Monday, July 13, 2009

Lack of Empathy Peppered with Regret

She and her sister, both now adults, sat on the end of their parents' double bed, still covered with the crocheted coverlet of their deceased Mother, talking, or trying to carry on a conversation with their Dad, who had a severe hearing loss. The television was blaring so loud, it was heard in the driveway where the sisters parked.

Every sentence they uttered was repeated louder, much louder--so loud the sisters developed sore throats. He would not wear his one hearing aid. He was too frugal to buy two hearing aids.

"Dad, please put in your hearing aid," one sister said.

"But I can hear fine," Dad said. Earlier, she had received the same answer to the need to reduce the television's volume so neighbors could have their own conversations or rest.

After this exchange, the other sister exited the conversation and room, exasperated at her Dad's stubborn refusal to accommodate his daughters' visit by wearing his one hearing aid and turning down the TV volume.

This scene was an oft repeated effort by the sisters and their brother to communicate with their Dad whose hearing loss was becoming critical.

Yes, the sister leaving the room was me and it was an oft repeated ritual which popped into my mind today.

In my geriatric years memories flash through my mind triggered by seemingly incongruent times and events.

Today during our 15-minute ride home following church services, several memories flashed in and out, the subject of which was my Dad, who lived 92.5 years. He was a devout man, who rarely missed a church service.

Dad was the traditional head of household with ultra conservative religious and moral standards. His parents had eight children (including Dad) and were farmers around Stephenville, TX.

When I was old enough to remember, his parents were peanut farmers plus raising animals like hogs, chickens and cattle for meat. They had a huge garden and fruit orchard.

Dad left farming to obtain a business certificate from Draughon's Business College in Abilene TX . After marriage his first job in 1936 was bookkeeping for a firm in Abilene. He never talked of the depression, but that time period shaped his frugality. He only financed one thing his entire life, our home. Everything else was 'cash and carry,' the phrase of his day.

Dad rarely talked about his life unless asked. After Mother died I tried to talk with him about his life before me, but it frequently ended like the scenario described above, although I would simply sit in silence, rather than leave the room.

I remember his regaling what a Sunday church service was like. His family made the wine, yes, it was wine then. His parents and the eight children piled into a horse-drawn wagon and rode to church for an Sunday morning service, dinner on the grounds and area wide singing afterward.

He described baptisms at creeks, rivers, ponds, and in Texanese, livestock tanks, which were man-created ponds to hold water for their farm animals. After he died, his oldest sister told me Dad was baptized in a livestock tank.

Dad told me his and Mother's process of adopting me, to which I have alluded in an earlier post. He spoke of it as if it were only yesterday. Despite my perceived list of disappointments to them with some life choices, he spoke of this event fondly, lovingly with no sadness or regret.

What would I have learned, if I had empathized with his inability to cope with his hearing loss? Instead I impetuously shut the door in frustration on our conversations. Recriminatingly shameful and regrettable, my actions were my loss, but I deprived him of some degree of comfort in his last , lonely , wifeless, nearly 15 years by denying him remembrances of his life with his oldest sibling and daughter, me.

Ironically. now my husband, and to a lesser degree myself, have hearing losses. His loss is profound in one ear. He has hearing aids he seldom wears.

My hearing loss is moderate; I also have hearing aids. I wear them to meetings, but I can see why people dislike them. The background nose drowns out a person talking, sitting right next to you.

I did swear long ago, I would buy hearing aids, if and when I needed them. I HAVE.

Yes , Dad was stubborn in refusng to accommodate his children's trying to communicate with him. I hesitate to guess, except he often emphasized when we siblings were in his house, we acted and behaved as he dictated.

Speaking for myself, this did not justify to my lack of empathy for a lonely, widower, my Dad, who, at his advanced age, had few close living friends with whom to share a cup of coffee. He lived an isolated existence in which his primary companion was his TV.

The only brief bright period in his final years, was his roommate in the nursing home. Mr Palmore was a long-time neighbor. They shared a few good months together, almost like old times. Gradually, both their minds degenerated into mild dementia.


