As the year comes to a close, we often become introspective about life and the year ahead. As I grow older, one truth is for sure. Time is the most important gift we can give others or ourselves. Time well spent on wellness, friendship, family, being productive and sometimes just being still with nature, — it’s all good.
One thing experiencing deafness has taught me is that there is a value to sitting still in the quiet and coming to terms with problems both large and small. Sometimes we need to pause before we can move on to the next dimension in our lives. It is in those moments that we find solutions.
In this hurried world, it is hard to believe stopping to refresh our thoughts is a productive state. But it is sometimes necessary especially as we grow older.
Babies are born. We see people we love struggle with illness and pain. People die. We must always keep the torch burning and share some light with others, especially in their time of need.
How do we measure time? We are all here for just a brief nanosecond. More and more, I want every second to count. I don’t think most of us realize early on how quickly life passes or that life can change in a second.
Sometimes life happens in the simplest of moments.
I for one love to go out in the woods to just listen to the language of the tiny animals, watch diffused sunlight move through the trees, smell the autumn air or feel the crunch of snow under my feet. Somehow, that’s where everything comes into focus. Just me, the forest and the tiny critters.
The ocean seems to be the place most people will go for solitude or reinvention. I’ve always felt that may be because it may take us back to the safety of our first journey in amniotic fluid before taking our first breath. When my hearing loss accelerated and I no longer could hear the waves crashing, I felt like the Earth had lost its rhythm or heartbeat. I felt disconnected for a long time until I could hear those sounds again.
We are far more connected to nature than we realize. Just a day off from the office and into the woods will remind us that there is so much more going on in this world than the frenzied pace we are used to. We are only part of the equation.
I remember a few years ago, one of the professors I worked with decided to retire. When everyone asked him what he wanted to do in retirement his answer was simple. He wanted to spend more time sitting under his favorite tree. That’s all. But he didn’t get to do that very much when he was working.
Whenever the year comes to a close, like many people, I ask myself where am I going? How can I be a better person? What matters? But this year I am challenging myself to the question, “How will I spend my time in the coming year?”
Maybe it’s good to live our lives like every day is our only day. We spend so much time on trivia. Here’s to the coming year and time well spent.
I remember back in 1989 when I received my first closed captioning machine. My family and I sat in front of the television waiting for the machine to shoot out words by newscasters, TV sitcoms or documentaries. The machines were slow and sometimes they produced garbled or incorrect stories that made no sense. But I was grateful to have the opportunity to watch television again. Of course since 1990 all TVs 13″ or larger are required to include a closed-caption option and this soon made the devices obsolete. In the decade that preceded my closed-captioning experience I watched little television. Many shows were not captioned, and I had difficulty following the words even with assistive devices.
I also had trouble hearing on the telephone, so that created struggles both in the workplace and with staying connected with friends and family. Few people understood about the relay and TTYS. Today, there are several companies that offer captioning for both landline and cell phones. Smartphones have helped to keep Deaf and hard-of-hearing people connected. Some doctors now allow notifications by text or email.
Forget music. I just couldn’t make it out before I received my cochlear implants. It was like I was living in a silent movie.
When I think back to times when my children were growing up, with every year that my hearing loss accelerated, I was inclined to tune out more and more. That was not fair to my family and counterproductive to effectively communicating.
I did my best to “pretend” I was a person who could hear well in the workplace. Some of my work experience includes being an executive assistant who took dictation over the phone from anywhere in the country, event planning that required I function and communicate well at social events in well-known NY City hotels, being the world’s worst real estate agent, working in the time-sensitive corporate world and finally being a college professor with over 30 students in each classroom. By the time I came home from work I was exhausted. There is tremendous energy required for a person with hearing loss to function in a hearing world. At the end of the day, as ironic as it sounds, many people just want to go into a silent world. But that’s no excuse!
One of the hardest things in my opinion is socialization with hearing loss. Hearing loss is often misunderstood, and people don’t know how to react. Some shout at us, others over-annunciate their words. Some say “Never mind” when we don’t hear what is said. Frankly, there are some who find it too much work to communicate with us, but let that be their problem. There are plenty of good people in the world, and we must pick ourselves up and keep moving forward.
We now know that isolating ourselves can cause depression, cognition issues and affect our interpersonal relationships. It does get hard, but hearing loss is a sink-or-swim issue. Stay connected or you will likely suffer repercussions in every area of your life.
After reflecting on all this I have concluded that I am guilty of what so many of us are guilty of. Without realizing it, we resort to a world of solitary confinement. If we truly want to stay connected with our interpersonal connections, in the workplace and with friends, we must reach out, take chances, and be a self advocate. Are you self-imposing a life of solitary confinement because it is easier?
Today, there are so many solutions to improve the quality of life of persons who struggle with hearing loss. In a future blog, I will talk about some of those products and solutions. In the meantime, stay connected and keep listening to all the sounds of life.
A trip down to the shore just to listen to the waves crashing
Seagulls gliding through a blue sky, singing in their own unique language
Being able to hear the words, “I love you”
Walking through the woods and hearing the chatter of all the tiny critters and nature at its best
Celebrating a birthday and being able to hear the people I love sing the birthday song
Crickets singing their slumber song after a weary day
The heartbeat of the people and puppies I love
The intonation and emotion in someone’s voice and words
That clinking sound of two glasses and the words “cheers”
Doing my happy dance around the kitchen table to the tunes of my youth
Being able to hear the words “everything will be alright”
Hearing Auld Lang Syne at the stroke of midnight and knowing the world is rejoicing in the birth of a new year with me
Being able to talk on the phone and laugh and cry about life with friends and family
Being able to talk to my three-year-old grandson, and each of us being able to know and love each other through words
Just being part of the world around me and using all of my senses
How could the day go by without acknowledging the work of Graeme Clark who developed the “Bionic Ear” and Chief Scientist, Jim Patrick of Cochlear Corporation www.cochlear.com? All these wonderful sounds would never be possible for me without their hard work and dedication to our cause.
