Vera Brearey: I’m not sorry for being a serial deaf apologist

Posted on December 7, 2017

One recurrent theme of deafness is that we tell each other not to apologise for it. After all, it’s not our fault that we can’t hear. Sometimes, though, I can’t go with the mainstream. Today’s post contains the confessions of a serial apologiser, and I’m not sorry for it either.

Of course, I hope I don’t apologise in the sense of saying something like “oh dear, I’m really sorry I’m so deaf, do forgive me” (who does?) but like most British people my daily language is thoroughly peppered with apologies for this, that and the other.

We say sorry when someone else bumps into us in the street. We apologise to people if it’s raining outside. I’ve just said sorry to my dog for treading on her paw (she’s a clever dog, but she doesn’t speak English).

So the fact that I might well say “sorry, I missed that, try again?” when attempting to decipher some bit of conversation seems, to me, an entirely reasonable thing to do.

It’s a social convention, a conversational lubricant. It feels polite, to me.

Importantly (I feel) it’s a way of indicating that I try to appreciate that my hearing loss affects people other than me.

My husband is the prime example. Friends and acquaintances can bow in and out of my life and deal with my recalcitrant ears in short bursts but Nigel is stuck with me day in day out.

He repeats and rephrases endlessly and patiently. I like to think I’d be as patient and cheerful as he is if our roles were reversed but it’s a hope not a certainty.

I like to think that my sigh and accompanying “sorry, love, but I’m still not getting it” is what any reasonable person would say to someone who is desperately trying to help them. Am I wrong?

Then, of course, there are the endless people who apologise to ME because I’M deaf. I find this happens constantly. I’ll be failing in some social interaction with someone I don’t know (say, in a shop) and I’ll explain that I’m deaf and what I need them to do (look at me, speak more slowly…whatever it is) and they’ll say “oh, sorry”.

Typically, I’ll then grin and say “no need, you didn’t know I was deaf” and we’re both happy.

Perhaps I’m just not militant enough? I can be pretty militant on other deaf-related matters, though, so I think my relaxedness is sorry-specific. I can get very worked up about organisations that insist you telephone them, subtitles that don’t work, audiologists with zero empathy levels ……….. No, I’m certainly capable of militancy, in the right setting.

Perhaps I’m just ridiculously British? There might be some truth in this one. My go-to self-mocking story for sorry-ness occurred in a supermarket car park some years ago.

Returning with my shopping to the car I waited until another car finished parking behind me (their bonnet to my boot). Once the occupant had headed off to get his shopping I busied myself putting my bags in the boot of my car. Suddenly, I felt gentle pressure on the back of my legs. Quickly, the pressure got greater. I was trapped.

The other driver had forgotten to put his handbrake on and the car had gently rolled down the slight slope, pinioning me between my car and his. I wasn’t hurt, but I was thoroughly stuck. So what to do?

Well, with typically Brit sang-froid I looked around for someone within earshot and then shouted out “EXCUSE ME!” (Excuse me? For what? I know. Typically “Brit” though). When I got their attention I yelled out “SORRY. I’m stuck. Can you come and help?” And of course they did, pushed the other car away, went to ask the supermarket to call the owner back to his vehicle……all was well. And I was really very SORRY for all the fuss I’d caused.

So you see what I mean, I have form with this “sorry” business.

Seriously, though, back to deafness. It’s not my fault I’m deaf. But neither is it yours/theirs. A little bit of apologising feels like empathy to me (on both sides). So I’ll keep on apologising to you and you can keep on apologising to me. You don’t agree? Well, let’s agree to differ on this one.


Vera started in February 2016.  In it she talks about her life with hearing loss – first diagnosed in her early 20s and deteriorating steadily since.  She is in her mid 60s and is retired.  She lives in a village in Yorkshire with her husband, Nigel, and dog Izzy.  Resolutely ploughing on, trying to see the funny side.

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