deafened person we have become? Has the transition from a mild hearing loss to one that impacts us profoundly affected our lifestyle or our home life? Growing older can have it’s challenges. Have we pasted together who we were and who we are at this stage of life? Do we embrace that identity?
In an aging population, when we are experiencing our worst bout of hearing loss other physical or personal losses are occurring. In a strange way, if we use this tremendous loss as a learning experience, we end up more resilient. We must be our own advocate and seek solutions. But we can sure use a little coaching along the way. We need more health professionals who understand the complexities of hearing loss.
How can health professionals help?
Hospitals and nursing homes are filled with an aging population of people with hearing loss. Health professionals must learn how to communicate and treat people with hearing loss. Signage above the bed in hospitals and voice recognition/visual devices need to be installed. Nursing homes need to ensure patients are wearing their hearing devices, have working batteries and routine device checks. Dentists need to wear surgical masks with a clear view to help us read their lips. Psychologists must read up on the consequences of hearing loss in later life and remember to include their findings in treating the whole person. Doctors must have visual/vibrating devices to help patients know when their name is called in the waiting room. Printouts of instructions, a diagnosis and contact information should be routine. Text and email communications are long overdue.
All of this can help to prevent misdiagnosis. Most of all, professionals who are informed about the consequences of hearing loss help to promote a state of well being and inclusiveness for their patients. Baby boomers are change masters. They take a problem and seek out new and innovative solutions. The solution here is inclusiveness in healthcare. We are long overdue for new practices. Let’s all work for change and be the master of our own journey.
Dear Dan Rather,
In late January you were a guest speaker at my local Barnes & Noble store to discuss What Unites Us, a book authored by you & Elliot Kirschner (https://www.amazon.com/What-Unites-Us-Reflections-Patriotism). The crowds arrived early, and people began to line up well before starting time.
I am a late-deafened baby boomer, but I am a bilateral cochlear implant recipient, so I can function pretty well while wearing my devices. Due to my less-than-perfect hearing, I arrive at these events well in advance to ensure good seating. On this particular evening, I was able to get a second-row seat in the center of the event area. Eager and ready, I pulled out a small microphone that serves as an assistive device to supplement my cochlear devices. Needless to say, staying connected to our world is a priority those of us who suffer from profound hearing loss need to keep up with.
As the program began, the crowds clapped and you were seated. It took a few small adjustments to make sure the store’s microphone for the event was working optimally. I sat in my seat feeling somewhat conspicuous pointing my personal microphone in your direction. As you looked straight ahead, I did my best to hear the program and get the full benefit from assistive technology. But wait. Did I spot at least one hearing aid when you turned your head? Perhaps then, you would understand why I was pointing this tiny device in your direction. I was trying to get the full benefit of your words.
Right before the questions from the audience began, you stated you had a confession to make. You informed the audience that your hearing is not what it used to be, preparing them for the possibility of not hearing a question or even answering it inappropriately through no fault of your own. Then you went on to tell the audience about Walter Cronkite who suffered from hearing loss in his lifetime. You added a humorous story that so many of us whose hearing is not what it used to be can relate to.
But it didn’t end there. A young man in the audience with a small child opened a discussion about race. He said that he looked around the room and there were few people in the audience that looked like people “where he comes from.” It was so important that the young child with him could witness your insightful response. It was also important to me that this young child heard you speak openly about your own hearing loss, sometimes with the humor we all need to keep things in perspective.
Finally, often on social media I see young people with hearing loss or culturally Deaf individuals ask what kind of job someone with hearing loss can do. You validated the point that persons with hearing loss can be whatever they want to be just by being present and speaking candidly. Hearing loss is a disability, and unfortunately issues concerning persons with disabilities is an often forgotten part of discussions about diversity.
Getting back to that small child, through your words, the next generation was reminded that although change often comes slowly, an open discussion gives a voice to those of us who have felt on the outskirts of society for whatever reason. Mr. Rather, that is something that unites us, and I thank you.
Mary Grace Whalen
Dan Rather’s website is www.danrather.com
Here is a link to a humorous story Dan Rather has posted on hearing loss and aging:
In an old re-run of the Sex and the City series, Candice Bergen plays Carrie’s single boss. She laments to Carrie that the older man in her life should be seeking women his own age, and that every time an older man seeks an younger partner, the pool gets smaller for her and other older women. This statement represents a belief held by many older women.
