Grieving a Loss – Part Five

In Grief’s Courageous Journey, authors Sandi Caplan and Gordon Lang identify three stages in working through the process of grieving the loss of a loved one: remembering the past, redefining the present, and re-creating the future.  Last month’s article focused on stage two, redefining the present.  I substituted the words “loss of a loved one” with the words  “loss of hearing” and revised the writing exercises in stage two to help people who are late-deafened focus on some of the tasks, actions, and decisions they presently face in dealing with hearing loss.  This month’s article will focus on the last stage, re-creating the future. Once again, I slightly modified the authors’ exercises to help the late-deafened person, who is ready to move on to stage three, re-create a future that embraces late-deafness.

There are two steps in stage three: (1) legacy and (2) opening the door.

Step #1 Legacy: Caplan and Lang believe that when a loved one dies, his or her legacy lives on.  The body is buried but the special goodness that person brought into the world remains.  Legacy is not about material possessions that have been left to us, but is rather about values and truths that have been passed on to us. Many people who work through the stages of dealing with late-deafness go through value transformation.

Initially, they place a lot of value on body image.  The loss of hearing brings pain and discomfort into their lives because of the incongruence between wanting a desired “normal” body and the reality of having a body with ears that no longer hear.  Placing a value on legs that walk, arms that carry, eyes that see or ears that hear tells nothing about the person we are inside.  Who we are inside and the new values we have found are our legacy of goodness to pass on to others and make this world a better place.  Write about values that have changed since you became deaf?  What values still hold you back from accepting and loving yourself as a person who is deafened?

Caplan and Lang offer a guided imagery exercise that is very similar to one I used many years ago when I was working through my grief.  People often use imagination and imagery on a daily basis to reflect on the past, deal with current problems, and plan for the future.  This exercise will take about 30 minutes.  Make yourself as comfortable as possible.  Close your eyes.  Concentrate on your breathing.  Inhale slowly to the count of ten and then exhale slowly to the same count.  Continue developing this rhythm of breathing until you feel yourself taking long, deep breaths without effort.  If one part of your body still feels tense, imagine that you are breathing air into that part of your body.  As you exhale, imagine that all of the toxins, waste, and tightness in your muscles are leaving your body.  Once you are feeling calm and relaxed, picture yourself in a sanctuary.  Notice a path that stretches off into the distance.  As you gaze into that direction, you see a form, male or female, walking toward you.  Even from a distance you can feel the warmth of the radiant, bright light that surrounds this person.  As the person approaches notice if it is a male or female and other details of his or her appearance.   Notice the wisdom and love that radiates from this person.  You become very aware that this person knows you well and has a message for you.  It is communicated in a way that requires no hearing.  This wordless message is communicated by direct eye contact.  Stare intently into his or her eyes.  Listen to his or her message.  It may be advice on an issue you are presently dealing with or one you have yet to deal with or simply a message of love and acceptance.  Before you leave, you receive a gift that will help you in your healing.  It is a gift that you have wanted in helping you deal with your grief. Reach out and take the gift.    When the experience of being together feels complete, and you have confirmation that you can meet again whenever you would like, bid goodbye for now.  When you are ready, open your eyes and write about your experience.

Step # 2 Opening the door: Look back at your life and think about the times when an event occurred that gave the feeling of a door being closed on you only to find that a new door opened presenting new opportunities.  Write about one or two specific times and the emotions you felt when a door was closed and later was opened.  Stage three has appropriately been named re-creating the future. Before our loss occurred we had already created a future.  Many people who later become deaf had dreams and goals for the future that centered on being a hearing person.  They are now left with the task of re-creating their future as a person who is deafened.  What doors do you see opening for you now?  How would you like to re-design your future? Who is part of your support system as you embark on re-creating a new future? Make a list of the people you can talk to when you need words of encouragement.  What fears do you have for your new future?  Keep in mind two wise sayings:  “we create what we fear” and “there is nothing to fear but fear itself”.  Write down any fears that hold you back from re-creating a new future.  Imagine yourself five years from now.  You run into a friend that you have not seen for the last five years.  Tell your friend what you have been up to, how you are feeling, if you are working or have changed jobs. After you have finished with this projection exercise, write down in your journal what you said to your friend.  These are important clues about your hopes and dreams for your future.

This article is the conclusion of a five article series on grieving hearing loss.  The first article encouraged the reader to recognize that there are many losses in life.  Some losses are bigger than other losses and are followed by a grieving process. The second article explored what grief is and what it is not.  The third, fourth, and this final article offered writing and imagery exercises to help people work through the grieving process.  It is important to note that grieving hearing loss is never finished.  If any of you have lost a loved one, are you ever truly over the feeling of loss?  Something may happen that reminds you of the loved one and you grieve some more although the grief is not nearly as intense as it was before.  Even after years of experience in coping with late-deafness, you may find yourself in a situation feeling the pain of isolation once more. This does not mean you are not moving forward.  Whereas before it might have taken months to recover, this time it takes a day, hour or maybe just a few minutes before you start to rely on the strengths you have developed and coping skills you have learned to ease the pain.  Instead of thinking of the grieving process as a line that runs horizontal, I think of it as a ladder that stretches upward to the heavens.  We may go through feeling the same emotions again and again, but each time we recognize, validate, and explore our emotions, we climb another rung on the ladder and move to a higher level in grieving our loss.

Caplan, S and Lang, G. (1995).  Grief’s courageous journey.  Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

(A reprint of an article I wrote 20 years ago, when I was the founding President of ALDA-Suncoast of Florida, a support group for people who have become deaf.  The article appeared in the newsletter, ALDA-Sun. At the time, I was going back to school to change professions from being a foreign language teacher to becoming a mental health counselor.)