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 🙂
Time- It all comes down to time well spent. How have you spent your time today? My kids told me they are holding me to living to 100 years old, and that’s 30 more years of good living for this deaf, gray and Italian lady. I’m sure there will be many more life lessons. I’m ready.
Post surgery and on my birthday two years ago. I’m looking forward to special chats with my grandson.
So here it is 11 days post cochlear implantation surgery in my left ear. My right ear was implanted in 2005 and has been my only source of intelligible sound for a few years now.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that when the device is off, the recipient defaults to a status of profoundly deaf. It’s really amazing to think that this tiny device implanted under the skull can reconnect someone to the world around them. I thought about that a lot the week before my surgery and found myself feeling a tremendous amount of gratitude and a little weepy. That my surgeon told me he thinks I will probably even benefit more from this surgery than the first one gives me the same goosebumps I felt when I received what Santa promised to deliver on Christmas morning as a child.
The days preceding surgery I spent time with my sister Stephanie in California visiting family. It was a special time with lunches at my nephew’s outdoor picnic table, lots of laughs with her grandson Antonio, a visit to Hollywood, time catching up with a cousin I haven’t seen since I was about five years old and taking some time to discover L.A. I also enjoyed sitting on the porch and watching the monarch butterflies, the hummingbirds and a California fall day at its best. But one of the most profound moments for me was walking down the street with my sister and her reaching for my hand, just like we did back in the days when we walked to Washington Elementary School. Sometimes the greatest messages take place in silence.
Before long, it was time for us to take our red-eye flight back east, and the following day I packed another bag to stay over my daughter Melissa’s house in NYC the night before surgery. An amazing professional chef, she asked me what I would like to eat the night before surgery. I told her something simple.
After Melissa, Lou and the baby greeted me at the door with smooches, I sat down at her dining room table, and we enjoyed a pasta dish, no kidding, — in the shape of tiny ears. It was a dish that contained shrimp and escarole, one of my favorite vegetables. My family’s presence was calming. Somehow even the dog seemed to sense something big was about to happen.
The next morning we took a cab uptown to NYU Medical Center Ambulatory Care. Traffic was horrendous. But once we got there, we met my daughter Valerie and all three of us waited for the nurse to call me in. My daughter Valerie reminded me if I had trouble communicating, just call them in.
So the nurse asked me if I was nervous. Nope. She asked me all those questions they repeat over and over to make sure they have the right person. She asked if it was my left ear they were operating on. She asked why I was here today. The correct answer was to have a cochlear implant, but I couldn’t help throwing in there that I was anxious to have a purpose for that ear besides hanging an earring.
The nurse asked me again if I was nervous. Nope. At that point I just told her give me the juice and send me to that happy place and wake me when it’s over. That surprised my kids because I don’t like to take medication. But they broke out in laughter.
The nurse walked me down the hall and instructed me to go into Room 4 with her. Ah, I get Suite 4 I joked. The celebration was about to take place. Everyone seemed in good spirits as I was told to take a deep breath and I said a silent prayer looking up at the lights, asking my deceased husband to ask God to watch over me.
Next thing I knew, I woke up with a thick gauze “headband” bandage across my head. I looked like I just completed a tennis match. At first I thought I was back in L.A., but soon realized the operation was over. My first thought was, “That’s all?” I felt very little pain. I had very little swelling. I didn’t have the vertigo I had the first time. Very little. I was shooting questions to my kids and the doctor. I asked my kids to take a picture of me to remember the day.
I went back to my daughter Melissa’s house and shared a meal again with family. Greek chicken soup and a lentil dish. Melissa insisted on spoon feeding me. What a reversed role from the past. But it was nice. I slept in a chair (for comfort) and Liffey, their dog, stayed at my feet the whole time. If I moved an inch, he moved an inch closer.
Valerie came home with me for 2 days and nurtured me and watched I didn’t try to do anything I wasn’t suppose to do. I snore like a locomotive, but she never complained. When she left, I found a card on the table expressing how proud she is of me, and letting me know we will always find a way to communicate.
My sister Stephanie came for a day and then Lucille. Friends called to ask if I need anything. I really can’t say I’ve had a hard time, and if this gives anyone courage to go through with this, that makes me happy.
My device will be turned on December 2, the same day the tree will be lit at Rockefeller Center. Can’t wait to play with all those toys Cochlear Corporation gives their recipients to help hear on the phone, in restaurants and other settings.
The tree has always had significance to me because when I was a child, my mother would put all 7 of her children on the train to see the tree. Then we would go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and light a candle, sometimes go see the Rockettes at Radio City and get a sandwich at one of those Horn and Hardart automats. Each of us would get one of those little plastic souvenirs you shake and it appears to snow on a tiny village. That was the beginning of the season for us.
So on December 2 after my appointment I will stay in the City for a bit and enjoy all the sounds and sights of the season. I just may go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and light a candle in remembrance of my mother and how she made the season magical, — and gratitude to my family and friends for always being there for me.