An important part of journeying through our grief over hearing loss is recognizing and expressing feelings we have about our loss. We often push our feelings aside or bury them. We avoid talking about things that are painful to remember. Unfortunately, this only leads to further isolation and lengthens the grieving process. In Grief’s Courageous Journey , authors Sandi Caplan and Gordon Lang encourage the reader to work through the grief of a loved one’s death by completing the writing exercises in their workbook. They identify three stages in working through the grieving process: remembering the past, redefining the present, and re-creating the future. This month’s article will focus on stage one, remembering the past.
I have slightly renamed the five steps in stage one to make them more applicable to grieving the loss of hearing. The steps are (1) your life as a hearing person, (2) events leading up to your hearing loss (3) confirmation of your hearing loss (4) days, weeks, and months following confirmation of your hearing loss, and (5) your grief.
Step #1 Your life as a hearing person: This is the first step in writing your story. Travel back to the time in your life when hearing was never an issue. Write about your relationships with people, your work, what your life is like. Be aware of the feelings that surface as you write about your life by identifying each feeling by name. Think about important milestones in your life as a hearing person. Describe each one in as much detail as possible. Create a drawing or find a photo that captures the happiness of your life at this time. Write what the drawing or photo means to you. Attach to your writing any mementos that have significant meaning in remembering your life as a hearing person.
Step #2 Events leading up to your hearing loss: The focus of this step is to write about the events leading up to the discovery that you have a hearing loss. If deafness followed a long illness, focus on the circumstances and feelings surrounding the illness, hospital stay, and or surgery. If hearing loss is hereditary, think about family members who were deaf or hard of hearing. Describe your relationships with them. What were your thoughts and feelings when you or others suspected you may also have the hereditary gene? If hearing loss followed an accident, write about the events leading up to and surrounding the accident. If becoming deaf was a slow gradual process, remember the first indication you or others had that you may have a hearing loss. Be aware of the feelings that surface as you complete this exercise by identifying each feeling by name.
Step #3 Confirmation of your hearing loss: In this step you continue to write your story by focusing on the time when hearing loss was confirmed. Describe your thoughts and feelings about the doctor’s appointment, audiogram and diagnosis? Were some people helpful and perhaps not helpful? Name the feelings that are surfacing as you complete this step.
Step #4 Days, weeks, and months following confirmation of your hearing loss: In this step, the focus is on how you and others reacted to the confirmation that you have a hearing loss. Denial is a natural reaction to when our emotional system is overloaded. Think back to this time period. Did you deny hearing loss and if yes, how did you deny it? Did family members and friends deny your hearing loss as well? How were you and your loved ones coping at this time? Did you search for a cure? Did you receive any suggestions on how to cope with your hearing loss? How did you feel about the suggestions or lack of suggestions? Write about the support or lack of support you received at this time. Be aware of the feelings that are surfacing and identify each feeling by name.
Step #5 Your grief: This step focuses on the grief you are feeling once the reality of your hearing loss has set in. You no longer are denying your hearing loss although you may still be acting as if you can hear. This is a time of extreme emotional upheaval. We become consumed by our grief. Many of the ways we learn how to cope with grief were learned in our childhood. How did you express your feelings as a child? Were you permitted to cry or show anger? Was it necessary to pretend that you were not sad? How are you feeling now as you remember how you coped with grief as a child? Identify your feelings. How are you expressing your grief over hearing loss? Which of the following “rules” often imposed by those who mean well, do you abide by: “Don’t talk about grief”, Don’t feel your grief, it will go away”, “Don’t trust others with your feelings”, and “Don’t think for yourself”. Make a list of people you feel safe with and can share what you are going through.
Authors Caplan and Kang suggest the reader work though the grieving process with a partner, friend, or counselor. They recommend creating a ritual when completing the writing exercises. An example might be to pick a place the reader feels very safe and to go there each time the reader would like to complete an exercise. They advise against rushing through the exercises. After each exercise, the reader should plan an activity that will be nurturing. Next month’s article will focus on stage two, redefining the present.
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.)