elderly · family · Life


Laurel said the other day, “We should all learn another language. As a family, you know?”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, then if we’re someplace all together and we want to say to something to someone in the family but we don’t really want everyone else to know, we can just say it in that other language,” she said.

I think she was thinking along the lines of a let’s-get-out-of-here signal.

“Like Swedish,” she said. “We could all learn Swedish and nobody would know what we’re saying.”

“Ummm… you’d be surprised,” I told her. “I’m pretty sure Amy knows Swedish.”

Amy — former pastor, dear friend.

“Oh, well…” Laurel said. “You know what I mean.”

Personally, I think we should all learn sign language. Not as a secret language — because there are a lot of people in the world who know sign — but as a quieter way of communicating.

I can always tell when my father’s hearing aids aren’t working.

“What?” he’ll ask.


“I’m having trouble hearing you,” he’ll say.

I’ll check to see if his hearing aids are in, and, if they are, if he has turned them on. Often these days he forgets the latter.

The other day Mary had a dentist appointment. As she and I headed out the door, I stopped to check my father’s hearing aids — and turned them both on. He was on his way to sit in the living room with the Daily Jumble.

An hour later when we got home, he was standing at the kitchen table.

“What’s going on, Dad?” I asked.

“I need to put this in my…” and his voice trailed off as he searched for the word. He was holding a hearing battery in his hand.

“You need to put a new battery in your hearing aid?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, and he pointed to his right ear — where there was no hearing aid.

“Okay, I can help with that,”I said. “Where’s the hearing aid?”

“That’s the problem,” he said.

“Did you set it on the table here?” I asked, and began moving papers and looking.

“I don’t know,” he replied — and that became his reply to every question.

“Where were you when you took it out?”

“I don’t know.”

“Were you sitting in your chair in the living room?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did you go in your bedroom?”

“I don’t know.”

I began looking everywhere — the bedroom, the bathroom, the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, the sun porch. I crawled around on the floor, looking under furniture, putting my cheek to the floor because that made it easier to see the incongruity of the hearing aid.

“Is it in your pocket?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” he replied, but he dutifully emptied his pockets for me.

All this conversation was taking place at a high volume — because of the missing hearing aid. That, alone, is exhausting.

Twenty minutes into the search and I was ready to give it a rest. My neck hurt from sleeping in a bad position the night before and this cheek-to-the-floor business wasn’t helping. I sat down.

“We’ve got to find it!” my father said when he saw me sitting. He was looking through some papers that hadn’t been moved in a year. The hearing aid would surely not be among them.

“Criminy,” I muttered under my breath. My neck ache was quickly becoming a headache.

“Keep looking,” he said urgently. “We can’t stop looking!”

I got back to my feet and went back over the same places I had been looking. Finally, in his bedroom, I spotted it poking out from the back edge of a chair cushion.

I could see the relief on his face when I brought it to him.

“Where did you find it?” he asked.

“On the chair in your room,” I replied, while trying to put the new battery in.

“Where?” he asked again.

“On the chair in your room,” I replied, while trying to put the hearing aid in his ear.

“That’s better,” he said, once it was in place. “Where did you find it?”

Something in me snapped. “ON THE CHAIR IN YOUR ROOM,” I shouted — not in a nice way.

I left in search of Advil.

Frederick Buechner, in his new book The Remarkable Ordinary, talks about his mother’s hearing loss and the difficulty of shouting conversations.

from “The Remarkable Ordinary” by Frederick Buechner

I thought about my deaf friends who read lips so well — and appreciated that I don’t have to shout at all with them.

When Laurel said she wanted to learn Swedish, all I could think is that I’d rather learn sign language.

That way maybe I could communicate better with my friends who use it.

And when I’m old and hard-of-hearing, my family can converse with me without shouting.

17 thoughts on “Shouting

    1. I think “The Search for the Hearing Aid” may be a fairly universal story. My father-in-law used to take his hearing aids out and put them in an unused candy dish on the side table — until one day, he absent-mindedly reached into the candy dish, popped one in his mouth, and crunched down on it. I hope that’s a less universal story.

  1. You might get a medium-sized whiteboard with string-attached marker to share with your father. I used a clipboard, marker and paper when both my near-adult girls at different times got mononucleosis and literally could NOT speak. (They used them while in the hospital, too.) We also drew funny faces on it now and then, or started a cat drawing and passed it along to be finished. If your father can still read, it might help everything. (After having repeated everything twice for the past 3 or 5 years to husband, I mean everything, every time, because it’s become an attention-grabbing habit like his mother’s, rather than a genuine hearing problem, I am on the verge of getting myself a whiteboard. It might stop me from envisioning my throttling him.)

      1. Hi Sally, if your father can still read off a handphone you can use an app that converts your voice to text. For example, my phone has a Google function that types out my spoken search words.

      2. Thanks for the suggestion! My father really struggles with technology though. We gave him an iPod touch — which essentially functions as a smartphone in the house — and the only thing he uses it for it to look at my mother’s picture on the home screen. “Good morning, Elinor,” he says every day when he looks at it. I think reading on it would be a challenge. I may go with the whiteboard idea and try writing on it things I want him to know.

  2. Dear Sally… you have so clearly painted an image of your daily life. The quote is stunning… no, you cannot shout the subtleties of the heart. Patience and strength to you Dear One!

  3. My mother is mercifully not suffering from dementia but she is going deaf. She does not accept this fact. Not a jot. I suggested (this is akin to being Daniel in the Lion’s Den) when last with her that she might like me to take her to the marvelous new hearing ’boutique’ in Oxford. I am still nursing the scorch marks. I am presently learning to teach my own language to foreigners. I wonder, not so idly if I wouldn’t feel more valuable learning sign language … I like the quiet nature you portray. Quiet is good, non?

    1. Quiet is my happy place. Yes.

      Your mother’s situation is exactly what Buechner described with his mother. No dementia, terrible hearing.

      He says, “.. she closed herself off to the world… And all of that suggests what it was: a very limited life.”

      We want so much more than that, especially for the people we love!

      He goes on to say — and this made me think of your scorch marks — “She had a terrible tongue when she was angered; she could destroy you. When she struck, she struck to kill.” He couldn’t write about her until she had passed away — for fear of her.

      1. I should explore Buechner further, I think. I understand the fear, perfectly. It’s a difficult one to express because it in no way means one lacks the greatest love for her. Just that there are eggshells involved …

    1. His latest hearing aids came with smartphone controls so I could adjust the volume etc. A tracking capability would be a great addition to that.

  4. I couldn’t talk with my mother for the last several years of her life, on the phone I mean, because every phone call, which was meant to be a nice friendly call, deteriorated into her getting angry because she couldn’t hear. Since we lived 1200 miles apart it was a problem.

    1. Oh, I’m so sorry! When my sister calls to talk with my father, I put the phone on speakerphone and he holds it to his ear. That seems to work fairly well. Hearing loss is so isolating and frustrating for everyone involved.

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