The Snug16th January 2016

Old, Deaf and Side-lined by my Family

Becoming Deaf has brought loneliness to family get togethers, even though I am amongst loved ones

by Viktoria Schmidt

Letter to the Editor

Hello. I just wanted to say thank you for your lovely magazine. I am in Germany, but as I began losing my hearing years ago, and now totally deaf, I like your magazine and the different stories. Some of them help me understand what I am going through. That’s important because it seems to be lost on my own family.

​Growing up in the 40’s and 50’s, Christmas was a special time of year in my family. All my memories are good ones. My father was successful, my mother a full time housewife, and life was good. As children, me, my 2 brothers and a sister wanted for nothing. At Christmas, we were spoiled, with my father always ensuring we had plenty of food on the table, and my mother making sure we always played lots of games and enjoyed good family time.

As a parent myself, I had a similar attitude. Unlike my mum, I worked, but that meant my late husband and I had plenty of money to buy our children everything they wanted and more. Christmas came to be known and celebrated as a time of excess, a time to spoil each other, but more than anything, a time to enjoy time with each and do lots of things together. It was family time.

My children married, had their own children and losing my husband at quite an early age, I was looking forward to being the perfect grand mother, especially as it came around to Christmas time. For a while it was like that, just the most wonderful times, but about 12 years ago I started to lose my hearing and it seemed that I went from being the first on everyone’s list to invite me to dinner to the last. I suddenly became a problem, an embarrassment at times and one that my family seemed to want to spend as little time with as possible.

I must confess it took me a while to accept that I was going deaf myself. My family used to complain that I had the television up to loud when they called around and used to talk too loud, but I thought it was just them being over-sensitive. Then slowly I realised what was happening and reluctantly accepted the inevitable. Off to the doctor I went and in no time found myself having hearing aids fitted, to give me the most of my deteriorating hearing. All that did was stave off the inevitable, because even with them on, social occasions became difficult, with too much noise to make conversations an easy proposition.

Slowly but surely I realised family and friends were withdrawing from me. They wanted to see less of me and even when I was there, I was increasingly left on my own. Loneliness kicked in, even when in a full room with my loved ones. I had become a problem you see, and even my family wanted to avoid the additional effort required to chat to me. I went from being laughed with, to being laughed at, because I might have missed something being said, or misheard. I’m not suddenly stupid just because I’ve lost my hearing, I ‘m just deaf that’s all. I could see they were laughing at me and it hurt. In their mind, I seemed to go form a bright, intelligent, fun-loving grandmother to someone who was losing their marbles. I tried to chat to my children about it, to explain what was happening and the change in their attitude towards me, but they always used to tell me it was my imagination.

So this year, with the last remains of hearing long since departed, instead of looking forward to Christmas with joy and expectation, I was fearing it. Yes, I had the enjoyment of buying for my children, grandchildren and a few great grandchildren now, but having been increasingly side-lined by all of my close family when with them, I knew this was going to be a lonely and frustrating experience for me. If I felt I had a choice, I think I would have said to them all, Christmas is cancelled this year.

Once again, my forebodings proved to be accurate. Throughout the festive season, I went from family home to family home with my children having co-ordinated my visits. I was doing my Mother Christmas impression laden with gifts when I went to each house. Huddled together to open presents, I was placed on the side in a comfy chair rather than placed somewhere where I had the best chance to read lips and see joyful faces. Asking to move, I was told not to be silly, as that was everyone’s favourite chair. People were chattering excitedly, often with several conversations going at a time, but sadly, none of them then involved me.

It’s interesting that the children are the best with me now, they chatted to me about the presents, but only until one of the adults came along and told them to, “leave grand ma alone to have some peace and quiet.” ‘It’s fine,” I used to argue, “I like having the excitement of children around me.” But no, they were herded away from me, to leave me to my peace and quiet!

At meal time, again no thought was given to the best place to sit someone who was Deaf. I was placed on the end of a rectangular table, and without the gift of binoculars as a Christmas present, I had little chance of catching anything people were saying at the far end through lip-reading. No one gestured to let me know who was speaking and rarely did someone look at me to talk to me. Music was playing in the background, all of which lead to almost complete exclusion. Meal finished, I was whisked off home so that I didn’t get too tired! Gone were the nights staying over, or the playing of games late into the evening. My children have decided that’s not for me, despite any views I might have on the subject. They know best it seems.

I don’t understand how my children and their families cannot see what is happening. They know I am now deaf, but them seem oblivious to what that means. They have made no changes to how they communicate with me, and it saddens me to think they don’t even seem to care. Yes, they have busy lives and families of their own, but I am family too. A little thought here, a little change there, and my existence within my family could be so much more fulfilling.

Without new deaf friends and a good social life with them, I’m not sure it would be worth continuing with life, but for now, I take a lot of enjoyment out of that part of my life and hope to be around to enjoy that for some time to come.

Best of luck with the magazine, and Happy New Year from Germany.

Viktoria Schmidt

Article by Viktoria Schmidt

posted in Deaf Lifestyle / The Snug

16th January 2016