LIVING IN SILENCE

A while ago, I had the flu and my ears were blocked. One day, Garry removed his hearing aids and kept turning up the television until we could both hear it. 

“That,” he said, “Is my world. That’s how much I can hear.”

I have never forgotten. Which is good because it’s all too easy to forget when it’s not your problem.


Many people don’t consider hearing loss a “real” disability. Is it because it’s invisible? I can’t walk much, can’t lift, ride a horse or bend. I am usually in some kind of pain ranging from “barely noticeable” to “wow that hurts.” None of which are visible to a naked eye. I once had a woman in the post office lash into me because I had a handicapped pass and she didn’t think I looked handicapped. Years later, I’m still angry. How dare she set herself up to judge?

People make assumptions all the time about Garry. They assume if they call to him and he doesn’t answer, he’s a snob. Rude. Ignoring them. If I’m with him I take them aside, explain Garry cannot hear them.

“You need to make sure he sees you and knows you are talking to him,” I tell them. I consider it part of my job as his wife. It’s rough being deaf in a hearing world. Parties are the worst. With so many people talking at once , it is impossible for him to hear one voice.

Mostly I can hear. Most things. Not as well as I did when I was younger. Background noise is more intrusive and annoying than before, but I hear well enough for most purposes. I depend on my hearing to catch nuances, to interpret underlying meanings of what people say.

Garry used to be able — with hearing aids — to do that too. It was important in courtrooms, while interviewing people and of course, in relationships. It’s not only what someone says, but how he or she says it. Body language, facial expressions … it’s all part of the communications package. But his hearing is worse now and much of this ability to catch the subtler part of speech has been lost.

The silence of the woods after a heavy snow
The profound silence of the woods after a heavy snow

When the hearing part goes, other senses have to compensate — but nothing quite fills the gap.

I am forever asking Garry if he heard “it.” Sometimes “it” is me. He often behaves as if he heard me though he didn’t — but he thinks he did. Sometimes, he didn’t hear exactly what I said. Or notice I was speaking at all. It takes him a while to process sound, to put words in order and make them mean something. It isn’t instant, the way it is for someone with normal hearing. He has to pause and wait for his brain to catch up. Sometimes, he puts the puzzle together wrong because he heard only pieces and what he missed was important.

There’s also the “what?” factor. How many times can anyone say “excuse me, can you repeat that” before he/she feels like an idiot?

Human speech is not the whole story. There is music, soft and loud. The funny noise coming from the car’s engine, the scratching of a dog locked in the closet. Birds singing. A cry for help from a distance.

Garry can’t hear any of that. He could, years ago. So he misses it. He doesn’t hear the beep of a truck backing up. Or the sound of the water in our pipes which means someone’s using the shower. The little grinding noise of a hard drive going bad. Or an alarm ringing. The hum of the refrigerator.

All the little noises are lost to Garry.

What does silence sound like? When you hear only the very loudest noises, but none of the soft, little sounds? The explosion, but not a murmur? To be in that silence — always — is a different world.

– – – – –

* Answer: Three.You can ask someone to repeat something 3 times. After that you are too embarrassed to try again. This is true for everyone, not just people with hearing problems. We all encounter accents we don’t get, mumblers, and people who speak too fast or too softly.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Opinionated writer with hopes for a better future for all of us!

37 thoughts on “LIVING IN SILENCE”

    1. Hard to deal with things we’ve always known when they are not available to us anymore. I’m not sure how much of that background sound Garry ever heard. His hearing loss dates to childhood. It’s much worse now, but it was always there.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m not quite where Garry is yet, but I’m not too far behind. I find I have to put on closed captioning on some TV shows to pick up on the dialogue. And in large rooms or public places (like restaurants or bars), I’m really challenged to hear even close by words spoken directly at me. So I empathize with Garry and with anyone else whose hearing is significantly less acute than it once was. It’s a hard thing to face.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve been actively seeing a solution. I wanted sign language so at least he and I could communicate when all else failed. Since there doesn’t seem to be anyplace teaching it, maybe I can find a lip reading for adults course somewhere. There’s not a lot of help out there for older people losing their hearing other than bigger, stronger hearing aids … and past a certain point, hearing aids no longer help. Garry has reached that point in one ear. It’s not going to get better and you might want to see an audiologist. Find out how bad it is or isn’t. You may discover you can get help easier and non-intrusively.

      We use closed captions on everything and Garry wears headphones … the wireless ones from Sennheiser … when watching TV. They REALLY help and they are not terribly expensive. Easy to set up and you get the best sound you’ve ever had. I use a pair sometimes, just for the quality. It’s amazing how much better a soundtrack sounds with the headphones.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The headphones you got me are WONDERFUL! Movies I’ve seen a zillion times take on new life. Only problem is I want to wear them for long periods and that cuts off conversation. So, I feel guilty putting them on. Go figure.

