Home > On Love/On Kindness > MY MOTHER’S LAST WORDS


April 11, 2007

by: Jack Levesque, 1992

At the age of 80, my mother asked me, “Did we do the right thing by sending you to the Clarke School for the Deaf? Was an oral education right for you?”

At 81, she said, “I should have learned sign language. But we were told it was not the right thing to do by the staff at Clarke School. I can now see the difference in communication, and I see that it was a mistake not to learn sign language.”

On July 10, 1992, at 10:20 a.m., my mother, Ruth Miller Levesque, passed away in the Monson, MA home of my brother and sister-in-law, Robert and Janet Levesque.

I was at her side when she died. Just prior to that I was in Denver, Colorado, for the NAD Convention and the Substance Abuse Conference that followed it.

I got word that my mother was going fast. Though I had planned to be at my brother’s house on July 21, I decided to fly out early on July 10.

I flew into Hartford, Connecticut, and drove up to Monson, arriving at 7:15 a.m. I had about three last hours to spend with this courageous woman before she slipped into a coma and passed away at 10:20 a.m. It was obvious that we had very little time left, so we tried to say all the things we had in our hearts. I talked and lipread her. Toward the end, she wanted to tell me something. I didn’t understand and asked her to repeat it. Twice more I asked her to repeat, then finally I gave her a piece of paper. She was only able to write the letter O, or maybe C, before her eyes closed and the deep sleep of coma overtook her.

In the weeks and months before my mother’s death, we spent many hours going over issues and preparing for her death. It was done verbally, not comfortably, but adequately. My mother made sure I had the finest oral education around. She was proud of my speaking ability, and impressed by my less-than-perfect lipreading. But we never had a real conversation. Oh, I knew she loved me. I knew she was proud of me. But I’ll never know her last words to me.

Her death was, in a way, a blessing. She had been in pain for two years due to cancer. I am comforted to think of her at peace and free of that pain. But the frustration of our final moments together will haunt me. If she had learned sign language, she would have been able to tell me clearly whatever it was that was so important to her. That moment was a painful one. It made me think of all the other things she might have told me over the years, but didn’t.

I can’t change anything. I can’t go back and make her hands fly easily. But I can make a plea to other parents of deaf children:


I do not intend to get involved in the communications controversy. This moment is too close to me and too painful to muck it up with politics and arguments.

Communication between parent and child, or between any two people, is just too vital to be embroiled in communication methodology. The simple truth is this: if you want fluent communication and a meaningful exchange of ideas, emotions, thoughts and love with your child, sign it.

Parents, don’t let idealism and rhetoric get in the way of realism.

The point was made painfully clear to me that sad morning a few weeks ago. I shall always wonder what my mother wanted to tell me.

It’s too late for me. Is it too late for you?

Categories: On Love/On Kindness
  1. Lantana
    April 11, 2007 at 8:36 pm

    We, as parents do the best we can with the knowledge that we have at the time.

    I hope that your mother passed peacefully knowing this.

    Your friend, Lantana
    Lantana’s Latitude

  2. April 11, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    Jack Levesque wrote that letter in 1992. His message was sad and powerful. It’s a worth reading.

  3. Elizabeth
    April 11, 2007 at 11:58 pm

    Oh, the story really touched my heart.


  4. April 12, 2007 at 12:42 am

    Yes, I had same experience with my parents. My mom did learn to sign some and it was worthwhile use as she lost her voice (cancer).

    My dad was ok in signig only few words. He did fingerspell and used ILY sign.

    I may have had happier ending if they can sign like me. (fluent signer) but few words in ASL is better than none!

    I strongly encourage every hearing family members and relatives to take up ASL classes and be on the par with us.

    It is not hard thing to do! For fact of matter, English language is the toughest language in the world.

    ASL is easy to learn and fun to use! There are many hours of fun and entertaining.

    So look up in your commuity resources and find out what church, school or social service have for ASL programs. You will be glad you did it. Your deaf family member(s) will appreciate it.


  5. DeafSpook
    April 12, 2007 at 1:40 am

    I’m no oralist (no pun intended) but it is C-L-A-R-K-E.

  6. Cynthia Roberson
    April 12, 2007 at 5:36 am

    Hello Jack,

    I am sorry to learn of your mother’s passing.
    My father is gravely ill and I will be visiting sometime this week up in Binghamton, NY. Like you, my parents were told not to learn sign language but they did their best to have my deaf sister and I feel inclusive in spite of the language barrier though to certain limits. It hurts and breaks my heart thinking what if…. then we learn somehow to compensate to nurture our loss.

  7. Karen Von Pills
    April 12, 2007 at 7:31 am

    how do we contact Jack Levesque directly?

