Whoo hoo! Christmas is almost here—and so are Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and the Winter Solstice! The excitement and sparkle, the food and wine, the gifts, the spirituality, the music! Activities to share, beauty to both see and hear….
Sheesh, it was all good until that last point—the bit about hearing. The season is supposed to be one of joy, but for some people it brings on ‘holiday blues’. And for people who have hearing loss, who are hard of hearing, no other holiday season drives home the hard and loss like this one. The calendar is jammed, or at least busier than usual, with parties and dinners, TV specials, church events, and concerts—most of which present some degree of communication challenge for people who don’t hear well.
Around now, many hearing loss-related organizations publish articles on how to survive—even enjoy—the holidays with hearing loss, and I guess this one of them. All these articles and blogs offer heaps of great hints on accessible communication and what we should do to avoid becoming too stressed out—or cut out of important holiday events. Sitting on the sidelines of conversations is no fun and can turn joy into pain. And that’s not the seasonal spirit we’re aiming for, right? Every year I write to Santa about this. In 2011, 2012 and 2013, I asked for thoughtful gifts to give a hearing boost to me and my people (the ones living with the hard and loss).
But I’m finally getting a little smarter about Santa (see below) – and in addition to the many lists of jolly-holiday hearing DOs, I would like to offer a few holiday DON’Ts, because you don’t want hearing loss to be the defining memory of your 2014 holidays.
- Don’t write to Santa with heavy burdens that can’t fit in his sleigh. I tried that, and I’m still waiting for ‘peace and happiness for the whole wide world’ and ‘better hearing for everyone, everywhere’. I’m also waiting for a round dining table. But if that’s on your list, too (round tables make it easier to speechread), Santa could help you to help yourself with something more practical. Ask for a band saw to create a round table out of your current square one, or ask for a neckloop to use with your hearing aid’s telecoil which you can plug into your favorite Christmas music. Just something that Rudolph and the gang can carry more easily
- Don’t pass the responsibility for good communication to someone else. You know what you want to hear and you know what you have to do to hear it. Make your family and friends partners in your communication. You know what they say: ask and you will receive. OK, so you have to ask way more than once, but that comes with the territory.
- Don’t opt out of communicating at the dinner table. “Ho, ho, ho. Everyone paid more attention to the turkey than they did to me. I didn’t know what anyone was saying.” Don’t just leave and do the dishes (unless it’s your turn). Sit where you have the best view of everyone – or beside the most interesting or funniest person(s) – and don’t worry about what the rest of ’em are saying. (Believe it or not, hearing people are also challenged during noisy feasts.) If someone is making a speech or a toast, ask them to stand up and speak up. Or give your own.
- Don’t dwell on Christmases Past. As adults, our holiday celebrations don’t seem to quite match up to our childhood Christmas memories—and we may also grieve for the time when we could hear better than we do now. But life changes. We need to rise to the joy of this year—what can we do to make this year more accessible?
- Don’t forget that the people you care for – also care for you. They want to communicate, but they can’t be inside your head, hearing the way you do (or don’t), anticipating your every communication need, in the exact moment you need it. Have pity on these poor folk – one moment we say “speak up”, and the next it’s “you don’t need to yell”. When they forget to face us, or seem to exclude us from conversation, it’s not deliberate. (And hey, if it IS deliberate, it’s probably because of that odd-looking sweater you gave them, rather than your hearing loss. Just saying…)
- Don’t forget that outside of your house is a universe. Hold hands with someone and go for a walk. Absorb the peace and inhale the quiet.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you give into frustration. It’s normal and natural and no one said living with hearing loss is easy. But it can be easier if we forgive ourselves and others when communication is not perfect.
- Don’t underestimate the power of food to soothe and smooth over the rough moments. Regardless of how we hear, turkey still tastes like turkey, mashed potatoes are white mounds of eternal bliss, wine still tickles our tongue, and Christmas cookies and dessert still bring joy to the tummy.
There’s no magic Santa-dust that will change our hearing. But we do have the power to improve our communication. So, DO have a happy, joyous holiday!
I loved this article, Gael! This will be my Dad’s first Christmas with his hearing loss. I’ll be sure to pass this along to him!
Neat article Gael – so much hit home! Thank you.
My older daughter’s birthday is in mid-December and as we celebrated first, at a restaurant, and then at her house, I found myself, again, frustrated from not catching what was said. I’d asked my 18 yr old granddaughter to repeat something, and she spoke the dreaded words” Never mind”.
But Part II, at my daughter’s home afterwards, everyone was laughing and telling jokes, stories, most of which I missed but..I noticed all of them were so enjoying themselves that it dawned on me, this party was not about me, it was about ALL of us, a family unit, unbroken by divorce or death, everyone healthy, no one unemployed, so very much to be thankful for.
THAT’S the message I’m going to carry in my grateful heart.
Gael, Many thanks for your article and attitude. It gave me a boost today when I needed it, and I hope that boost lasts through the holidays.
Merry Christmas and Happy Now Year!