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. I have read this book with great interest because I feel one can easily substitute the words “loss of a loved one” for “loss of hearing”. Last month’s article focused on stage one, remembering the past. With a little bit of imagination and a lot of experience in grieving my hearing loss, I revised the writing exercises in stage one to help late-deafened people tell their story about their hearing loss, how it occurred, and to recognize the loss it brings into their life. This month’s article will focus on stage two, redefining the present. Once again, I offer slightly modified exercises to help late-deafened people, when they are ready to move on to stage two, to shift attention to some of the tasks, actions, choices, and decisions that lie ahead as they build a new life.
There are three steps in stage two: (1) self-empowerment, (2) restructuring relationships, and (3) letting go.
Step #1 Self-empowerment: Step one focuses on the ability to see possibilities and to freely make choices and decisions that will help make possibilities a reality. The reader is encouraged to think about rules and beliefs they have held about hearing loss that need to be challenged. Write down some of the emotions and beliefs you have about hearing loss that are causing you internal distress or illness. Identify and describe some of the emotions or beliefs you have about hearing loss that are causing external trouble for you and others? What are some of the things you could do or beliefs about hearing loss that you could change, so that the energy you are spending denying hearing loss could be redirected to help you with acceptance of hearing loss? “Reality actions” are some things that a person can do to help chip away at denial. Here are a few ‘reality actions” for hearing loss:
- Read about others and the actions they have taken to adjust to hearing loss
- Obtain equipment that can alert you to the sounds in your home, work, and or school environment
- Investigate telephones available that will help you have a telephone conversation without stress
- Determine if hearing aids will be of benefit
- Develop your ability to speechread by practicing with educational tapes or taking a class
- Learn about communication strategies that will help you be confident and assertive in repairing communication breakdowns
- Determine if learning a manual language will be of benefit.
What actions have you already taken to help make your life more comfortable as a late-deafened person? List some possible “reality actions” that you know will empower you to move on with you life and accept your hearing loss. After each reality action you list, give an estimate of the date you will start the action. Finish this step by thinking about the emotions that surfaced as you answered the questions. Do you feel tense or hopeful? Do you feel confident or scared? Reflect upon your feelings and decide if you need to spend more time in stage one, remembering the past, or if you are ready to move on. Remember that each person makes the journey of grieving hearing loss at his/her own pace.
Step Two Restructuring Relationships: This step focuses on recognizing the changes that have occurred in your life because of the loss of hearing and how the changes have affected your relationships with friends, family, and co-workers. You may feel that you now have nothing in common with some people or you may feel anger or disappointment with others because of their reaction to your loss. Write about the significant role the ability to hear played in you life with your spouse, children, extended family, friends, and co-workers. Describe the effect hearing loss has had on each of the above relationships. How are you beginning to restructure relationships to compensate for your loss of hearing? What are some possibilities of changes you would like to take place in these relationships? Many late-deafened people find it helpful to form new relationships with others that are experiencing the same loss. Write about the relationships you have formed with late-deafened people. What do you like or dislike about these relationships? Finish this step by reflecting upon the emotions that surfaced when responding to the questions. Being aware of the emotions inside of you will help you to take the necessary action to move forward whereas keeping emotions hidden, such as anger, can lead to depression and illness.
Step Three Letting Go: Letting go does not mean forgetting or letting go of our wonderful memories of the time we could hear. The memories of listening to music, birds chirping, and spontaneous conversation are our memories to enjoy forever. Letting go refers to a time in our grieving process that we no longer fight the reality of our hearing loss. Close your fists as tight as you can. Imagine that your clenched fists contain all of your pain, bitterness, anger, shame, and guilt over hearing loss. Now open your hands and spread your fingers wide apart. Do you feel the release? Letting go is a process when we realize we no longer want to hold on to emotions that cause us to feel tense, stressed, embarrassed, and constantly on guard to hear. We move on to acceptance and openness about out hearing loss. Sometimes we hold on to our pain with closed fists to protect us. Write about the pain you are holding on to and how it serves to protect you? What are you missing out on by holding on to this pain?
The reader may question why complete writing exercises that focus on feelings. Caplan and Lang refer to a wise expression: “Express your feelings and you control them; repress your feelings and they control you”.
By paying attention to our emotions, recognizing and acknowledging them, we can begin to take control of our hearing loss and redefine our present. Next month’s article will focus on stage three, recreating the future.
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.)