I woke up one morning in early January and noticed that something was wrong with my hearing. At first I thought it was just a cold symptom, like congestion. After a few hours I realized I wasn’t just a little bit deaf in my left ear; I really couldn’t hear a thing.
Medical tests and doctors’ visits followed. The good news: I didn’t have a tumor. The bad news: I had profound hearing loss in my left ear. Doctors couldn’t say what caused it, and they weren’t sure if my hearing would come back.
I’ve spent the last few months looking for meaning in this loss, a way to “derive some good” from it. I feel hesitant to talk about it at all, especially here. What place does loss have in a blog about celebrations? What could we possibly learn from loss and grief?
Loss Teaches Patience
My first visit to a specialist ended with this recommendation: take these steroids and come back in a month. He couldn’t tell me whether my hearing would improve in that time, or ever. I just had to wait and see.
If you fancy yourself a “think and act” kind of person, the whole “wait and see” thing is very challenging. I went back to work right away, but felt frustrated by everything. I kept trying to answer the phone with the wrong ear. (“Can you hear me now?”) Then I’d set the phone down and promptly lose it. With only one ear, I couldn’t localize sounds; the phone would ring endlessly while I ran around the office searching for it. Little tasks were now complicated by vertigo and headaches. I just wanted everything to go back to normal.
But with some losses, there’s no going back. There’s a new “normal” to navigate, and no matter how quickly you want to figure it out, that takes time. Slowly I learned to accommodate my new disability. Keeping my phone in the same spot every day, using a vibrating alarm clock to make sure I got up on time (“Shake ‘n Wake”), monitoring my computer habits and lighting to prevent vertigo—I steadily made changes to work around my hearing impairment. I’m still learning, but being patient has helped me to feel more comfortable with this new normal.
Loss Teaches Kindness
It’s normal to be impatient with yourself when you’re going through a loss, and we sometimes feel that same impatience with others’ grieving. I have wondered how people could talk about grief for months or even years. How could a loss still feel so fresh to them after all that time?
Then a few weeks ago—long after I’d “gotten over” my hearing loss—spring arrived, with everything that brings: bright new leaves, warm sunny days, and peepers. I was so excited the first night I heard the frogs, but then it occurred to me that they had probably been peeping away out there for weeks and had just gotten loud enough for me to hear them. I realized that spring was never going to be the same. And it hit me: this is what it’s like for everyone who goes through loss.
If loss and grief aren’t linear, logical, or predictable (what “think and act” people would like to believe), then each new experience you have is a first—like my first spring—without that person or thing. Grief isn’t something you feel all at once and “get over”; it’s something that surfaces when you least expect it, making that loss new all over again.
Poet Naomi Shihab Nye writes in her poem “Kindness,” “Before you know what kindness really is/you must lose things.” In the past I have looked at others’ struggles and have thought (unkindly), “Why can’t they get over that?” Now I understand. And as Nye shares in her poem, “it is only kindness that makes sense anymore.”
Loss Teaches Gratitude
I have so much to be grateful for.
I am grateful that when I woke up deaf in January, it was only in one ear. My hearing loss wasn’t caused by a tumor. The vertigo has decreased, and responds to medication. My overall health is very good.
I’m grateful that my follow-up visit established the hearing loss as “severe” instead of “profound”—a small change, but still an improvement.
I’m grateful that I can do my job without perfect hearing, I’m adapting to this change, and I really am doing better. In the grand scheme of things, this is a minor loss.
I’m so grateful to the people who have shared their own stories about hearing loss, the colleagues and family members who offered support and tips and encouragement. Thank you.
If you’ve been a reader here, you know how important gratitude is to me and to my work. A couple of years ago, I shared how much I love helping people say thank you every day: “I believe that the more we express gratitude, telling family and friends that they’re important to us and that we’re happy to have them in our lives, the happier we are.” Experiencing loss has made me so much more aware of what I have, all that I’m grateful for, and I think this is the greatest gift of loss. It makes us appreciate the good stuff so much more, and enriches our relationships by encouraging patience and kindness. Who wouldn’t want to celebrate that?
What lessons have you learned from loss?