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        1. The wife part of the “friends” I’m visiting in NC has hearing problems. She uses hearing aids but then I let her listen to some music on my iPod with a set of headphones I’d brought, for air travel, and she was really surprised.., immediately ordered a set from Amazon. Then we used them to watch movies, from NetFlix with a splitter, on my iPad.., Voila! she immediately decided to sign up for NetFlix, and cancel Direct TV. She’s enjoying a whole new world.

          Me, I have a touch of tinitis in the extreme higher frequencies, and don’t notice it until I’m tired, or think about it. By and large I’ve been lucky, as my overall hearing is still pretty good, good enough to continue audio recording for now.

          A friend, and colleague, of mine lost all hearing in his right ear.., he’s still recording and mixing and his clients still come. Occasionally he will ask me, or his wife, to listen to a mix for balance etc. Amazingly, he’s usually right in the ballpark with his choices. We joke about it all the time as his sense of humor is without equal. I’m not sure I’d be so resilient under similar circumstances?

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          1. I got Garry a good set of earphones for the computer, but the Sennheisers are wireless and work with the big screen television. That has given him a freedom he never had before. He really loves them and there are two sets — bedroom and living room — plus one extra pair in case I want to use a set too. They have opened a window so that he can watch movies on a big screen and HEAR them too, including the little background sounds he never heard before.

            I sometimes get brief bouts of tinitis. It usually doesn’t last long, but it’s maddening. Makes me want to block ALL sound. Not hearing is bad enough, but not being able to stop the noise makes me crazy.

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    2. Doob, we, unfortunately, are pretty close. I also use CC and have the same problems in public places — even with people close to me. I use my “Garry” lip read but it’s often difficult to process when people mumble or slur their words. That’s another problem. Looking back, I am amazed I was able to sustain a long career in TV news. Yes, I was absolutely DRIVEN to succeed!

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      1. I haven’t yet mastered lip reading, although I do spend a lot of time looking at people’s lips when they’re talking and sometimes it helps me pick out a word or two that I might otherwise have missed. I am still attempting to sustain a career (not in TV news, but one that requires an ability to hear what others are saying), and it is a challenge. I am going to look into that headset that Marilyn got for you.

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    1. I wanted us to learn sign language, but it’s out of style and no one is teaching it. There are very few resources for adults with serious profound hearing loss. It’s as if no one cares. Maybe no one does. Babies are born deaf, I know … but as we age, far more adults lose their hearing and need help in adapting to the world. There doesn’t seem to be any such help available.

      Don’t give up! Lip reading is better than nothing and you started with your hearing, so you — and Garry — have a leg up from those who never heard at all (or barely).

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I know quite a few people with the problem. Most acquired it from some kind of head trauma or accident. I think in someways it might be worse. You get a lot of noise, but not much intelligible sound. I’m just losing sensitivity to sound levels over all. I hear everything, but it all has to be louder. And louder.

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          1. Yes, it was probably the car accident in my late teens that got me. Silence is something I haven’t known for the best part of 40 years and as the world gets quieter, the whine gets more obtrusive. … and I wonder why I can’t sleep 🙂

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            1. Sleep gets harder and harder. For me, it’s the arthritis. For you, the noise that never ends. For everyone it’s something. I’d give a lot for a good night’s sleep. I can’t remember what that felt like.

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    2. I’ve used my version of lip reading a lot over the years. It’s helped a lot professionally and personally. Part of the frustration is I can hear clearly for a couple of minutes and then everything becomes fuzzy. Conversations go awry. Atmospherics, etc. Yes, the world is a noisy place. Full of sound and fury….

