"Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive." Anaïs Nin

Need to change text size? Click one of these:
Small Medium Large Larger Largest

Want to read this post later? Send it to your Kindle reader:

Send to Kindle

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Deaf Advocate's Story of a Very Special Deaf Man

This is one of Annie's stories. Annie used to be my advocate/case worker for many years before I moved away, and I am privileged to call her my friend, too.  I think you will find her story as she struggled to communicate with a very special Deaf man to be educational and inspiring. The link to her blog is at the bottom of the page.

Saturday 14 January 2012: Another Chapter, Same Story

Thirty years ago, a young me sat on this bench with a 72 year old man who had been Deaf from birth. He was born during at time when Sign Language was not used in the schools for the Deaf, the signs he used were home signs. The day came when his mother, age 91 and very confused, lived in this very facility (where Mother Comfort now looks forward to leaving) and he rode his bike up and down the hills three times a day to come have meals with her. "My little partner" she called him.

His name was Harold, and hers Ethel, and they both loved the King's Table buffet...especially the fried chicken. I had been commissioned to figure out how to communicate with him so that it would be possible to help him understand what was going on when his mother passed. It became clear that the first best thing was to learn their home signs, so I came every day to this place and spent time with them, building trust and observing.

When first I tried to teach him a few signs, he shut down, completely uninterested, as it was common back in the days he was educated to punish deaf people for using their hands to communicate, he looked down at the floor, almost ashamed when I used my hands to try to connect with him. So I waited. I came every day, took them to lunch or ate with them at the facility.

The ice breaker came when he climbed in to the back seat of a 2-door vehicle and she transferred from her wheelchair into the front seat. He couldn't get out to help me when he saw me struggling to figure out how her wheelchair folded up. This was usually his job, but he was trapped and out of pure desperation to help, he began to wave his hands wildly at me, then using classifiers, he described perfectly how I should approach folding the particular chair. With two 'B' hand shapes, palms down, beginning in the center and moving away from each other, he defined the seat, then showed me how to lift from each side and the chair would collapse as I lifted. I watched closely, followed his instruction and...success!! He was thrilled (I was too) and we began a journey of teaching each other.

On this bench, I so clearly remember sitting and looking at the bush behind the bench. I showed him the sign I understood as 'wood' and he showed me what his mother and he used. After that, a plane flew over and we exchanged the sign for airplane. On and on it went, 'mother', 'money', 'mailman', etc., the joy of sharing a window in to each others worlds, big smiles and satisfied nods, but we never got to the concept of death, not once.

The shocker came when he himself died later that same year and it was Ethel who needed help to understand what this process of losing a son was all about. If only I knew myself.

Hanging around this place for the last month or so, has been bitter sweet. I always feel close to Harold and Ethel when I'm here. She was 102 when she passed away and was so done with this earth by then, but I will always love and miss them. Mother Comfort doesn't want to come anywhere near 102 and I can't say I really blame her. She's ready to leave here and will miss only the lovely people who have cared for her. I do hold out hope that she will still learn new things and find a bit more joy in the process.

We bought a new toilet today. That has nothing to do with anything, except that the old one stunk and the new one doesn't. That makes me happy. It doesn't take much... 

Be sure to click on the different days of Annie's calendar to see other stories and photos.


  1. Thanks for sharing my story, I do hope to put more pieces of Harold and Ethel's amazing story together to share!

  2. I'll be looking forward to reading those, Annie. My mom and I reminisced about Harold this morning when I told her you had written about him and his mother. I can't believe how many years it has been!! Yet, the memory of him is so vivid. You are the best advocate ever, Annie. I miss you dearly.