Caregiving comes in many shapes and sizes. While we most readily think of family caregivers as the ones who are primarily responsible for their loved one’s care, the lovely story below is an account of a different type of “caregiving.” Most likely not even considered “caregiving” at all, this was an act of pure love and kindness.
Nancy Parker shares her story of growing up with her deaf brother. While obviously not a caregiver herself, she did “take care” of her little brother as only a loving big sister could. Thank you, Nancy, for contributing your heartwarming story!
Growing Up with My Deaf Brother
There were three of us growing up and we were all less than two years apart in age. I was the middle child with an older brother and a younger brother. The youngest had to be transfused two and half times at birth because of hemolytic anemia. Mom was RH Negative and Dad was positive. Back in those days, they did not know how to counteract the hemolytic anemia. Somehow during this procedure, the nerves in my baby brother’s ears were damaged.
My folks did not find out right away. They began noticing that he did not respond to different noises or to their voices. It was devastating, to say the least, for Mom and Dad to find out that he had lost his hearing. My oldest brother and I were so young, we did not realize anything was unusual; we just knew we had to improvise when we were communicating with our brother.
We had homemade signs and, of course, there was tons of animation going on. We did not think of him as handicapped; he was our brother. We did not realize how very hard it was on Mom because she refused to send him to the state school, so she would drive him there everyday. It was about a two hour drive and then she would wait and bring him home. This was all done while we were in school and Mom could do anything, as far as we were concerned.
Our younger brother was very small in stature and he also had a slight case of cerebral palsy and asthma when he was younger. His balance was bad and he had bouts with asthma on a regular basis. Since I was closest to his age and of a particular disposition, I found myself being his protector. I watched over him constantly and took it upon myself to be his guardian of sorts. Mom and Dad did not even realize I had taken on such a burden until we were much older. No one told me to but I loved him so.
He fell quite often and it seemed that I was always there to pick him up. I recall the many asthma attacks he would have where we would stop everything and jump in the car and rush to the hospital. He could not breathe and he was turning blue many of the times. I remember offering him some money I had once if he would just start to breathe. I was terrified. It was the early sixties and I do not remember him having an inhaler or breathing treatments; I am not sure they had those types of things. I do remember him being on some kind of medication. It was something I will never forget.
My mom was always praying for his healing and I was too in my nightly prayers. As he grew, he was healed of the cerebral palsy and of the asthma. What a blessing it was not to have to worry about him falling or stop breathing!
He started out going to the state school and then after awhile, he was enrolled in the speech program at my grade school. Back in the sixties, the general consensus was that a deaf child should learn to read lips and speak as clearly as possible so that he or she would be able to live in a hearing population. Sign language was frowned upon by most people at that time. It was so very difficult on my brother learning words but not understanding their meaning. He was learning to speak based on the sounds that were made by the vibrations of the throat. This was the sum total of his education; learning to speak and read lips and trying to understand the words.
Everything else was lost. Math skills, reading and grammar skills, science skills were all but lost. My parents were concerned about his education so we moved just about every five years to a new state and a new school that they had researched and found to be superior. But they still went lacking when it came to really educating my brother because they were oral schools and his understanding was limited.
Finally, my folks decided to move close to a state school that had excellent ratings and used sign language. He was fourteen by this time and went into a school with very good oral skills and excellent lip reading but was way behind in all other areas of study. He picked up the sign language very quickly and for the first time he began to understand and to learn! But of course, he was behind most of the kids his age and had to do quite a bit of catching up, which he never did completely. His reading is still about a sixth grade or so level and his math skills were left wanting along with all other subjects. But combined with his excellent speech and lip reading skills, he is a highly functioning deaf man in a hearing world.
His hands-on skills are excellent and he can interact with anyone at anytime. The fact that Mom and Dad kept him home with us is something that really helped our brother. My older brother and I, after he got to be a teenager and we could communicate better through sign language, taught him things that he could not learn through school. We taught him hearing slang and taught him concepts. We did our very best to let him in on how the hearing world thought, which in hind sight was extremely valuable.
One particular time, I remember we went roller skating and the genre of music of the day was disco. One of our close friends looked at our brother and told him to “Get down!” So he sat down. This is the type of situation that my brother and I took as an advantageous teaching opportunity. We told him what the slang “Get down” meant. You cannot imagine how many terms we use as hearing individuals that, if you do not hear or that if you do not know our language, can be misconstrued! And every time our brother heard something that he did not understand, we did our level best to make it clear to him.
There are multiple reasons why my brother is a success in the hearing world. One reason, even though it came with consequences in the educational realm, was the oral training he was given up until age fourteen. Another beneficial part of my brother’s life came from the fact that he stayed with his family and we never made him feel different; we did whatever we could to communicate with him even without sign language. And because we did not treat him differently or “special,” all of our extended family and our friends accepted him just as he was and loved him all the more.
Today, he is in his fifties and works two jobs: one as a glass blower in the electrode field and another as a bagger at a grocery store. He is so secluded at his glass blowing job that he decided to get one at the grocers because he loves to talk to people. He has so many people come up to him at the grocery store thinking that he is the manager because they do not have a clue he is deaf. When they start talking to him, he lets them know he is deaf but does not let it hinder him in helping them out with their need. He has so many customers that come to the store just to talk to him. This is a wonderful outlet for my brother, since he works alone all day. I am proud of him and of the fact that he has such great understanding and is not shy or introverted.
As for myself, I feel very blessed to have had him in my life. He has taught me many things over the years about the important things in life, like family. We had to make a lot of sacrifices throughout our family’s life to get him the proper schooling but we wanted to keep him with us. I realized how valuable having him in our lives was even when I was young and I believe I learned so much from him. I am more loving, patient, and a much better communicator because I grew up with him. Everyone you meet can teach you something, but I will always be thankful I grew up with my brother just the way he is.
About the author
Nancy Parker is a regular contributor to enannysource and she loves to write about wide range of subjects like Health, Parenting, Child Care, Babysitting, Nanny Background Check Tips, etc. You can reach her @ nancy.parker015 @ gmail.com