Hearing loss began twenty years ago and progressed slowly. One hearing aid, then two, then higher tech models. I lost the pleasure of music and movie soundtracks years ago, but could hear your words.
Hearing stabilized during my husband Vic’s illness and didn’t change after his death, but a roaring began eighteen months ago. The diagnosis is Meniere’s Disease. Dizziness, tinnitus, and rapid loss of hearing in what had been my good ear. I grieve for this loss just as I grieve for my husband. In both cases, I deal with it, day by day, minute by minute.
I can’t hear you? What? Sorry, I missed that. Will you repeat that, please? Huh? How many ways can I say I can’t hear you? I’m developing my repertoire.
I know how to fake it, smile when others smile and look interested when I can’t understand, but these are isolation tactics. Instead, I tell people about my hearing struggles because deafness isn’t obvious and hearing aides are nearly invisible. I’m honest despite the irritated part of me that thinks I should be flawless and perfect.
I miss my love affair with sound. I counted on my ears the way we count on our bodies until they let us down, but I refuse to retire into sunset seclusion. I look for interesting opportunities and challenges. I lead bereavement groups and give phone and radio interviews using my high tech Oticon audio equipment. I will give more workshops and lectures this fall.
I’m inspired by Evelyn Glennie, a deaf percussionist who gave a TED talk about listening with our whole body. She performs in bare feet so she can feel the sound. If she can be a percussionist after losing her hearing at twelve, I can adapt.
My book baby Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief meets the world in October. She counts on me to introduce her and show her around. She counts on a persistent woman with a disability.
“I’m can’t hear well in noisy situations,” I told the TEDx Chemung River organizer in May. We had finished a one-hour interview as part of the selection process. I did fine face-to-face, reading body language and lips and listening in a room with modest background noise. I mentioned my hearing loss in my application, but needed to remind her. I can fool people. I don’t want to pretend.
“I won’t always hear what others say if there’s background noise. I’m helpless in certain situations, but I’ll do my best.”
“You can give a talk, can’t you?” She said smiling at me. It was a hypothetical question, not a promise.
“Yes,” I assured her. “I’m very good at speaking.” I laughed remembering how my dad called me Windy Wales as a kid because I was a talking machine.
“Then, it will be fine.”
Ten days ago, I received a letter of congratulations from TEDx Chemung River. I’ll talk about using ritual for meaning and support after loss. With the help of TEDx coaches and careful practice, I’ll be prepared for November 8, 2014 in Corning, New York. The warrior in me will work hard, listen carefully, hone her skills, and sometimes ask people to repeat themselves.
What do you have to overcome to do what you want to do in the world? For other posts about my experience with hearing loss see Whispers and Roars: Surviving the Turmoil of Tinnitus and Hearing with Heart: Grieving for Lost Sound. Articles about adult or child hearing loss often use familiar bereavement language.