David was my baby brother, only 2 years younger than I. Our childhood was idyllic and always fun. Our first language was Auslan. I am Deaf. David was not; he was a CODA. Mum and Dad always said David and I were too close, too alike.
David was a talented basketball and football player. He won many awards. When he was young he also tried his hand at cooking. His recipes were always delicious. He often made me laugh, he had a wonderful sense of humour. He had the knack for turning the ugly into funny. He was tall, handsome and charming. His biggest love in life was music, loud and loads of it. He had a passion for Holden cars and women, and women in turn, loved him.
He was also intensely protective of his family. He was my best friend. In difficult times he was always the first to call. In happy times, like on the birth of my children, he shared the joy with me. Every meeting ended with an “I love you!”
I initially started writing about David late last year after seeking my parent’s permission. Shortly after I started writing, the media was full of stories about the then execution of the Bali boys. My social media newsfeed was awash with negative comments supporting the death penalty. It left me sick to my stomach.
My children were sensitive to all the attention towards the execution of the Bali boys. It got so bad I had to turn the TV off. I thank God that my kids were not on Facebook. The media saturation focusing on the execution of the Bali boys made me stop writing. Perhaps it was just easier for me to pretend that it was not happening.
You see my brother was a drug addict.
He first took heroin at the tender age of thirteen. He had fallen into a wrong group of ‘new’ friends. He stole to feed his addiction. By the age of fifteen he was in juvenile detention. As a measure of how much David loved his ‘Deaf’ family he advocated successfully to get a TTY for the detention centre. In this way he was able to communicate with us all regularly.
He spent 17 years in and out of the prison system. We, his family, didn’t tolerate his crimes and he knew it. He was extremely remorseful. Mum and dad visited him regularly. Whenever I visited Perth with my children and their dad, we always visited him in prison. One would hope that being in prison would have kept David safe from drugs. This was not the case. Despite the security, drugs still found their way into the prison system.
I recently asked my children’s dad, Rino, what he assumed before meeting David for the first time in prison. His responded, “I’d never been to a prison. I thought he’d be tough and a hard man.” After the visit Rino had been surprised that my brother was gentle, easy to get on with and had a great sense of humour. Rino realised that David loved his family dearly.
When we visited my brother in prison, he spoilt my children rotten. He would shower them with ice cream, lollies and chocolate milk. For those judgemental people who might think he bought these treats with taxpayer money, he did not. He paid for them with money provided by my mum and dad.
After one such visit, and having indulged in too many lollies, my kids farted all the way home. It was disgusting. The next day we came back to see him again, with the stink still fresh in our memory. I grumbled to David as I told him about it. He laughed heartily. We all laughed along with him. My kids still giggle at the memory.
On a few occasions prison officials asked David to interpret for other deaf offenders in prison. David always told the officials that this was inappropriate and they should get a qualified interpreter. His protests were always ignored.
During one visit I asked David if he had spoken to a counsellor/psychologist while in prison. He bemoaned the fact that the counsellors had no understanding of his experience of being a CODA and also having a Deaf sister. He felt they had no awareness of deafness, and felt he should not have to explain when he could have been talking about himself. Today this still bothers me as I also have CODA children. Mental health professionals have no understanding of just how important it is to ensure that families of CODAs get access to support services. In this way they can better support CODA children who are experiencing difficulties like David. They can also get much needed support for themselves.
Every time he was released, mum and dad were always there for him. They were his only support because the prison system offered David no support for rehabilitation. How society views people like David is appalling. The responsibility for David’s support, post-prison, fell heavily on the family.
On his last release from prison, David vowed never to go back. He was happy. He had a girlfriend. Despite this he became depressed as the months went by. He worried for his future. He confided to my mum and dad that he thought no one would ever employ him. Mum and dad suggested he talk to me because I also live with depression. He never sought support from me. He would send me short and sweet text messages to tell me he loved me, but that was all.
One day a letter came in the mail for David. Mum opened it. The letter was an invitation to a job interview. A friend had recommended the company to David because the company were empathetic towards the needs of people like David. It was too late. A few weeks before, David had been tragically taken from us in a car accident. This had been his longest stretch, ever, outside of prison.
His death broke us all. He was only 32. His farewell was beautiful. My nana could not believe how many people attended David’s funeral. My late uncle said in his eulogy, “David was a natural interpreter, you always knew he explained your view the best way. David, like many youth got into trouble, he served his time and paid his debt to society in full. While David was doing time he acknowledged it was a pretty tough time in his life and he confided in me and said, ‘Uncle Stan, there is no way I would have served my time without the love and full support of mum ‘n’ dad.” Without that ongoing support that we provided to David, I think we would have lost him much earlier.
David was extremely grateful for the support that his family gave him and never forgot it. Although David never got the chance to tell us before he died, his actions always showed us how important that we all were to him. At the funeral one of David’s favourite songs, Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’, blared through speakers. It was interpreted for us all wonderfully and left us with goose bumps.
I’ve never been ashamed of David as my brother. I am protective of him and my family. Society can be very judgemental. Society judges without considering all of the issues. My family have certainly endured a few of society’s judgement. More than a few really. Last year I was labelled as ‘ a drug addict’s sister’ even though David had been gone for 5 years. To put it politely, I didn’t let it slide. The person apologised.
My family have wonderful and trusted friends who supported us through the difficult years. They kept us sane. In almost 20 years it still staggers me that Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings are still not accessible for Deaf/Hard of Hearing addicts and families like mine. Families are encouraged to attend NA meetings for their own support needs and also to support family members who are addicts. That these meetings were not accessible to mum, dad and myself made it harder for us to understand and support David.
I know in my heart David would give me a high five with his wicked laugh for writing this. He would appreciate others knowing how much we cared for him and loved him. I will always miss David. His passing is bittersweet. I am so glad that he’s not caged on this earth any more. He is free to fly. I know he’s looking over his family.
Mum and dad, this is for you. Thank you for showing me what real parenting is about and for allowing me to write about David.
When the sun shines, we’ll shine together
Told you I’ll be here forever
Said I’ll always be a friend
Took an oath I’m a stick it out ’til the end
Now that it’s raining more than ever
Know that we’ll still have each other
You can stand under my umbrella
You can stand under my umbrella
5 thoughts on “Just a Rough Diamond – By Sandra Spadea”
That brought tears to my eyes, Sandra. Family is always number one and you’ve expressed the pain and the joy that it brings.
Awesome reading loved every honest word written in this story. Unfortunately for us deaf people it is one long and hard battle to get equal access for the simplest things let alone essential health care!
Sandra, Thank you for sharing your story, it takes a courage to do that. Writing is great therapy albeit very painful sometimes. I could empathise with you on many levels. I am a CODA myself, have Deaf siblings, and adult children who are long term drug addicts. In my experience the struggle is huge and the pressure and grief on the family as a whole is crushing. It is my personal belief that Children of Deaf Adults are the forgotten minority in the wider Deaf Community. We are a unique group with unique and often complex issues. It is wonderful to see people like Liza, Susan, Michelle, Kylie and Adrian and others volunteering their time to organise KODA camps which provide young KODAs with an opportunity to feel a sense of belonging etc etc. I am sure I would have benefited from such groups. I would love to see Deaf Societies around the country put CODA on their agenda along with Deaf, Hard of Hearing, DeafBlind, and Parents of Deaf Children. Blessings on your family xx
A very touching and well written story. Got me in tears. Thank you for sharing.
Very difficult to get equal access to WA deaf society because of negative attitude and hearing preachers spoiling levitzke regime controlling deaf communities into submission need to change their own attitudes.