Robin was a normally-hearing, 21-year-old young woman when she went to sleep at a friend’s house. She awoke the next morning totally deaf. She relates, “I walked out of my friend’s house to get a ride home—they lived on a highway—and I saw a tractor-trailer go whizzing by, but there was no sound, just trees, leaves and grass bending and swaying as the truck raced past me. The lack of sound just did not compute to my brain. I was numb.” The shock of her mysteriously losing her hearing overnight turned Robin into a zombie as she struggled to deal with her grief.
What Is Grief?
Grief is intense emotional suffering caused by a significant loss in our lives. We value our hearing. Therefore, we quite naturally grieve when we lose it. Our grief shows that we recognize we have a hearing loss and that we are powerless to restore it.
Grieving actually is a process we work through, not a state of being. The grieving process is a natural, necessary, healthy condition that includes a number of emotional safety valves to release the pressure so we don’t “blow up.”
No one denies that grieving is painful. When we squarely face our hearing loss, the waves of emotions and feelings we call grief flow over us. Like the waves of the sea, this grieving process can’t be rushed or turned back. These waves of grief will wash over us for some time. Fear, sadness, crying and thinking about our loss are all normal expressions of grief.
The Stages of Grief
When we lose some of our hearing as adults, many of us experience the same emotional shock and grief we would if we learned that we had a terminal illness. In her book On Death and Dying (1969), psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross explains the five stages of grieving that terminally-ill people go through—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. People with hearing loss advance through these same five stages of grief as they say goodbye to the hearing they once enjoyed and prepare themselves for their new lives as hard of hearing people.
Each of us progress through these stages at our own pace. For some it may take a few days. For others, it may take several years. Realize that this is not a cut and dried process. We are not necessarily in only one stage of the grieving process at any given time. We can be in denial in one aspect of our hearing loss, while perfectly accepting of it in another aspect. Likewise, we can be angry over one area affected by our lack of hearing, and be depressed in another area at the same time.
Furthermore, we may skip one or more of these stages of grief, or go through them in a different order. Also, we may regress and go through certain stages all over again, especially if we have progressive hearing losses. For example, “Jerri” explained, “I’m still in the grieving process. The problem is that anytime I get better and start to lead a normal life, my hearing gets worse, and down I go again! It’s been a hectic emotional roller coaster.”
Since hearing loss affects everyone in the family, they all also need to grieve. In fact, failure to do this destroys families. Read how important it is that The Rest of the Family Needs to Grieve Too.
Now, here are the five stages of grief and how they may affect us as we progress through them.
The news shocks us. We express disbelief. “It can’t be!” “They’re wrong!” “It’s not me they are talking about!” “Someone made a mistake!” “I don’t have a hearing loss!”
Denial is our first, and perfectly natural, reaction when faced with the shocking news we have a hearing loss. Often, it is too painful for us to accept that we will never again hear better than we do now.
Consequently, we may be shocked numb. The shock temporarily anaesthetizes us—gives us a brief escape from reality. We show little emotion. This shock stage may last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours to a few days, and in some cases, such as a gradual hearing loss, for several years.
By temporarily blocking out our loss, we give ourselves time to adjust more gradually to our new reality. We need denial temporarily, but we must not linger on it.
Eventually, it becomes obvious to us that we really do have a hearing loss and that we cannot deny it any longer. Our next reaction is to deny its permanence. Now, instead of saying, “I don’t have a hearing loss,” we tell ourselves and others that our hearing losses are just temporary. Soon a doctor will discover a miraculous cure and we will be able to hear normally again.
This is exactly how “Susie” felt. She wasted 15 precious years mired in the denial stage. She explains, “My 15-year denial period was founded on my subconscious belief that if I accommodated my hearing in any way, I would lose my chance at the miraculous recovery I felt was right around the corner.”
The denial stage can be, and often is, carried to extremes. For example, a wife may point out to her husband that he missed most of the conversation at the meeting they just left. “Nonsense,” he retorts, “I just didn’t want to listen to that old windbag anyway!”
Once we admit we have a hearing loss, we often experience rage or anger, and even envy and resentment. We ask, “Why me?” “It just isn’t fair!” “What did I do that God is punishing me with a hearing loss?”
In our anger, we may become stubborn, rebellious, abusive and destructive. We may deny these negative traits in ourselves, and instead, project them upon others.
In this state of mind, we may lash out at everyone and everything. If you are a family member, don’t take it personally. This is a process your loved one must work through.
After we quit denying our hearing loss and after our anger has subsided, we may try to bargain with ourselves, with others or with God for the return of our hearing. We are more inclined to bargain if we do not perceive our hearing loss as being permanent.
Denial has not worked. Anger has not worked. Bargaining has not worked. Thus we conclude that nothing works. We finally realize that our hearing loss is real and cannot be reversed. This depresses us. This stage represents a kind of giving up the fight. We acknowledge it is futile to continue fighting.
We may feel varying degrees of sadness, loneliness and despair. We may feel that life is not worth living any more. We may wish we were dead. We may say to ourselves, “I couldn’t care less.” Thus, our usual activities lose their importance. Our hearing losses make us feel insecure and isolated. Consequently, we withdraw from many social situations.
Eventually, however, we take steps—perhaps tiny ones at first—toward becoming involved in life again. We may begin to fantasize, and in our dream world, put ourselves into many different situations to see how we can fit in. This is a positive step. As we meet each new little challenge, we learn to handle our depression, and amazingly, our depression begins to lift. We realize that we can now see the daylight at the end of the tunnel.
The final stage is acceptance. In this stage, we now concentrate more on the future than sorrowing over the past. It is in this stage that we begin to look for ways to successfully cope with our hearing losses. It is only at this stage that we are really ready to investigate whether hearing aids will help us hear better. Read the fascinating article, Where Hearing Aids Fit into the Grieving Process.
Unfortunately, no matter how well we cope with our hearing losses, there will always be some activities we just won’t be able to handle as before. Thus, our lifestyles will change, but they need not be any less worthwhile or rewarding.
We have reached the acceptance stage when we freely admit, “There is something wrong with my hearing, not with me. I am okay. Only my hearing is impaired, not my intelligence. I may not feel good about being hard of hearing, but I do feel good about myself. I don’t want to miss out on things any more. Even if I can’t hear very well, I still want to enjoy life to its fullest. I am going to live again!”
The above information is taken from Dr. Neil’s book Grieving for Your Hearing Loss—The Rocky Road from Denial to Acceptance. This short book has helped many. For example, “Nora” wrote, “A few months ago I ordered Dr. Neil’s book on grieving. I really cried when I read it—good tears! I felt as if someone finally understood what I was going through. He is so right! We do need to work through the various stages of grieving.”
“Cindy” said, “I just read Neil’s book on grieving and found it to be extremely helpful since I seem to be losing my hearing by drips and drabs. I keep going through this grieving process over and over and over—every time my hearing decreases.”
“Wendy” declared, “I wholeheartedly recommend this book. It helped my husband and me. One of the things I realized was that my husband and I were so stuck in our sadness and grief that we couldn’t see the forest for the trees.”
“Daisy” exclaimed, “Neil, I just finished reading your book Grieving for Your Hearing Loss. It was great!” She added, “At first I didn’t think this book was for me, but as I read on, I saw a description of myself! I have recently entered the acceptance stage. Things have been changing for the better ever since.”
Things can change for the better for you too! Click here to obtain your copy of Grieving for Your Hearing Loss and put yourself on the road to hope and recovery now.