02 May 2011

Denis Michael Hill - Part 2

This is a follow-up to my first post about my brother Denis.  I wanted to add this to his story, but couldn't at the time - so here is a little personal story.  When Denis was sent to St. John School for the Deaf to learn sign language, someone was supposed to come to our house and teach us to sign.  However, someone only came to our house two or three times and then never came back.  My dad called and called, but no one else came to teach us sign language.  So, guess what happened?  Denis came home from St. John's and he was signing away and we were dumbfounded as to what he was saying.  Well, over the years Denis taught us some signs and we made our own signs.  In other words, we got by.  Except I always wanted to learn the proper form of American Sign Language.  I was envious (and still am) when I see people signing so quickly and effortlessly.  Well, I finally got my chance to learn ASL in 2002 when I took a couple of sign language classes at Tri-C.  Boy, I couldn't wait to go to Arizona see Denis and talk (sign) with him.  When I finally did, it was great! 

This is where this story gets very personal. 

While at Tri-C, we had to write papers about deaf individuals or events.  This is the first paper I wrote for my sign class ... and the most personal paper I ever wrote and ever shared.  I haven't read this paper in years and it made me cry reading it tonight.  It also made my class cry when I read it to them in 2002.  Here is my paper in its entirety:

I am writing about Heather Whitestone McCallum, the former Miss America who recently had a cochlea implant.  Heather became deaf at 18 months after getting meningitis.  She used a hearing aid which allowed her to hear muffled words and shifting shapeless sounds.  When one of her son’s got hurt and she could not hear him cry for her, the hearing aid suddenly was not enough and she decided to get the cochlea implant with the hope to one day hear her sons. 

I do not think this is something bad.  I think it’s great.  I was raised with an older brother who is congenitally deaf and has cerebral palsy.  Growing up I always felt bad for my brother because he could not talk to us and we could not talk to him.  We didn’t learn to sign until he went to St. John’s School for the Deaf when he was 13 years old.  I was 8 years old at the time.  As a family we learned very little sign language and very late in my brother’s life and we missed a lot of time talking with him.  I remember his frustration at times because he couldn’t hear and didn’t know what was going on.  He knew he was missing out on things and that he wasn’t the same as us and couldn’t do the same things as we could.  Part of that does have to do with the cerebral palsy, but not completely.  I remember as a young child saying my bedtime prayers and asking God to give my brother his hearing.  I even offered to switch places with my brother so he could hear our voices, and the sound of birds singing, and the sound of the rain.  Of course, this did not happen, but I always thought it unfair that he was missing so much of the world.  I realize now that its not all good that he’s missing – like the hatred, yelling, shootings, sirens, swearing – there’s a lot of bad things to be heard.  But he is also missing the good - the sound of voices talking and singing, music, rain, wind, a dog’s bark, a cat’s meow, the sound of dry leafs crunching on the ground, and the simple sound of “water running into a sink” like Heather recently heard for the first time. 

I hope the implant works for Heather and one day she will be able to hear her sons’ talk to her and laugh with her and all the wonderful sounds there are to hear.  I know I would like that for my brother.  I would like that very much.

Thanks for letting me share this very personal story about my brother. 
~Susan

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