As I watched the slow disappearance of my parents’ vitality as they grew older and sicker, I would rationalize, “They’ve had a good, long life” or “Everyone goes through this.”
I thought it would help prepare me for their impending loss to read books like "Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant" (funny and relatable) and "Ten Thousand Joys and Ten Thousand Sorrows" (touching and depressing).
Yet, it never really seemed possible that my parents — my no. 1 fans — wouldn’t be around some day.
By the end of 2016, incomprehensibly, they were both gone.
My father was the first to go, then only two months later, my mother.
She had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — the same disease that killed her favorite TV character, Spock of “Star Trek” — so when she was rushed to the hospital just days after my father died, we assumed it was related to her illness. Instead, doctors told us it was stage 4 lung cancer.
I wasn’t at all prepared for this double whammy.
Everything happened so quickly, one funeral right after the other. I struggled to come to terms with the disappearance of my foundation.
Gone was that feeling of security that would manifest as soon as I walked into my parents’ apartment. When my family would visit, they’d greet us with hugs and kisses. Then out came the platter of cheeses and crackers, drinks and presents, and then we would settle into the routine of catching up on everyone’s news.
I have experienced intense grief and, at the same time, immense gratitude for my parents.
In the year since, I have experienced intense grief and, at the same time, immense gratitude for my parents’ generosity during their lives. I am also filled with a new sense of awe at how my mother’s obstinate determination paved the way for me to successfully navigate the world on my own.
You see, I’m a person with a profound hearing loss.
I was lucky. My mother was a homemaker, so she spent a lot of time with me, helping me to learn to listen and speak. She made sure I got hearing aids at 7 months old, which helped. It wasn’t until I got a cochlear implant for my right ear five years ago that I heard many high frequency sounds like sh and ch for the first time.
Both parents encouraged my independence from a very young age. My father’s teaching job made it possible for our family to take several year-long sabbaticals in London and traveling all over Europe during summers. Bitten by the travel bug, I went on to be an exchange student in Paris, spend my junior semester of college in England and serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa.
None of these experiences would have been possible without my parents’ dedication to building my confidence as a person with hearing loss in mainstream society.
My parents were always my cheerleaders; I try and be the same for my own children. They were also born with hearing losses and ever since, I’ve been laying that foundation of love and security to ensure their successes as independent individuals.