The Secret Deafie is a series of anonymous columns written by different writers. Our Christmas eve blog is from one Deafie who finds added challenges get in the way of an enjoyable family Christmas…
I have a complex relationship with my family. I don’t mean my immediate family, who all know how deaf I am and are aware of the various rules (don’t stand in front of light, don’t cover your mouth, don’t look away etc.) and who I see regularly enough to keep reinforcing said rules.
I’m talking about my wider family, my cousins, aunts, uncles, and nowadays nieces and nephews (technically cousins-once-removed but hey, who’s counting, and they’re all cute as buttons). I don’t see them very often, usually only at big family events like weddings, funerals – and Xmas.
Though I love them all and they have never been anything less than supportive of me, this is more than enough. Once a year, we all compare schedules and pick the date that the most people are free, for an official family Xmas gathering. If there’s been no weddings or funerals that year, this is the first and only time I’ve seen them all that year. And I think it’s for this reason that they forget.
They forget not to stand in front of lights or windows. They forget not to look away from me when they’re talking. They sit in dark rooms and chat, and blink when I switch the lights on. They forget how much I am affected by background noise. They forget that I am actually quite deaf. It doesn’t help that I’m able to communicate one-to-one, which then seems to get translated into ‘they must be able to understand group conversations if they can understand me’ and it apparently goes unnoticed that in group conversation, I am very quiet. I’m quiet because I’m bored.
Everyone around me is chatting, catching up and having a great time. I am lost, surrounded by meaningless chatter, and bored out of my mind. Xmas dinner in years past has been torture. I sit alone at a crowded table and eat a nice meal whilst everyone chats. On the occasion that one of my cousins tries to include me in a conversation, I’ll struggle along, trying to pick out what they’re saying above the chatter and for a while I might be part of things, but as the conversation progresses, as conversations do, subjects get changed, new people start talking, and I get lost.
I suppose I could ask for a repeat or a clarification every time I get lost, but if I did this, I’d be doing it quite a lot, and it gets to a point where it’s just easier to laugh fakely, smile, and generally pretend that I’m not lost / bored to death/ feeling totally fed up.
At the end of the day, when we’re all preparing to drive home, a long drive for some of us, everyone is happy, laughing and saying how nice it’s been to catch up with everyone. If I’ve been lucky that year, I’ll have been able to talk to everyone one by one through the day and so I’ll be able to say the same thing truthfully, but even so, much as I love my family individually, when they’re together in a big group, it’s another big group of hearing people for me to feel lost in. I don’t feel as close to my family as they seem to be to each other, though we do try. I don’t feel that they understand at all what it’s like to be deaf, even though they’ve been in contact with me all my life.
Even my aunt, who recently had to start wearing a hearing-aid due to age-related hearing loss, and apparently doesn’t like to wear it because it sucks in all the background noise which drowns out anything useful, has learned nothing. She’s had the best possible lesson in what it’s like to have to wear hearing aids and yet learned nothing at all, as at the last Xmas gathering, she still kept looking away from me while she was talking. I found that annoying, even a little bit upsetting.
Why don’t I say anything? Why don’t I confront my family and demand they try harder to include me? Because they’re my family, I don’t want to cause trouble or conflict, I don’t see them that often anyway and I want it to be positive, and I just don’t know where to start. And individually, they are lovely people. And they give great presents.
They’re just so… hearing.
Thank goodness I only have to do this once a year.
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