Kathy Buckley: A Deaf Woman’s Inspiring Story
When Kathy Buckley was 20 years old, she was peacefully sunbathing on the beach when a 3,500-pound lifeguard jeep ran over her. Being hearing impaired, she couldn’t hear it coming.
You wouldn’t think Buckley could find humor in that traumatic event. But you’d be wrong.
“Talk about not knowing what your job description is,” Buckley now jokes about the lifeguards driving the jeep in one of her comedy acts. Forever being teased for being “flat,” Buckley jokes that she relishes telling people she used to be a 44D before the jeep crushed her chest. She was in a wheelchair for two and a half years and doctors told her that she might never walk again. Buckley jokes that she couldn’t hear the doctors, so she walked right out of there.
That gives you an idea of how this powerhouse deaf comedienne and inspiring motivational speaker can poke fun at herself, her hearing loss, and the tragic events in her life.
And there were many traumatic events in this woman’s life, including a misdiagnosis of mental retardation, being sexually abused as a child, poverty and homelessness, and being stricken with cancer – all before the age of 30. And no, this is not a novel with unbelieving plot twists, but a true story as Buckley shares in her New York Times bestselling autobiography, “If You Could Hear What I See.”
To be honest, even though Buckley has appeared on The Tonight Show, Good Morning America, HBO, and Entertainment Tonight, I had never heard of her. My oldest son, who works at a local college as an instructional computer support specialist for disabled students, attended a workshop where Buckley was a featured speaker. He enthusiastically shared her remarkable experiences with me. After doing a bit of research, I was so inspired by this woman.
Just so you know, this story has a happy ending. Not one to wallow in her misery, Buckley went on to become a female comic, wrote an award-winning and critically acclaimed one-woman show based on her life, guest starred in Touched by An Angel, and became a beloved motivational speaker in demand throughout the country.
In other words, she overcame adversity with a capital ‘A.’ She did so with such resilience, hope, courage, dignity – and a wonderful sense of humor – that I felt impelled to share her story with you. It will make you laugh and cry.
As Suze Orman says about Buckley: “Her courage will empower you.”
When Buckley was a child, her family noticed her inability to communicate but thought she was “slow” and would outgrow the problem. She remembers feeling frustrated trying to play games like hide and seek and musical chairs with children whose hearing was normal.
“By the time I’d hear someone say, ‘Hey, Kathy, come and get us,’ the game would be over,” she recalls on her website. “And musical chairs? There’s a game for a deaf kid.”
In second grade, it was finally determined that Buckley had a hearing loss. “And they call me slow?” she jokes now. Even with the diagnosis, teachers showed little patience and understanding and she was eventually transferred to a school for mentally and physically impaired children.
Her youth was filled with misunderstanding and misery. Buckley was sexually abused as a child and contemplated suicide during her teens. If all that weren’t enough, then she was run over by a lifeguard jeep as I mentioned at the beginning of the article. The jeep broke bones and crushed her chest. She experienced intermittent paralysis in her legs. In fact, it took Buckley almost five years to recover.
Buckley eventually packed up her car and drove out west. She parked on the ocean and lived out of her car for two months contemplating what her next step would be. However, before she could figure it out, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer.
Some might say she has been cursed, but Buckley feels blessed.
Kathy Turns Her Life Around
After all the hurdles in her young life, Buckley learned that a sense of humor could get her through the darkest of days. Turning that ability into a career, however, was pure happenstance.
Buckley never considered becoming a comedienne due to her speech impediment. But fate had other plans.
She met actress Geri Jewell, who has cerebral palsy and encouraged Kathy to be part of a contest called “Stand-up Comics Take a Stand” to raise money for the disease. Buckley took first place that night and placed fourth in the entire contest. “I got money for the kids and a career for me,” she says, laughing. “Two birds with one stone.”
She began touring the country playing in major comedy venues. Buckley’s hearing aids were eventually properly adjusted so she could hear the audience laugh at her jokes for the first time. When she stepped off stage, she wept with joy.
The rest is history. Now cancer-free, her zest for life and ability to buck the odds led to her career as a popular motivational speaker. In addition, she is the national spokesperson for No Limits, a non-profit organization which provides an after-school theater group and educational program for deaf and hard-of-hearing children.
What We Can Learn
Buckley’s story touched me for a lot of reasons.
One of my former daughter-in-law’s relatives, Long, is deaf. We hired Long to do some work remodeling our house and were frustrated with our attempts to communicate with him. Shortly afterward, an opportunity came up through our religion to take an American Sign Language (ASL) course to do volunteer work with the deaf and hard-of-hearing, help the deaf learn about the Bible, and join a sign language congregation. My husband and I immediately signed up.
We were finally able to talk to Long and discover what a great guy and cool dude he is as we got to know him better. In the course of these events, we have been privileged to become friends with several deaf people. Many of their stories of overcoming challenges is inspiring.
On top of that, as mentioned at the beginning of this blog, my oldest son works with disabled college students including the deaf and hard-of-hearing. My youngest son and his wife both work as interpreters for the deaf at the same local college. So, our family feels a special connection to this inspiring story. But even if you don’t know anyone who is deaf, Buckley’s story teaches us so much.
How many of us will face such overwhelming odds? Yet, Buckley considers herself blessed since all of her challenges taught her so much about life and have served as a tool to help others.
Taking personal responsibility for her life was another key to happiness. “I was pissed off at the world because they deserved it after everything they had done to me,” she recalls in an interview for The Examiner. She was living a life filled with loneliness, rejection, bitterness and resentment. Then, a realization hit her. The negativity that filled her life “was of my own making,” she says. “My thoughts and words had become my enemy, my limitation, my disability.”
“Life is quite simple, I learned,” she continues, noting that we all have the gift of choice which is unlimited. “It was me who was making it so much more difficult. I could choose to be happy or sad. And happy seems to bring more elements to my life.”
She learned to refuse the negative labels people had put on her during her lifetime. The basic message she received from others was: “You can’t, you won’t, you’re ugly, you’re broken, you’re retarded, you’re unlovable, you’re too tall, you’re flat.”
“The best gift given to me was my hearing loss. God gave me this gift so I don’t have to listen to half of the bull****,” she says. Joking aside, Buckley has learned to love herself as the beautiful, intelligent survivor she is – although she confesses that she is flat as she points to her chest with mock horror.
Gotta love this woman!
“You have to change your life,” she says passionately in one of her speeches. “Don’t get comfortable with what you already know. Get comfortable with what you can learn, what you can challenge, how you can grow…it is up to you to make your own transformation, it’s up to you to make your contribution, it is up to you to fill your heart with joy, it is up to you to find your bliss.”
Love that! No matter what obstacles, setbacks, or heartbreaks you may encounter on your life journey, keep Buckley’s story and words of wisdom in mind, then just watch doors of possibilities open.
Images courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net