Ho, ho, ho – huh?
”Oh, whoo-hoo-and yee-haw, wow, I LOVE it!”
The sounds of wrapping being torn off gifts. Expressions of joy mingling with less enthusiastic noise because your mom gave you, once again, a teal-colored sweatshirt with little flowers embroidered around the neckline, but which you wear to breakfast to make her happy, hoping nobody takes a picture.
Present opening can be one of the noisiest parts of Christmas. “Who’s that from? What, who? Yo Dad, that scarf—who gave it to you? Yeah, well, I didn’t hear you the first time, you turned away. You’re doing it again—Dad! Must we put the wrapping paper in the green garbage back AS we’re opening the presents? It’s hard on my hearing aids. Hey, can we talk one at a time? I mean, sheesh, there’s only four of us. OK, I guess not.”
Then there’s the beauty of the tinkly-tinkly-ringy-dingy church chimes and carol singing music of the holidays, whether we’re making it or listening to it.
At Christmas time, I want to hear all of the sounds—all of them! The music, the preparation, the dinners, the gift-sharing, the pouring of holiday drinks, the voices of people socializing or singing together and the reading-out-loud of "The Night Before Christmas" before we go to bed on Christmas Eve. I don’t want to miss a single one of the memory-making and memory-evoking moments.
But I do. Living with hearing loss, it’s a fact of life that I do miss some of the sounds when they occur. And I may not hear them as clearly, as distinctly or quite as well as the hearing people do, and no amount of straining harder to hear is going to change that.
The holiday season is saturated with sounds and visions, and even if I don’t get all of them perfectly, I hear enough to make my heart beat faster. And it’s not like I don’t have any control over the situation. I can turn the music up to a level that works for me. I sit near the front at concerts. My TV or Netflix Christmas shows are captioned. This access wasn’t available when I was a child, so I consider it a modern magical miracle.
But there’s always room for improvement! Hearing loss affects communication and the fundamental joy of the holidays is spending time with people we love, like, or at least can tolerate—and this always involves speech and talking. One-on-one chats work best, especially if it’s out on the quiet back porch away from the crowd. Otherwise, we must cope with the background noise of music and laughter and chatting, which seem to get louder and louder, especially if there’s a little liquid cheer involved.
Every year, articles pop up on how to survive the holidays with hearing loss, and I suppose this is one of them. But ‘survive’ is a little harsh—let’s rephrase it as how to communicate as best as possible with hearing loss. Because unless we are able to remove the background music completely and can convince people to speak one at a time, preferably first putting up their hand to indicate their desire to speak (like that’s going to happen), we need to add in a few more strategies.
I’ve tried writing to Santa for some help in making the holiday hearing loss life a little easier.
- A round dining room table so I can see everybody’s face as they talk (shifting my eyes as they manipulate mouthfuls of roast and potatoes). Otherwise, the best conversation we’re going to have is with the turkey or holiday ham. The most challenging conversation is the one with the person on the other side of the person next to us. We both have to lean forward or lean back to talk.
- Divine zaps of understanding that will make people never forget to face me when talking. Still waiting.
- New hearing aids that will automatically adjust to blank out the background noise.
Until Santa comes through with any or all of these, I do have several suggestions to make the season's sounds as crystal-clear as possible:
- Claim the best spot for yourself! Whether it’s at the dining table, sitting around the living room, at church or at a cocktail party, be proactive in placing yourself where you will communicate the best. It may never be perfect, but it will be the best possible. And sometimes, the best place is a quiet place. Choose smaller parties or quieter restaurants for less noise and more meaningful interaction.
- Use technology. If you have it, use it! Hearing aids, telecoils, FM systems, captioning on anything, looping anywhere. And if you’re one of those hearing aid users who puts it in just for the party, wear it more often (like, all the time) so that your brain will ‘acclimatize.' Otherwise, that party might be an unbearable shock of noise.
- Think the best of people. They don’t deliberately plan to thwart good communication. People do forget, in the moment, to face us. To them, background noise is music, rather than the irritating static that we may hear. Our family and friends love being with us; they don’t see us as a disabled bother and, in spite of what we think, they don’t mind repeating themselves. (What they don’t like is when we bluff, pretending to understand when we really don’t.)
- Be assertive (but not the Grinch). I believe that it’s not just about hearing, but about being heard. If we let other people know, as pleasantly as possible, what we need—and yes, that includes our family members who should probably know better—there’s a good chance communication will flow more easily. As people with hearing loss, this is what we do: we have to repeat our needs over and over again—and when we accept this life-fact with grace, others will do the same.
- Enjoy! The season is filled with delights to hear and see and feel. Let’s absorb what we can and be grateful.
So with the gifts that Santa brings you and the ones you give to yourself, this could be a beautiful holiday season.