By Monette Benoit
I started realtiming in a church seven years ago for the deaf community. Some approached my corner, "They don't need this." I'd reply, "Let's let 'they' decide what they need." Hunched over my laptop, I'd close it if anyone approached. I'd abort translation even for the Archbishop, mumbling computer problems, smile and wonder if fibs led straight to hell. One day, my husband said, "I don't know how you have the nerve to keep going back." I groaned and laughed. Was it really that bad?
Now I enjoy realtiming. I've written masses, deaf Knights of Columbus initiations, communions, confirmations, baptisms, speakers and missionaries sharing new worlds. As my friendships and life grew, I teased that I wanted to do a confession and funeral. I don't want a goody two shoes, I'm talking a real sinner here. (Priests "hear" confessions as they sign.) Of course, I'm still waiting.
One day my e-mail read "need a favor." Would I realtime a funeral? I'd be honored. I retrieved the paper's obituary. A member of Self-Help for Hard of Hearing People Inc. admitted her husband, who had Alzheimer's, to a nursing home; one week later, he passed away. A chill ran down my spine. Many members could participate, if I'd help. If not, they'd understand.
Questions to Ask
Each service is different, so phone ahead. Which room will hold the services? How long will it run? Get the names of those who made the arrangements and the religious speakers. Request a folding chair along the wall near an electrical socket. What psalms or readings were requested and printed? Can these be faxed to me? How long is visitation before the service? Will visitation and service be in different rooms? What information may you need that you didn't request? (I'm always told something.) Is there a grave visit after the service? Police escort? (Don't park with the cars if you're not going to the cemetery. You'll be in the procession and have to move your car, stalling their exit.)
I strongly suggest people consider realtiming a funeral when they're familiar with religious terms. People are reading and responding to responsorial psalms. Religious terms (Thessalonians, Lazarus, Corinthians, Deuteronomy) and testament phrases are shared in a quick way. Services here run 30 minutes, with each starting late and trying to finish on time. Be prepared to write verses; i.e., 8:5-13. It's not difficult: global a stroke, delete space, colon, delete space.
While I work, I remember there are people grieving; emotions are being shared. I want to be respectful, not dragging stuff up and down aisles until I find the correct spot.
After discovering their needs, I move the "preplaced" chair. Then I unpack. Ask the ushers where people will exit. I don't want people going to the casket and then around me unless necessary.
During the first funeral, we put my screen where people could read it. Although some said they didn't need realtime, many read. The room was wired with assistive listening devices. Many couldn't hear soft organ music, the ushers and priest.
I write, "I'll be your ears, write only what I hear and won't interrupt." They smile and assure me anything I do is a help.
The first funeral was fast, then everyone rushed to a military honor's grave ceremony. After I volunteered, I learned parlors are accustomed to working with sign interpreters. If someone had requested, I would have been paid, per the Americans With Disabilities Act. Gee! The hired interpreter sat in the back and later loaded my equipment into the car after my pro bono service; a kind ally.
A week later, I was again asked to realtime a funeral. Who do they call so I'm paid? Another funeral home requesting services; this time, a job. I had questions and a list of needs. I assisted them to assist me to assist their consumers.
The major untran was, "She delivered males on wheels to seniors for years." Oops.
Now I receive requests. Funeral directors want to assist families. First, compile a dictionary with terms for religious services. Mourners won't know how to find you. Cultivate your talents and dictionary. Help the deaf community to know you. Write pro bono to get contacts. Be prepared for open caskets. (A reporter joked, "Did you drape your machine with a black cloth?" Not yet!)
I've stopped joking about realtiming funerals, and I still want to do a confession. Helping people say good-bye to a spouse, neighbor, friend, I feel special. Each time, people privately say, "I never knew how much I missed" or "That's the first funeral I 'heard' in years." Their eyes fill up. They hold my hands, thanking me - not for the funeral, but for their participation. Funerals are another forum for reporters, and truly an honor.