Article by Dr. Ng Wai Sheng

Image by Geralt @ Pixabay

When you are going through a hard time in your relationship, and you feel despair or mistrust that the other person either doesn’t care or can’t understand you, can you trust your heart is speaking to their heart, and their heart is speaking to yours?

I saw this play out beautifully in a session that I had with a deaf family.

On the outside, they look like a regular family: father, mother, and 2 working adult sons. When the session began, I quickly learned that the older son, Ron (pseudonym), was congenially deaf and has very limited verbal abilities. He was supposedly the “patient”, as his family was concerned about his moodiness and occasional aggressive behaviors either to himself or to his mother, whenever she tried to nag him about his computer gaming.

In this family, everyone depends on the younger son, Sam (pseudonym), to be the “interpreter” and the communication “bridge” between Ron and parents. Apparently, he was the only one who has learned sign language, in order to communicate with his older brother. Even then, Ron complained that no one in the family cares about him, and no one talks with him; they just talk among themselves! When asked if he tried to talk with them, “they just don’t understand!” he replied. Hence, even though he may be the only one with hearing impairment, Ron experienced his family as “deaf” to him!

At first, I too wasn’t sure if I’ll be able to work with Ron, whether he would want to interact with me. Turns out, he was more than willing to share with me his concerns and difficulties with his family. All the time, we used Sam as the family interpreter.

When they returned the next session, for some reason Ron was very upset with his family that day. He wouldn’t sit in together with them. So I invited him to chat alone with me.

As you can imagine, the whole family was shock and doubtful about my invitation to Ron alone. They didn’t think we could communicate!

But we did! I tried to use Ron’s language, which is a combination of some English and Malay words. We spoke with our mouths, our hands, our faces. And if all else failed, we wrote on the writing pad, like two “lovers” exchanging love notes! Except that we were intently discussing what’s bothering him about sitting and talking together with his family…

After Ron ventilated enough, I asked if we could bring Sam in to join him. That was easy, he was cool about his younger brother, who often acted more like an older brother to him.

When Sam came in, he couldn’t believe that we had a nice conversation without his help! As the brothers’ conversed more deeply about their concerns for the family relationships, especially in regards to Ron’s hostility towards dad, I proposed to bring in their father. They thought I was crazy to suggest that given what they had just told me…

So I tried to explain to them why I thought it’s important to let their father know, why Ron was so angry with him. Finally, Ron reluctantly said yes, and we invited dad to join the brothers in session. As usual, Sam tried to play his role to be the “bridge” for his father and brother. But the two just wouldn’t talk to each other! They preferred to talk to Sam, or to me.

And then, I asked Sam to go outside to accompany their mother, who’s probably wondering what’s going on in the room. Suddenly, these three men panicked! They were not convinced that a stoic father and a deaf son can communicate… They needed their interpreter/bridge!

With some reassurance to everyone, Sam finally agreed to leave the room. Now the stoic father and his deaf son had to find a way… They squirmed in their seats… They sat in silence, for what seemed like eternity…. And in my heart, I kept choosing to believe in them, even though they have yet to believe in themselves…

And then one thing led to another, the two men really started talking! First, they used the writing pad to exchange notes. Every now and then, dad would put aside the writing pad and seemed busy texting on his phone… And then I realized, oh he was actually checking the dictionary to find the right words! You see, dad was Chinese-educated, he too has limited English vocabulary, but he was trying…really hard!! Ron seemed to understand that intuitively. He just waited patiently for his father.

And whenever Ron was annoyed with how dad responded to him, he would snort, grimace and put aside the writing pad for awhile. And it’s dad’s turn to wait for him, in a super tensed mood. After some time, Ron would pick up the writing pad again and write something, then passed to dad… And they continued for another round… And they kept going back and forth, for more than half an hour! By then, they just couldn’t stop talking with each other!

I didn’t understand half the things they wrote about… And I don’t need to, as the two seemed to understand each other perfectly!

Ron confronted dad for scolding him harshly and not showing care to him. Dad confronted Ron for hurting himself and hurting mom.

Ron expressed worries for dad’s stress about the family business. Dad expressed worries for Ron’s spending too much time on computer games.

Ron told dad to not worry about his future, as he is capable enough to choose his own lifestyle. Dad told Ron to not worry about the family business, as he is strong enough to handle the stress.

Sitting with these two men, I could feel their sadness and tension when they couldn’t communicate with each other. But more than that, I could sense their deep love for one another, which was so palpable even in the midst of their conflict and tension. They didn’t give up waiting on each other. They persisted even when things seemed bleak and hopeless between them… No doubt outwardly they were very angry, very disappointed with one another, maybe there were many things still they cannot accept about one another. But the truth is, they held one another closely inside their hearts. So close, that’s why it hurts so badly, so much so you just feel like cutting it off sometimes! But you can’t, because this person means too much to you….

Even after seeing so many families all these years, this father and son dialogue continues to inspire me. They taught me to be brave, to take a chance even if it means to fail miserably or be rejected yet again… They reminded me that even when words fail or hurt, what truly matters is the HEART LANGUAGE, which transcends beyond any language, culture, gender, age or even physical or mental disability! And we know this, where there is love, there is healing.

Dear friends, when you are having a hard time communicating with someone you love, can you trust that your heart is already speaking to their heart, and their heart is already speaking to yours? Can you allow that special heart language to affect you, so that you can begin to respond differently today?

Disclaimer: All stories presented in this article are based on, or inspired by actual events. In certain cases, incidents, characters and timelines have been changed for privacy and confidentiality purpose. Certain characters may be composites or archetypes, and are not intended to depict or allude to actual persons or families. Any resemblance to actual incidents, persons, places or events is entirely coincidental.

Song written by Fr. Manoling Francisco SJ/Fr. Johnny Go SJ; arranged by Gerard Salonga & sung by Lea Salonga; Video by mhcaillesrn on YouTube   

Published On: March 4th, 2018 / Categories: Blog Post /