  8. Alyssa
    April 12, 2007 at 7:50 am

    If the parents know that their baby is deaf, they should learn sign language. It does not have to be ASL but it could be homemake sign. The important part is to communicate each other. See what happened to Jack. He grieved more because he does not understand his own mother’s last words before she passed away.

    I hope this letter really impacts on hearing parents who have a deaf baby. Get busy before it is too late.

  9. Anonymous
    April 12, 2007 at 7:54 am

    I looked up through yahoo search engine. I am not sure if this email is right one to reach him. Try this?


  10. April 12, 2007 at 8:23 am

    This scenario is repeated in every home divided by communication systems. It was in mine…my mother passed on with so much unsaid because of tubes preventing her from speaking, and drugs making her essentially deaf. All she could manage was one final ILY sign, the only one she knew and the first time she used it.
    Learn signs, parents, if your children prefer to use ASL in adulthood. Never too late.

  11. April 12, 2007 at 8:25 am

    Yes, I lost my mother with her cancer last January. She took sign language classes during my youth not after my birth. I visited with her five days earlier and she signed me with one hand. It was hard for her to sign. I can remember how many times she had time to talk with me but she understood me how I felt because she was hard of hearing.

  12. Anonymous
    April 12, 2007 at 9:59 am

    I totally agree!
    Not only for Deaf people — but also for Deaf-Blind people… my husband is Deaf-Blind. His parents were told that he should learn how to speak so the family never learned sign language. (My husband learned signs when he was 8 years old in school.) Now, as he loses his vision, it is more and more challenging for him to lipread his parents and understand them. He is depending on me – his Deaf wife – to interpret!!! NO! I typically don’t mind, but communication between a parent and a child should be between the two of them without needing anyone to interpret!

    Hearing parents – please, take this to heart… learn sign language and not only will you have an easier time communicating, you’ll have meaningful conversations as well!

  13. Kathie
    April 12, 2007 at 11:00 am

    It is a communication gap between parents and deaf children. I brought in an interpreter as needed so badly when I was growing up angry at my parents. It is not worth trying to blame on one’s parents but tell one’s parents how cumulative the situation is. My suggestion is to reach out to each other and understand the communication gap. Parents will acknowledge about the communication gap and forgive that. I actually understand that it is quite hard!

  14. April 12, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    DeafSpook, you’re right. I fixed it. Thanks for your help.

  15. goldenferi
    April 12, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    We, as parents, are often given poor information, depending on what is trendy at the time. We do the best with what we have and your mother was doing what she was told was best. It is good that you are bringing this forward as I am sure she would want you to educate others. Myself, I have always fought upstream against things that are done purely out of trend. But then, I’m a bit of a non conformist.

  16. mat
    April 12, 2007 at 3:01 pm

    Hi Jack,

    It seem not being easy for to accepted that your parent was told that School are not allow to ASL language. You are not alone.

    Myself, I grew up in large family and I am 9th of 12 silbings that the deaf school told my parent to not sign at all. Total communicate was changed until after 1975’s Things seem not really good educations which we dont understand why we cannot sign. but we did S.E.E, Sign Exact English language after 1970’s

    After My father passed away 17 years ago, My mother felt so gulity that we dont have enough communicated well until I got married .. My mother seem disappointed I moved away to Seattle, WA from my hometown. It is being hard for my member family. There is really changed alot. My mom start forgot sign language while I frequently away from Oregon. Now, My teenager girls hate my mother and me. I have really no idea. I keep took my girl to summer vacatio to see my mother. They appear hurt my mother’s feeling for not sign to me. I said to my girl. Looking at grandma suffer for no reason to hurt each other. It is really rough on me for long time.


  17. Jackie
    April 12, 2007 at 6:04 pm

    Jack, I remember your letter. It touched my heart. Thanks for sharing. May your mother rests in peace. I know what you mean about sign language. My family don’t sign all my life. They admitted that they made the mistakes for not learning sign language. They wish they never listened to the doctors, speech teachers, and audiologists. Your mother was not at fault. It’s theirs. Bless you.

  18. April 14, 2007 at 9:56 am

    I, too, am a late deafened member of society.
    My experience is a little different, only because my dad refused to listen, when (as he now says) “professional people” told him that, should he allow me to learn signs, I would stop talking.
    That was when I was deafened, in 1971 at the age of 10.
    It is now 36 years later and I’d like to talk with those, so-called, professionals because they would learn that, although I have been totally Deaf for 36 years, I still speak well.

    None of my family began to learn signs until I’d been Deaf for 35 years. That’s the main problem, too.

  19. Billythegoat
    April 17, 2007 at 8:55 pm

    All I can say, I am speechless. Very touched letter.

  20. Jacey125
    May 21, 2007 at 8:25 pm

    awww it really touch my heart… it is good story… Hugs

  1. No trackbacks yet.
Comments are closed.