Written by Jo Milne


Jo Milne: A diary of firsts and lasts

Since the world watched her hear for the first time, Jo Milne has been on a journey into sound, all the while knowing her world is getting darker by the day. This week, she turns her attention to that special Christmas feeling.

Helen Keller ChristmasIt’s my second festive season of creating more ‘hearing memories’, and Christmas is still loaded with just as much promise as when I was a child.

Walking around department stores with their Christmas soundtracks, I softly smile to myself, feeling as if I’ve been let in on a lifetime secret. How would someone who was deaf possibly recognise all those classic yuletide number ones from years gone by?

The familiar smells wrap around my nose wherever I go, from roasted chestnuts in the winter market to the sticks of cinnamon wrapped with red ribbons that decorate the tree. I’m bundled up in my scarf and an oversized coat, the air smelling of everything winter.

I have always loved this time of the year, yet without the reminder of carols, it’s other senses which have left their biggest impression on me. The feel of a cold squidgy satsuma when my childlike chubby hand searched the bottom of my stocking; the chocolate smell that hits you as you rip open a selection box; and the image of colourful fairy lights illuminating my late grandparents’ faces, radiating such warmth in an almost yellow glow.

There’s nothing more thrilling than watching your loved ones open their presents on Christmas Day, tearing off the paper so lovingly and carefully wrapped. Yet I find it hard to shake off a memory of a past Christmas Eve.

As I shuffled through the shopping malls, I’d watch people shopping for last-minute presents, their eyes full of the kind of delight which mirrored mine that morning. But now, I felt absolutely nothing. It was impossible to acknowledge any magical expectation that this season has to offer, because it had all been taken from me.

The leaflets I’d been clutching when I left the hospital a few hours before, confirming that the progression of my Usher Syndrome meant I was now going ‘blind’ as well as being deaf, were buried deep underneath gift sets.

Tears streamed down my face. I felt numb as I looked up at the smiling, lit-up Santa Claus, totally unaware he was laughing as the reality that my silent world would now become a dark one too took hold. How could life ever be the same again?

“I have always loved this time of the year, yet without the reminder of carols, it’s other senses which have left their biggest impression on me.”

I remember going home to my three-storey Victorian villa, every square inch beautifully decorated, with a real fir tree standing nine feet tall in the bay window, making the most of the high ceilings. The aroma of cinders from a log burner, a smiling face of someone who loved me… but I felt nothing.

The years rolled on by though and the special season always came again. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t mope around as that’s not my nature, but there was a sadness somewhere so deep. Then I’d pull down a dusty box from a cupboard, and I’d feel that feeling slowly returning. To me, Christmas is not just a season, it’s a feeling.

Decorating the tree feels like meeting a familiar friend or love a year later; reminding me of happy memories of yuletides gone by and holding the same magic as so many before it.

joSometimes our world can move too fast, so we’re just living in the chaos. Christmas is a tonic for our souls; it moves us to think of others rather than of ourselves and directs our thoughts to giving.

Peace is an attitude: it can be expressed as a deed, an expression, a look, a touch… it is in anything that uplifts another person. The world would be such a better place if human kindness to all – particularly towards the homeless and lonely – were practised as a choice on a daily basis as the season of peace and goodwill slips quietly into a new year.

I think we expect too much, trying to crowd long arrears of humanity into one day. For me, I like to take my Christmas a little at a time, donating to the many causes that regularly appear on our social media and sending that card to ‘someone special’ for no particular reason, just that they are that. Thus I now drift along into the holidays and let them overtake me unexpectedly.

This year, as Bing Crosby sings, I’m definitely dreaming of a white Christmas and I’m feeling that special feeling more than ever before. It has surged back into my body and again, I feel that magic in my heart.


Jo Milne’s book, Breaking the Silence is out now. Her Facebook page can be found here.

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Written by Jo Milne

Gateshead-born author of Breaking the Silence, ambassador and campaigner. Jo has Usher Syndrome, a rare genetic condition causing deafness then the onset of a retinal disease leading to gradual loss of vision. Those who know Jo describe her to be inspiring as she continues to wring the joy out of life. @jomilne10