Goodbye, Grandpa

I gave this eulogy at my grandfather’s funeral this morning. He died just shy of his 98th birthday. No words can quite capture how special he was.

I was lucky enough to grow up in the same city as all four of my grandparents. I was even luckier to have one with me for 41 years. He was the only one of the four who met his great-grandchildren. He was called Lucky J for a reason.

No wonder he beat me most of the time in gin, one of our favorite things to do together. He always told me I shuffled too much – “Enough already!” he’d say, while I complained that he barely shuffled at all.

When I think of Grandpa, I think of an eternal optimist, someone who loved to laugh and make others laugh, and someone who was fun to be around. After all, how many people can say they gave their grandpa – known for his dirty sense of humor — a subscription to Playboy as a gift?

Grandpa never had great hearing, but it was ironic that despite two deaf granddaughters, he liked to bluff. If you asked, “What movie did you see?” he’d nod and smile. You don’t mess with the master; I knew when he was pretending to understand!

Grandma and Grandpa used to wear matching outfits – you know like those jogging suits you wear to do everything but jog? I bet they’re wearing them now, holding court at a bowling alley in the sky.

A long, full life is all any of us can hope for. Grandpa was a winner to the end.

Recharging my batteries

I recently returned from my 19th AG Bell Convention. The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is an organization that has been a part of my life since 1980, when my parents discovered it after my diagnosis. Thank goodness they did, because it has had a huge positive impact on my life and many others.

My family attended every biennial convention — always held in a different city — and planned family trips around each location. Initially, the goal was to further our education by doing, like when we rode every type of transportation as we traveled from Portland, OR to San Francisco, CA. I still have vivid memories of sleeping on a train, or trying to, anyway. Now my parents tag along as I bring my husband and kids.

Even though my younger sister was deaf, there’s a lot to be said for meeting other speaking deaf peers. AG Bell’s mission of advocating independence through listening and talking is so important, especially when the critical language development window is concerned. The organization is comprised of professionals, parents, and deaf adults. Before email, we used to write letters back and forth. Now these long-time friends have become my family, and each convention I love picking up where we left off and meeting new faces.

After my sister died, we established an AG Bell scholarship fund in her name. Several conventions ago, we started using that money toward a Dena Goldstein Mixer, with the goal of having deaf teens interact with older deaf adults so we can act as mentors and support for one another. The social component of the conventions was Dena’s (and my) favorite, so this was a perfect fit.

This year’s mixer was the best yet. A few parents came with their kids, likely to ensure their attendance. I approached one family and found out they were attending their first convention. The teenager with hearing loss didn’t know anyone else and seemed shy. My friend Rachel — my oldest AG Bell friend, in fact — walked by, so I pulled her over to introduce them. After I explained this was her first convention, Rachel beckoned for her to follow, and brought her over to a table with other deaf teenagers. The next thing we knew, they were all talking animatedly.

The last day of the convention, a mother approached me after one of my sessions to thank me for the mixer. She couldn’t speak, she was so overcome. She explained that she had two deaf daughters. The older one is social and has done AG Bell’s Leadership Opportunities for Teens Program, or LOFT. Unfortunately, it was created after my time, so I couldn’t benefit. Among other things, it improves teens’ confidence and advocacy skills, and the groups become friends for life. The younger daughter has no friends and didn’t want to come to the convention or do LOFT. The mother practically dragged her to the mixer, where another teenager approached her daughter. This was life changing, the mother said, because the daughter was then forever texting her new friends about meeting up at the pool or for breakfast. She now wants to do LOFT and is like a whole new person. Needless to say, we were both crying during this conversation.

This is the point of the mixer and why we do it. This is why I attend conventions. As one of my friends said over the weekend, it’s hard work surviving in the hearing world. It truly recharges our batteries when we’re able to be in a fully accessible, understanding environment, with others who get it, and where we can truly be ourselves.

Summertime!