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  2. My first husband was also profoundly deaf. One advantage for him anyway, was that he never heard our babies crying for a feed. He slept through it all. It never worried me at all as I am partially deaf in one ear as well. Take care. 😍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I suppose Garry isn’t disturbed by all those noises that bother me, although they bother me less as my ears are getting less sensitive with each passing year. But I notice how much I miss and it worries me since I have to be the “ears” for both of us. I’ve been trying to find someplace that teaches American Sign Language … but I have not had any success at all. They used to teach it everywhere, and now, suddenly, it’s gone out of fashion and NO ONE is teaching it. It’s lip reading or nothing. I think all deaf people learn to read leaps to some extent without even being aware of it. I had hoped that Garry and I could have a way to communicate with each other when background noise otherwise blocked everything. If you know of any resources, let me know. The search has been very frustrating.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My mother was very deaf as she grew older. I think she had probably always had some deafness but refused to acknowledge it or wear a hearing aid until she was able to get some spectacles with aids attached. She had a lot of trouble with background noise and frequently misheard words or pretended she understood what had been said when she really wasn’t sure. I’m sure that it was one of the reasons that in later years she really didn’t like to go out much. She was used to my sister and I but didn’t really want to have to communicate with strangers. So I can sympathise with what Garry is dealing with.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not wanting to go out or be part of any sort of group is not unusual. It’s so difficult to understand and be part of any sort of conversation, people give up and withdraw. We are doing everything we can to not have that happen. It happened to Garry’s dad and it was very sad.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I appreciate the compassion. Truly, I do. For a long time, I didn’t like talking about it. Thought of it as a stigma. I used it as an incentive to succeed professionally. But, as I grow older, it’s more and more frustrating and sometimes I feel like retreating into my own private place wherever that may be.

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  4. I enjoyed your post today about hearing loss.No all of us are born with the same acute senses. I was handed a pair of eyes that can only be considered handicapped. I asked my optometrists during one visit if I was far sighted or near sighted he laughed and said “both”. It’s amazing how we can learn to deal with and overcome weaknesses in one sense or another. As I’m driving I can read road signs by shapes, colors and an acute ability to judge text by patterns and shapes. I’ve adapted to my handicap.

    My father had really bad hearing. You had to repeat everything at least twice. My family members learned through the years that dad had learned to read lips. He didn’t realize it but you had to be facing him to get the majority of what you were saying. We used to play a trick on him and move our mouths without releasing and sound. He’d join right in the conversation without us uttering a sound. We all laughed about that fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Deaf people learn to deal with other peoples’ idea of fun. Not much fun for them.

      Disabilities that other people can’t see, they tend to dismiss as unimportant. Now that I walk all bent over, no one says “you don’t look handicapped” any more, but that’s not much consolation.

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      1. It’s getting worse and more frustrating. But, I look around at YOU and other people with “difficulties” and figure I just have to suck it up.

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  5. I can’t imagine missing out on the chirp of a morning bird, a wisper or other sound we all take for granted. We live with this too with Gorman. He is completely deaf in one ear and his hearing is very compromised in the other. A hearing aid helps but i truly think sign language skills might be in all our futures.

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  6. I have tinnitus but other than that, my hearing is… okay. I’m pretty sure the hubs’ hearing is going though. But he won’t admit it, stubborn man. All the signs are there… He keeps telling me that he’ll go in to get his ears checked but he won’t. He’s Pharaoh (king of de Nile). It could be as simple as wax build up, but we’ll never know until he has it checked out!!! grrr.

    deep breath

    Sorry. Sometimes my guy is so… stubborn about these things. I guess because there is a stigma involved. Me, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass. I have all kinds of invisible problems and people can bite me if then can’t see what’s wrong with me. But I’ve ranted about that on my blog, so I’ll just stop here. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Garry’s deaf, but there was a period where his hearing got dramatically worse. Finally, got him to a doctor who pulled out the broken off head of a q-tip. Stubborn. Yup. Very. It’s a guy thing. Or maybe a husband thing. Whatever. But seriously, they don’t WANT hearing aids. That’s why they won’t go. I make the appointments and go for the ride. It helps.

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    2. Denial of hearing loss may be a guy thing, I’m not sure. When I was young, hearing aids were big, blocky things — hideous. Gradually, I came to acceptance of my disability but it was a long and difficult process. As some know, I used my disability as an incentive to succeed in the world of TV News. I worked hard at my diction and LISTENING to others. It paid off, ironically enabling me to often “scoop” colleagues with perfect hearing. My Dad fell into that category of men who disdained hearing aids, especially as he grew older. Fortunately, my family and friends are very supportive.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Deafness can be very isolating. I learned to sign a few years ago-I took an adult ed course at night. There are videos on youtube to learn basic signs. My husband has mild hearing loss- though he refuses to admit it, but is constantly asking people to repeat themselves, and if there is background noise, forget it, he cannot participate in a conversation.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve just been diagnosed with some hearing loss and it does scare me that one day I will be living in a silent world. Apart from the tinnitus! There’s no obvious reason why, in my early 30s, I should become hard of hearing and I’m trying to be upbeat but, as I’m sure you know, it’s hard. Thank you for your post; I’m finding it very interesting reading about other people’s experiences of being deaf or living with someone who is deaf.

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    1. Why you? Why not? I’ve been asking “why me” about a whole lot of things and never gotten an answer. But DO get a diagnosis and if you need them, hearing aids. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world. It’s just like eyeglasses — for your ears.

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