Death. Grief. At some point, we all face losing someone we love. The process of grieving, especially for those very close to us, is difficult. As I write this, it has only been a week since I lost my father. I have lost people close to me before. It is difficult each time, but this time it feels different. I could see the other times. How does being blind make a difference this time? Well, it probably isn’t just the sight. Helen Keller said something very true once. “Blindness separates one from objects. Deafness separates one from people.” Now, Deaf people may disagree a little because they have a visual language that allows them connection to people, at least other people who sign. They also can connect through writing with those who can’t sign, but it is a little more disconcerted. I think I can add that, when you are DeafBlind, you are separated from the world.
I do everything in the Dark Silence. I now find that I must even grieve there, too. My father has been ill for many years, but his death still seemed to come suddenly. He became unresponsive late one night. Hospice agency (which for my dad was for more long-term, terminal care) sent over a nurse who found he was only worsening and called for an ambulance. I only found out late the next morning when I turned on my devices and checked Facebook. It is not anyone’s fault. It is just that my devices depend on the internet and that includes a phone type device, so I can use a braille display. There are just times, especially at night, when I am unreachable for the most part, even with advances in technology. Even though it couldn’t be helped, I felt left out. I felt like the last to know.
Visiting my father had always been difficult for many reasons, so I didn’t get to see him often. When I did, it consisted of me just sitting there next to him, unable to do much in talking. We tried interpreters, but that is expensive and few are available here. My husband tried typing to me, so I could read in braille, but that was hard, too, for similar reasons. It is slow, and Daddy was hard to understand at times. Even my phone calls had to stop because the call facilitators started saying they couldn’t do the job. They were very apologetic, but they couldn’t interpret. Visits didn’t prove to be much better other than the pleasure of just touching and letting Daddy know I cared. As Daddy was in the hospital those last days, I wanted to go see him, but it wasn’t easy. I can’t drive, and my husband has to work and keeps little leave time because he has to do his errands and take me for mine, too. The weekend would be my time, but my husband became very sick just before the weekend and was sick all that weekend. Fortunately, I have wonderful friends even though I haven’t seen them in a few years. I keep up with even my local friends on Facebook. A couple came and took me to the ICU where I was able to talk to my dad. It was uncomfortable for them because they could only communicate with me through print-on-palm which is where you draw capital letters on the palm for me to feel. It works, but it isn’t as easy as hearing a voice, of course. My husband was able to take me a second time which proved to be the last because he died the next afternoon. I am thankful for those visits, and everyone who made it possible. I would have been there even if I couldn’t talk to him, just to hold his hand, but I am ever so grateful that I still have a voice, so I could tell him what he meant to me and how much I love him.
Now, the grieving process continues. I was unable to be with family much because of transportation and communication problems. That meant I was alone when I would have preferred to be with family to do the normal processing of talking about memories, sharing feelings, and encouraging each other. Yes, I had my husband when he didn’t have to work. He was great, but he didn’t know my father well. He didn’t grow up with him. The sharing was a bit one-sided. His support was great, but we do better with more connections with family. I don’t have that. It isn’t their fault. It isn’t mine. It just is what it is. I spent a few hours with them before the memorial service, but other than a hug here and a word fingerspelled through the help of my husband, I sat and thought my own thoughts and processed as best as I could. My sister, Traci, was great. She often would touch my hand, so I would know she was there and feel connected. My mother tried, but her own grief was pulling her inward. I could and did say I love you, but she could only say it to me through someone else. The connections were good and warmly felt, but they were still indirect. A fleeting touch or hug or gentle kiss in the sea of Dark Silence that normally is warm and peaceful now become battering and stormy. I felt like I was drowning in the dark waves.