I married my high school sweetheart. A few years after being widowed, I started dating again. Wow was that ever a shock for me to see what dating was like at 56! I can’t say there aren’t good and nice men out there. Sometimes the chemistry just isn’t there. But as mama says, you can’t hurry love. I have often looked up to the sky and wondered what my husband would have thought of some of the crazy men I have dated. I then imagine him looking back down at me shaking his head and asking, “Where did you meet that guy?” But someday, if we meet again, I have a lot of stories to tell.
Admittedly, the first man I dated I broke up with because I simply wasn’t ready. Not his fault. He WAS a good guy. It’s just some of the random experiences in between then and now that if anything have made me more aware, and yes given me a few laughs.
Take the hairstylist who always wanted to know if I was seeing someone. Bingo! She knew a man who wore hearing aids, was my age and loved traveling all over the country in his RV, — something I would like to do someday. There’s a lot of truth to the fact that we who have hearing aids or cochlear implants sometimes communicate differently, and it takes a special person to understand that. But that is where the similarity between me and this man ends as I soon learned. We arranged a meeting.
He took me to a top-rated restaurant and called ahead to ask for seating that was conducive to my hearing loss, which was far worse than his. Nice. Then after telling him I was trying to lose weight so I was going to watch what I ate, he ordered plate after plate of appetizers, insisting that I taste them all. I’m sure he meant well. But he spent the whole night lamenting about how his second wife left him, — taking most of his assets before leaving. He never asked me anything about my life. He just talked nonstop.
Then there was the guy who really tried to come into my world of profound hearing loss by learning sign language for those times I might need a little extra help. That really touched my heart. But he didn’t know how to talk to wait staff, and returned just about every meal he ordered out with statements about how poorly the food was prepared. As the mother of a professional chef, I didn’t digest that well, no pun intended. Then one night, he asked me to close all the lights in my house because he “borrowed some money from some bad people” who were after him. My home is not a stakeout! I later learned his his ex-wife was also after him for child support payments.
By now, I had already received my first cochlear implant. How about the guy who wanted to know if my hearing would get worse? I told him I did not come with a warranty. Besides, he had a life-threatening illness. What if I asked him about that? Wouldn’t it be rude? Truth is, my hearing DID get worse. I now wear two cochlear implants. So what?
Now this really gets good, or bad might be a better word. I met this guy who was widowed like me. Had two kids. Brought me flowers. Not one dozen, but two dozen on the first date. Took me to the top of the Rock and on a dinner cruise around Manhattan in the same day. Took me on a helicopter ride around Manhattan another day and to see the Rockettes perform the Christmas show. We ate in the best of restaurants and had a lot of fun together. And then he planned a picnic upstate because I mentioned loving to photograph cows. But he got into foul moods sometimes without explanation. He was a no-show for New Year’s eve, and he told me he punched the TV when he found out the diagnosis of his new dog was “deaf.” I said, “The dog is dead?,” when he called me on the phone. He said no, “THE DOG IS DEAF!” So now he had a deaf dog and and a deaf girlfriend. So his behavior prompted me to do a Google search on him. It turned out he had a long history of drug and alcohol abuse, and he had an arrest for driving down the street the wrong way in another state under the influence. He didn’t drink or show evidence of drugs when he was with me, except the moods. But I attributed it to the grief that comes when we have lost a spouse. When I read about his abuse and knew how I trusted him, my whole body shook. I had to sit down and process it. Although he was of Russian/Jewish heritage, he put down on the record I found on Google that he was Cambodian. He must have been flying high!
Then there was the profoundly religious man 10 years my junior who loved my silver tresses. He would call me on the phone at night when he got out of work and talk to me, — for four hours on average. We talked about life. About God. He quoted Biblical passages. He even told me after his marriage failed he was considering converting to Episcopalian to become a priest. He opened doors, paid for everything, and I even invited him to meet my children on Christmas eve. Then he started acting weird. So, once again this prompted me to do a Google search on him, which I should have done in the first place. Trust is earned. Well, not only did he already have another girlfriend when he met me, but she created a blog warning other women to stay away from him. This woman never knew I existed, but if I ever met her I would have thanked her for not letting me get into this any deeper.
Some of the funniest experiences I have had have been through online dating. Men lie about their age. When you meet them in person, they don’t look anything like their picture. I never went out with anyone who didn’t post a picture. Show your face if you have nothing to hide. Then there is the type who has no picture, no profile information but just messages you with a phone number. Huh? What is there to love about someone who won’t be transparent? Then there is the type that posts a profile like it is a resume listing all their accomplishments since the Beatles came to town, letting us know they were at Woodstock and that everyone thinks they are really perhaps 35 or 40. Right!
At the end of my work life, I was an adjunct professor of English. I taught writing and research courses, and I found myself mentally marking up online profiles with that little red pen in my head. If you are going to lie, use spellcheck!
