By KATHY DAYKIN, Special to the Bulletin | Published June 13, 2019
One of the simplest joys I have experienced every day of my life has been waking up to hear a cacophony of bird songs. I have come to enjoy it even more as I have grown older, but joy and grief sometimes go hand in hand.
My parents were backing out of the driveway to go to the hospital, and I expected my mother would stay for a few days then come home with my baby sister. Instead, they came home with a baby brother. Perhaps I thought I would dress a sister like a baby doll, or that sisters were just generally better, but the bigger surprise came about eight months later when it was discovered that my brother could not hear.
The quest to restore his hearing, then later to develop an education plan, became paramount. The only thing I understood at the time was my brother took my parents away from me—traveling to doctors, hospitals, speech therapists and schools, all the while leaving me behind with my grandmother. It was not what I had envisioned for my life.
Fast forward to teenage years. My brother was still deaf. He was a voracious reader, and although he was formally educated by the oral speech method through high school, he and his friends learned sign language. If you don’t hear, it is after all, impossible to access the message from a speaker standing on a stage, a priest on the altar, a teacher talking while writing on the board or the person who barely moves their lips when they talk. Don’t even get me started on how mustaches and beards are barriers to lip reading.
One weekend while home from college, I was mesmerized by my brother, his friends and their flying hands. They conversed freely, happily, without constraint. I knew that he could not learn to hear, and we would never share music or chirping bird songs, but I could learn to sign.
The common thread among almost every deaf Catholic is the perspective of growing up deaf in a hearing church.
“We always went to Mass, but I didn’t understand anything,” is a commonly expressed feeling. Approximately 90 percent of adult deaf Catholics do not attend Mass due to lack of access. Here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, there is the strong support of the deaf ministry, and I see the hand of God at work in truly miraculous ways.
Deaf and hard-of-hearing adults have served on pastoral advisory councils, teach American Sign Language classes (sign language is not universal), participate in Deaf Cursillo leadership roles, RCIA mentoring, Knights of Columbus, the National Catholic Office for the Deaf (NCOD), Religious American Sign Language (RASL) workshops, in deaf Masses as lectors, and serve as extraordinary ministers of the holy Eucharist. Serving in these roles often requires the participation of facilitators of communication: our interpreters.
We have been blessed with dedicated, faith-filled hearing and deaf interpreters who provide sign access for the deaf and tactile sign for deaf/blind parishioners. But, we need and pray for more, including deaf priests, signing priests, deacons and religious.
My intelligent, funny and kind brother dispelled my grief. He changed the course of my life. As God continues to work in his wonderful, mysterious ways, providing what we need in his time, I look forward to continuing the joyous journey in deaf ministry with my brothers and sisters in Christ.