By Bonnie O’Leary, NVRC Director of Community Outreach Programs, 1/23/2013
Mike DeFries, NVRC’s dear friend and supporter, passed away on Monday, January 14th after a long illness. We first met Mike in 2006 when he attended my “Coping with Hearing Loss” series at a community near his home. As a senior who was experiencing hearing loss, he was intrigued with the content of the sessions, and came to NVRC to meet the staff and learn about the scope of our services.
Mike wanted to create a project in memory of his mother, Grace Abelson DeFries, who developed late-onset hearing loss in her 70s. A life that was once vibrant with activities became one of solitude and isolation until Grace’s death at the age of 95.
After meeting with other members of the staff and learning more about NVRC, Mike wrote “this was the place to carry out a project….in memory of my mother. As the project began to solidify, we formulated its goals, namely to provide a guide to assist older people encountering increasing difficulties with hearing loss by relating experiences of others, and how they coped with their personal problems. As a secondary objective, we would present information about technology for enhancing hearing and for other techniques enhancing lifestyle in a readable, non-pedantic, non-threatening style – all sprinkled generously with humor.”
Mike’s concept, and his substantial funding for the project, became the launch pad for NVRC’s “I Can’t Hear You!” (ICHY) series and the free booklet that accompanies the program. For almost three years, he guided the editorial process of the booklet from start to finish, chapter and verse. “This page is too serious, put in a cartoon!”
As the booklet took shape, Mike generously provided us with editorial luncheon feasts at his home on Lake Barcroft. Having learned that my late mother was Russian, he often made “Mike’s Special Borscht” for us to sip by the water’s edge; I confess to consuming the lion’s share. Two of his daughters, Diane and Vicki, often joined us for edit sessions and offered more excellent ideas as well as enthusiasm and encouragement.
Upon publication of the booklet in May of 2009, and Mike’s review of the accompanying Power Point presentation, our hearts were warmed to hear him say “this has surpassed my wildest expectations!”
I kept in constant touch with Mike, bringing him up to date on ICHY’s latest developments, sharing the comments seniors were writing on their evaluation forms, and sending him photos of seniors reading their booklets after our presentations in Fairfax, Arlington, and Alexandria. We became great friends, and I tried to visit him when I could as his health declined during the past year. The last time I saw Mike, a few weeks before his death, he was thrilled to learn that the ICHY program had been launched in Prince William County, was poised to launch in Loudoun, and that almost 1,000 booklets had been distributed to seniors throughout Northern Virginia.
The obituary for Mike DeFries appeared in the Washington Post on Friday, January 18th. We were touched to learn that the family requested donations be made to NVRC to continue the funding for the “I Can’t Hear You!” program.
Mike’s memorial gathering for family and close friends was on Sunday at his home, and I felt honored to be included. I was finally able to meet Mike’s youngest daughter, Ruth, who lived too far away to be involved in the project. As the Rabbi lit a candle, I watched the flame flicker in the very room by the lake where Mike had first talked to me about his ideas for ICHY. I thought about how his project helped light the way for so many seniors who, like Grace Abelson DeFries, were struggling with late-onset hearing loss. But unlike Grace, who had no resources to help her, these seniors can learn about ways to adjust to it and live a better quality of life, which is exactly what Mike had envisioned.
As Marla, Susan, Joan and I continue growing “I Can’t Hear You!”, Mike’s light will continue to shine through our programs. We will miss our dear friend, but his wisdom and his spirited humor will never be far from us.
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