Last Thursday I had my sixth month map for my cochlear implant. I looked forward to telling my audiologist about some of my successes of the past few weeks since the last time I saw her. I had just gotten the new Clear Voice program a month ago, which cuts out background noise. That, combined with my improved ability to hear over the past six months has about rocked my world.
One recent victory was being able to hear my husband’s eulogy at his sister’s memorial. He is a good public speaker. I knew what he was going to say ahead of time, but it meant a lot to be able to laugh at the stories he told about his sister, Lisa, with the rest of the crowd, to know the exact moment he got them laughing, and to be able to share in that moment with all who were there.
Three years ago I sat in the same church watching my father-in-law deliver a eulogy for his brother, my husband’s Uncle Jack. We were sitting in the second row. I heard nothing. He was using a microphone and I was not more than thirty feet away. This time, as I sat in the church listening to speaker after speaker talk about Lisa, I could not help reflecting on that other memorial three years earlier when I couldn‘t hear the stories about Uncle Jack‘s life, and the sadness I felt about it.
After the memorial we gathered downstairs in the basement of the church to talk to the hundreds of guests who had come to remember Lisa. In the past an event like this would have given me a headache. In fact, three years ago we left Uncle Jack’s reception after just ninety minutes or so. The unbearable noise distortion from my hearing aids combined with the strain of trying to lip read through it all was uber exhausting. Last summer I barely lasted through two such events– a friend’s wedding and my brother’s fortieth wedding anniversary. Both gave me a migraine within minutes. I left early both times, then came home and collapsed.
The reception after Lisa’s memorial lasted hours. Since we were among her closest relatives we stayed till the very end. I made the rounds talking to my husband’s cousins, aunts and uncles, and old family friends we had not seen in years.
After a couple hours I became uncomfortable. My feet began to hurt. I’m not used to wearing heels. I noticed a lot of the other women were wearing flats. What was I thinking wearing heels? After three hours I had to find a chair to sit down and rest my sore feet, but I could not stay seated for long, as I saw more people I wanted to talk to. After four hours I took my shoes off, chastising myself for wearing black pumps with heels. Even my twenty-six year old daughter wore sensible shoes! The crowd thinned and we packed up the display of Lisa‘s life. Finally, five hours later I put my shoes back on to limp out to the car.
We drove to my brother-in-law’s house for a catered dinner and more socializing with relatives. Wow! My feet were killing me! At the dinner table I happily chatted away with my deceased sister-in-law’s in-laws. After dinner I noticed an empty sofa with a throng of toddlers nearby including my grand-nephew from Chicago who I don’t often see. A wooden train set seemed to be the main attraction of that corner, explaining the lack of adult presence. I sat down and kicked off my shoes.
In the past I avoided two-year-olds. High voices were the most difficult of all to hear. Tiny mouths are hard to lip read. You can imagine this room with forty plus people in it, and two year-olds banging a train around next to me–a hearing nightmare if you wear hearing aids. In the midst of it all, I distinctly heard my nephew say, “Car,“ over and over as he tried to line a train car onto the tracks just so. “Yes,” I said smiling, “red car.” I handed him a car with a magnet to attach to the one he put on the track. Inside my heart melted. Have I mentioned how much I LOVE babies? How much I have missed being able to talk to little ones? I wanted to sing about cars.
A grandmother to one of the other toddlers sat down next to me, and asked if any of the toddlers at the train set were my grandchildren, (unfortunately no). I remembered her from past family gatherings– a baby shower for Lisa‘s daughter-in-law, a Thanksgiving or two. We talked about our families, when we had last seen each other, our mutual nephews and how they were faring through the loss of their mother. Soon it was time to put my shoes back on and hobble out the door.
To say the cochlear implant has changed my life would be the biggest understatement ever. I will never hear perfectly. I am OK with that. I hear good enough to get by. I hear well enough that after spending a day with hundreds of people, my only thought on the way home that night was–
I need a more comfortable pair of black pumps.