Our windows (over 42 of them!) have been cleaned, the screens are in, the cat is trying to figure out which sill she prefers, and the fresh air is filled with sounds of birds and… wait? What was that? Whining, crying, and bickering? Those don’t fit with this lovely tableau!

School ended over three days ago. On the second day, my son dared to utter the two most despised words in this house: “I’m bored!” There’s only so much screen time I’ll allow the kids. Despite the many toys and books they have, each summer I remind them that I didn’t have technology when I was a kid. I used *gasp* my imagination!

I understand wanting to revel in homework-free days without an alarm clock. Except my kids don’t have the ability to sleep in. Apparently they also lack the ability to process a parental request. After telling my daughter several times to clean up her stuff from the kitchen shelves, she gave me an eye roll and a “Stop, Mom!”

Maybe there’s hope. She just informed me that she’s going to change, do her chores, and then maybe she’ll tackle the shelves… Here’s hoping she does, and that we all survive the summer!

Today’s PSA

I had a routine medical procedure today, which was educational for everyone involved.

The first form I filled out had a box for special needs, so that’s where I mentioned my deafness and lipreading ability. Despite this, the nurse who came to get me in the waiting room hadn’t looked at the sheet and called my name twice. When Aaron and I got her attention and explained, she looked at him and said, “I’m going to take her back now.”

After that, I noticed a post-it on my folder about my being a deaf lipreader – perfect.

When the anesthesiologist came to talk to me, I had trouble understanding her. I looked at her name and realized she had an accent. Except she was wondering about mine. “How long have you had that nasally twang?” she asked me. I explained it was because of my deafness, but she didn’t seem convinced. She asked about my “COCK-leer implant,” which I left in my locker, while I kept my hearing aid. “You don’t have to say you’re deaf, because you’re wearing the hearing aid and you’re hearing,” she said or something like it. “But I am deaf!” I said.

In the private room for the procedure, one of the nurses introduced herself. Another nurse alerted her to my deafness, so she repeated her words, except she over-enunciated so I actually had trouble understanding her.

When it was all over, I kept asking Aaron the same questions, but that was temporary amnesia due to the twilight anesthesia. As a test, he told me to remember the color “magenta,” and then a few minutes later, asked what color he had picked. I got it right. ‘Course that didn’t stop me from asking a question and then adding, “I asked that already, didn’t I?”

So, to recap, here’s today’s PSA:

Read all notes, particularly the bright yellow one on top.

Address me directly.

If you’re wondering about my accent or why I sound nasal, believe me when I tell you it’s because I’m deaf.

Wearing a CI or HA doesn’t mean I’m now hearing. It just means I’m hearing better.

Cochlear implant is NOT pronounced COCK-leer, but coh-cleer.

Don’t over-enunciate or talk louder. That will only make it harder for me to understand you and make you look foolish.

Thank you!

Inspiring talk

Last night, I was lucky enough to attend Ann Patchett‘s talk as part of the Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures series. I sat at the end of the front row, with CART in front of me. Ann bypassed the podium and spoke standing on a rug in the middle of the stage. She was a wonderful extemporaneous speaker who had the audience enthralled and laughing throughout.

Perhaps more than her books, what Ann is most proud of is opening an independent bookstore in her hometown of Nashville. Parnassus Books filled a void when the big booksellers left. But more than that, it’s brought the community together.

Addressing the theater, Ann said, “You’re here because you’re all readers.” When we read a book we love, we don’t throw it away. We want to share it with others, which may be one of the best things about reading. Ann isn’t shy about telling people she disapproves of the books they’re holding. She doesn’t push books on people to make a buck, but to make sure they’re reading the right books.

Ann says Barnes & Noble is on its way out. Unfortunately, the main independent bookstore in Pittsburgh is over the river and through bridges and tunnels. Needless to say, we could use more independent bookstores. Afterward the talk, my friend and fellow book club member half jokingly said our book club should open one. Our book club’s name would work for the store, if you ask me: Booksburgh. Is that not perfect?!

As another friend and book club member said, “Now we just need a famous author to buy in!”