Here are some examples:
“I went to collage.”
“I am a docter.”
“I like feminine woman who wear colon.”
Then there is the actual meeting. One guy I was suppose to meet at Panera Bread for coffee, suddenly stepped out from a hidden doorway when he saw me. Was he going to slip away if he didn’t like what he saw.
As far as ethnicity is concerned, the beauty of this age is that we are not out to impress anyone or satisfy their limitations. We date whomever we wish to date, and many of us care more about mutual values than background. Diversity can only enrich our experience. To each his own, but a dedicated, loving partner trumps differences.
I have since given up on online dating, although I know some who have had good experiences. But I haven’t given up on love. They say you will meet someone when you least expect it. It’s always nice to have a partner. That is the highest compliment you can pay your partner who has passed because it means they gave you a wonderful example of what love SHOULD be.
In the meantime, someday if my husband and I do meet again in the hereafter, I have some funny stories to tell him.
We’ve all been present at some time or another when someone makes a hurtful comment about hearing loss. Often, these comments imply hearing loss and aging go hand in hand.
“The ears are the first thing to go, haha.” How many times have we heard this?
Sometimes we witness people imitating a nineteenth-century horn placed in the ear or cupping the ear imitating how we look when we struggle to hear.
Over the years, one of the main reasons I have heard friends or family give when they are resistant to getting help is the negative stereotype society has placed on wearing these devices. We’ve all seen the advertisements claiming the manufacturer has the smallest device to offer, almost invisible! Finally, the industry has realized that a plastic flesh-colored instrument still looks like a hearing aid. Both the hearing aid and cochlear implant manufacturers have realized that many people really want something that is small or similar to mainstream Bluetooth devices.
Let’s talk about the adult population. Here are some interesting facts about hearing loss, disease and aging:
“A recent study found that hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes as it is in those who don’t have the disease. Also, of the 86 million adults in the U.S. who have pre-diabetes, the rate of hearing loss is 30 percent higher than in those with normal blood glucose.” (diabetes.org)
“Studies have shown that a healthy cardiovascular system–a person’s heart, arteries and veins–has a positive effect on hearing. Conversely, inadequate blood flow and trauma to the blood vessels of the inner ear can contribute to hearing loss.” (better hearing.org)
Having a stroke may damage the areas of your brain related to hearing–this can cause hearing loss. (www.nhs.uk)
Dementia – Many of us who belong to the Hearing Loss Association of America (www.hearingloss.org), have had the opportunity to hear Dr. Frank Lin speak. Dr. Lin, as an assistant professor at John Hopkins and an otologist and epidemiologist studies the effects of hearing loss in older adults. According to an article in the January 15, 2015 Chicago Tribune, “A 2011 study of some 600 older adults found that those with hearing loss at the beginning of the study were more likely to develop dementia than adults with normal hearing. In fact, the more severe the hearing loss, the more likely they were to develop dementia; volunteers with mild, moderate and severe loss were two, three and five times more likely to develop dementia than those with normal hearing. (chicagotribune.com)
I found this interesting because as we age, our metabolism slows down: In a 2010 study, Shinichi Someya, et al found that a caloric restriction extends the life span and health span of a variety and species and slows the progression of age-related hearing loss. The study implies this may be true in mammals. (journals.plos.org)
There are other areas of our well being that hearing loss can affect. Many people with hearing loss are isolated, depressed, lack socialization and connections, and all of these can affect our homeostasis. As some of this research implies, the ear is not an isolated part of our being.
Finally, to get back to the beginning of this article which references jokes about the ears being the first thing to go, countless studies by health professional such as gerontologists, hospice workers and others will tell you at the end of life, hearing is the last sense to go.
“Most people with a terminal illness become unconscious in the last few hours or even days before death. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t know you are there. Many palliative care and hospice professionals will tell you that hearing is often the last sense to go at the end of life. ” (m.webmd.com)
Well after your loved one can no longer speak, he or she can still hear you say, “I love you.” (m.webmd.com) I think that’s pretty amazing.
Do you ever look at someone and try to imagine who they were as a child or as a young adult?
Each of us has a story, with many chapters. In a few weeks I will celebrate my 70th birthday. For many of us, there are many versions of our “self” that include a younger version and the one that will always be in our minds. But time does pass, and the older I get the more I realize how important time is. Use it wisely. It is the ultimate gift each of us is given.
