When a person becomes deaf later in life, previously formed friendships are impacted. Sometimes these friendships survive and sometimes they do not. Before you read my friend Mari’s perspective on how our friendship survived, I want to share mine. The fact that it did, is a big deal to me. She is the only friend from my “hearing days” that I stay in contact with weekly, and often daily.
When I first became deaf, I felt shame that I could no longer hear. So I put up a wall and pushed friends from my hearing days away. It was more comfortable for me to form new relationships, as I reorganized my life with a new concept of self. Through this restructuring process, I sought out people who were like me or part of the late-deafened/deaf culture.
Whereas I gave up in those early years of turmoil in maintaining friendships with my hearing friends, Mari never gave up communicating with me and always found a way to keep our friendship alive. When talking on the telephone was no longer an option, we shifted to text-based communications.
The strong foundation in the “hearing days” of our friendship, when we talked for hours on end about our children, life, and faith, led to trust in my deafened days that she would never wave me off with “never minds” or roll her eyes in exasperation of having to repeat. I knew we would be friends for life and the hardships I experienced, she would help me through, and I would help her as well.
On a lighter note, Mari is so easy to speech read! Since the time I met her in the ’80s, she has worn bright red lipstick! Not only did that make her lips stand out and be easy to read, she seemed to understand what clear speech is even before I knew the definition of that phrase. She enunciates every word clearly without over-enunciating and in doing so her speech naturally goes a bit slower, which helps speechreading. I thought her clear speech was just her way of talking but one day at lunch I noticed when she was talking to the waitress about a menu item, her speech changed. I could not speechread a word. Then when she finished with the order, she looked back at me and started to talk to me again with that perfect clear speech! It was then that I realized she was working as hard as I to communicate.
When I asked my husband why it was that Mari and I stayed friends through the years, he simply replied: “she always found a way to communicate with you”. So read on and you will see just how true it is.
“Lois and I have been friends ever since our children were small. We met when our girls were in the same class together about 32 years ago. We hit it off instantly and she has been my best friend and confidant through all these years and life experiences.
When we met, Lois could hear. In fact, we spent hours on the phone together. But her ability to hear was deteriorating and as the years went on it got worse. I was having a hard time communicating with her and felt sad and a little frustrated not being able to tell her all the things I wanted to share with her. I was determined to keep the friendship and bond that we developed.
I knew she started teaching a sign class in the evenings, so I contacted the organization and signed up for a different class that Lois was not teaching. I told the instructor not to mention my name to Lois as I wanted to surprise her. The class lasted a few months and I thought how am I ever going to remember all of these signs. So I practiced constantly until I thought I was ready to surprise her. Lois and I met for dinner and as I started signing her eyes got big and she was starring at me and asked: “ARE YOU SIGNING?”. So, I told her the story of me enrolling in the class and keeping it a secret so I could surprise her. Now, I want to make it clear that I am not good at signing because I don’t practice enough. But I can fingerspell and when mixed in with a few signs here and there, we are able to communicate. Lois is also an excellent speechreader.
The real point of my whole story is that you can find ways to communicate with a deaf person if you try. And if it means enough to you to keep a relationship going, you will. In this case, it did. I wanted to continue my lifelong friendship with my BESTIE!”