Truthfully, though,I realize that the last couple of weeks isn’t where the process of grieving started. When our loved ones get older, we instinctively cherish our times together even more. I know that even as a young, immature girl of 20, married with an infant, when my great-grandmother was getting closer to dying, I was smart enough to recognize that and visited her on my own every week if not more often. I loved to talk to my granny and loved even more to listen to her stories. Years later, I was even more aware as my grandmother aged and would plan days to spend with her and take her to buy groceries or to the doctor. When she was diagnosed with cancer, I stepped in with her children and took my turn along with them staying with my grandmother when she needed constant care. I cherish the memories of just spending time with her and then helping to serve her in every way I could in her last ailing days. I know that I would have visited my father more, on my own, if I could drive. I would also have spent more time helping to take care of him in the last years that he needed more care. As before, I would have cherished that time. Things are so different now, and I don’t even know if people remember that I loved to care for my loved ones and that I would have done it if I could have. I don’t feel guilt because guilt implies fault or the making of a wrong choice. The problems of being DeafBlind are not anyone’s fault and isn’t a choice anyone would make. No, it is sadness for what I missed, for what I lost.
So, you see, the loss goes further, and the process of grieving did start long before those last couple of weeks. I know what it is like to cherish moments of time and service to loved ones in their last earthly days. I missed that with my father because of the Dark Silence. I missed the direct connections I could have had with family in the last few days, though, I do cherish the gentle touches, hugs, and kisses that I could receive. I also would like to think that my direct connections with my father and my family during these times were missed, too, as I know it isn’t one-sided. I think we give as much as we receive in this process of connecting during loss and grieving and both are equally important. Yes, we all missed the goodness and the healing that comes with direct connection and communication.That saddens me even more. I just hope that my family knows and understands that I do recognize what is missed and will do what I can to connect through the ways I do have available to me.
Now, don’t think that I didn’t and don’t have ways to communicate. I do in the forms of technology and interpreters; but technology is finicky and clunky, and interpreters are expensive and limited. In the better times, technology is helpful and useful, but most people don’t like to type to communicate in person even if they spend a lot of time typing on social media. It feels cold and uncomfortable. During times of stress and pain, talking verbally is often hard, so trying to type is almost unbearable. Interpreters are very helpful and by far my best mode of communication, but you can’t have them for extended periods. I had two during the actual memorial service and the few minutes after for people to come speak their words of condolences. The rest of the time could not be provided. To have the two I had, especially on short notice, the women had to drive a hundred miles one way. I love the fact that I have technology available to me, and I really love the more direct connection and ease of communicating through interpreters, but there are still times you just don’t have what you need or can’t use it well and easily. In those times, I do feel alone. The Dark Silence seems to be vast, deep, and impenetrable.
It is just those moments, though. Through social media, emails, braille and print cards, and text messages, my friends and family have let me feel their overwhelming love. They check on me daily with encouraging words, reminders to eat well, and scripture and typed prayers to not only sustain me, but to lift me up and keep me afloat as the storm of grief swells around me. I hope that my own posts and messages of remembrances of my father and words of comfort and typed prayers are doing the same for my family. It isn’t the best connection, but it is a good connection, nonetheless. Grieving is a process, and these typed words of love will get us through the painful memories of loss to the joyful reminiscence of cherished moments.
I may be saddened, but I am not destroyed. The Dark Silence will become peaceful and comforting again. This moment shall pass because I have memories of my father to cherish and faith in a mighty God who loves me and provided a gift that my father and I have accepted that will allow me to see and be with my father again in Heaven with our Savior, Christ Jesus. That lesson of faith came from my father and is but one set of the memories I have of him to sustain me until we are together again. Even in this Dark Silence, the hope is there. It only seems stormy right now because of my immediate pain of loss, but Jesus is still there lifting me above the stormy waves through family and friends and His Holy Spirt. In time, He will calm the waters of the Deaf Silence again as I cling tightly to His hand.
In memory of my father, Dr. Joseph Aaron Kelley, Sr, a good and faithful servant as a father, husband, minister, and educator. Daddy always taught me that with Christ we can overcome any adversity and failing and be used of God for glory. It is in our weakness that God can use us to show His strength and faithfulness. Let me be well-used.