On being deaf- If someone had told me in my youth that I would someday be totally deaf, I don’t know how well I would have handled it. Over the years, I have struggled with this slow progression towards silence and the mindsets society has placed upon those of us who have trouble communicating with the mainstream. Like most people with hearing loss, I have navigated my journey through rude store clerks, discrimination in the workplace and even jerky people who we thought were sensitive and above treating us like secondhand citizens.
But there is an upside to this experience for sure. Strangely, I have experienced my greatest growth because of this experience. Losing my hearing has made me more sensitive to the plight of those on the outskirts of society, it has humbled me and made me really think about what someone else’s journey may be like. It has also made me determined to complete whatever goals I choose despite being deaf.
In the silence, I heard my own voice and I began to write and publish work. In my upcoming book, Living In The Color Magenta, I compare going deaf to smothering and drowning. That is what it always felt like to me. Going down, no one hearing you and having no voice. I have said it before, and I will say it again. If it weren’t for the Hearing Loss Association of America www.hearingloss.org over the last more than 25 years, I don’t know how well I would have fared. This organization gives people like me a place to go to advocate and share with others in our journey. Hearing loss is isolating, and like many others I have tremendous respect and gratitude for their work. This organization and the love of my family gave me courage when I really needed it. We need to always pay it forward.
I am very lucky to be living in an era where there is something called a cochlear implant. Helen Keller, Thomas Edision, Beethoven and so many others were not. Almost every week someone approaches me and asks me about this miraculous operation. I can wake up deaf, and put on my implants and be part of the hearing world. For this, I will always be grateful.
About gray (grey) hair-I remember finding my first gray hairs when I was 26 years old and pregnant with my first child. I was mortified. How could I already have grays? My hair was very dark brown, and I was still wearing a “Cher” hairdo with bangs and long dark tresses. The steely grays really stood out. Over the next 40 years, I went from dark brown to light brown, auburn, blonde and platinum. One day after being sick and not being able to make it to the colorist, I examined my shimmery grays showing through at the part and I just said, “I’m not doing this anymore.” I kind of liked that my natural pearly shade matches best with my dark Italian coloring, and it was very liberating to accept my new look and older self.
To each his own. I see many women ditching the bottle and feeling confident enough to be comfortable with their changing looks. Even my colorist told me in recent years, “You actually look younger with your own natural hair color, even though I lost a customer.” I appreciated that.
But growing older is about so much more than gray hair. Time is passing and we are becoming older and more vulnerable. There’s a greater chance for serious illness or a fall. That sometimes scares me. We lose lots of people we care for and love. These losses are profound.
I have always tried to be there for my children. I think every parent always feels they want to help their children if there is a crisis for as long as they live. But somewhere along the way, the tables turn and our kids become our strength. It’s beautiful to have wonderful children, but kind of shocking to witness this shift.
On being Italian- I will always be grateful for my strong Italian roots. Being the daughter of an immigrant parent allowed me to understand the plight of so many generations who have come to the U.S. My parents gave us a strong Christian faith, my Italian-born father’s love of opera and his garden were inspiring. My mother’s binding efforts to give us a traditional, strong family life complete with ethnic foods and rituals. Christmas, Easter Sunday, faith hope and patriotism… all of these were true gifts.
A few more observations-
Sometimes I can still hear my mother’s voice– At this stage of my life, I look so much like my mother, I almost expect her to answer back when I look in the mirror. My mother made it through some pretty tough stuff. As a child, I always felt she was so strong it was almost intimidating. But somehow, that shy little girl I used to be inherited some of her resilience. I am grateful for that gift. I recently was hospitalized after a fall and in serious condition. As I looked up and saw IV attached to one arm, a nurse taking blood from the other, while one nurse waited to take my temperature and blood pressure, I heard words like sepsis, 104 fever, put her in cardiac care, etc. Was my life in danger? How would my mother handle this? Suddenly, I could hear her firm voice speaking to the grim reaper saying, “I’m not going anywhere!” So I repeated that phrase in my mind and it gave me courage. I’ve had these moments before, andI suspect I will have them again.
On fathers and daughters- Fathers definitely have a lot to do with how a woman will see herself as worthy and lovable. I was lucky to have a father that instilled that in me and a good husband who gave that gift to his daughters.
On being in love- I’m glad that I have loved and been loved. Even though it hurts like hell when you lose someone, it is an experience to not be missed. It is one of the greatest gifts in life. No one can ever take that away from you.
Family- It’s all that matters. Period. So glad my daughters are not just sisters, but they have always been best friends.
On being a grandma- There is nothing like it! Love this little boy. I want to watch my grandson grow taller than me, watch him fall in love for the first time, hear his stories and keep that special connection we have forever.
On dogs- they really are nicer than people 🙂