Carol @ TheWritersPorch said...

How sad. My husband has hearing problems too and will not wear a hearing aid. I even got him the ear thingy that looks like a blue tooth phone to watch TV with and he won't wear it either. Myself?
I can hear a mouse wee wee on cotton! HA! :)

Amber Star said...

It is sad that you didn't get to share memories with your dad, but some of my friends who have hearing aids do not like them at all. They are state of the art, but still have issues with noise.

I wish I'd spent more time with my dad, even though it seemed I was there all the time, somehow we never really got around to sharing old memories.

My fil can hardly hear at all these days and will not go to be tested and fitted for a hearing aid. However, he is not remembering too much these days. Getting old isn't much fun, but it beats the alternative.

Pat - Arkansas said...

Sad, but well told, NW. My father's hearing was acute until his death at age 78 (cancer). My mother's hearing deteriorated a bit after she was 75 and she did wear one hearing aid, which was the bane of her existence. I had to laugh at the previous comment about hearing a mouse wee wee on cotton. That's about where I am, still, at 75. Sometimes I think I hear too many things.

Anonymous said...

My wife has hearing aids and seldom wears them. She is always asking, "What?" or what did so and so say. I told her to wear them. I think it has something to do with being afraid somebody will see them.

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Renie Burghardt said...

Sad really, but I think some people, as they get older, don't want to acknowledge their problem. I know if I needed a hearing aid, I would get it asap. I would hate to miss hearing what my granddaughters were saying to me, or hearing the birds singing, or music playing, etc. But sometimes, old age brings eccentricity as well, so who knows how I would really feel about it, by then.

Take care!


Liz said...

Oh you mustn't look back with regret: it's pointless. Your father was difficult and sometimes you snapped. That's understandable. And hi not hearing wouldn't have stopped him talking if he'd wanted to.

When I think of my grandparents who were largely responsible for my upbringing I have lots of moments I can regret but we mustn't dwell on those.

Arkansas Patti said...

Well told story. I can feel the pain of regret in the words.
No one can truly understand a sense loss till it is visited upon them.
My step mom was nearly blind with macular degeneration and a friends mother was nearly deaf. On the same day I would visit the friend's mother first, then mine.
The visit with my friend's mother was a dreadful strain. Conversation was very limited, while with my step mom, the visit was easy and comfortable.
I too felt frustration at the inability to communicate.
You were not wrong nor unkind. There was no way you could fully understand what he was going through. No one can till they walk the path.

NitWit1 said...

Thanks for all your comments. This seems to be a common problem. I intend to monitor my own hearing loss very carefully and wear my hearing aids in circumstances I realize I should.

Learning from life's past experiences sometimes is painful.
I suppose a beatitude can be:

Blessed is the person who can empathize without having 'walked the walk!'

Surely that is an extraordinary person!

I have just such a niece [who even in her early 20s} visits nursing homes and chatted with residents she does not know as well as parents of friends who do not visit nearly as often. She is over 40.

Katy said...

Well I have a different perspective, how about empathy for the family that has to live with a stubborn husband and father who refuses to wear their hearing aids? My husband won't wear them and they are state of the art computerised and even have a remote which I thought would surely get his attention. Instead he has decided to have us all live a tortured and yes I mean tortured life. We have to repeat ourselves over and over which breeds resentment and anger. I would have empathy and more Love for him if he would just think of us and get over himself. I told him that everyone has "something" this is his thing and it could be so much worse. It has gotten to the point where I can't even talk to him, our 25 year marriage is in trouble and I wonder if he thinks about how it would be if we packed up and left. Maybe he will feel the loneliness and sadness we feel. If I could only tell him this, but alas he is not listening. His kids don't talk to him or tell him anything exciting about their lives as it just becomes so painful for everyone. They know that the word in our house is "Eh?" Its not a pretty scene so anyone who doesn't want to get in the game, please listen from the heart and words of a very sad and lonely wife.....communication is EVERYTHING.