Rebecca-Anne Withey: Grief and hearing loss

Posted on February 27, 2017



When I was 18 I experienced a massive drop in my hearing. I’d gone from having a severe loss to a profound one but the drop was so sudden it was hard to deal with at first.

I’d changed from being someone who wore hearing aids when I felt like it to a person that couldn’t live without them.

Nobody really explained why it happened the way it did.

My sister and I were both born hearing (apparently- there were no newborn screenings then) and our high frequency hearing losses weren’t detected until we were at primary school.

My parents were told it was likely our hearing would deteriorate as we got older due to the hairs in the cochlear that transmit sound slowly dying.

So my loss of sound was a gradual one – up until my eighteenth year.

The drop in hearing I encountered was a big one. So much that I was offered counselling to come to terms with the loss and the therapist introduced the process of grief to me.

I remember being confused. Grief? I haven’t suffered a bereavement? But they explained that losing a sense has similar effects to a physical loss and the process of accepting and adapting to this enormous change is almost identical.

First there’s denial. I sure felt that. It was no big deal I kept saying to my Mum. I didn’t want to talk about how I couldn’t hear the TV anymore or even my own voice when I screamed… just get on with things. That was my initial response.

But then came the anger. Anger at how unfair it was, how cruel life could be; feeling out of control and helpless to do anything as my hearing slipped away.

The counsellor explained that the phases of grief are not linear and can return in waves throughout your life. The trick is to ride the waves as they came and not to fight them.

Since those sessions I’ve come a long way and I’ve fully accepted what I can/can’t hear. Maybe it’s different when you’re born deaf as you may not know what you’re missing. But to have full hearing and then lose it the way I did is something that definitely has its moments of sadness.

It was a couple of years ago now, that my sister and I went to the Big Reunion concert; where all our favourite bands of the late 90s and early 00s played. We were beyond excited as we had grown up listening to these groups and singing them together.

The opening act was A1 who performed a cover of Aha’s Take On Me. I adored the song and even performed to it as a young girl but as the show started and the crowd went crazy, I stared at the stage, confused.

Nothing made sense acoustically. Where was the electro melody? The high pitched keyboard synthesiser? All I could hear was screams and a strange thumping bass.

That’s when the grief hit me in the stomach. God I missed music.

I missed hearing it properly. Not with strained ears in a quiet room, focusing intently just to hear something familiar. I missed the ease of popping a song on and being instantly transported. I missed being involved in that world.

I watched the rest of the concert in bittersweet nostalgia. Happy to see the bands and routines I recognised but sad that I could no longer participate in fully enjoying them.

I still love music but my relationship with it has changed. I tend to stick to the oldies that my brain recognises and when I do learn a new song it takes me a while to study and revise all the layers; the lyrics, the melody, the rhythm, the overlapping sounds. It’s hard work but a labour of love.

I know that I’m not alone in experiencing a sense of loss from time to time. I’m aware that amongst all the jokes and banter and the big D little d debates, there are individuals who are perhaps still coming to terms with a change in their hearing.

So if you are struggling or if this deaf world is still new or alien to you, please don’t be afraid to get professional support.

Read more of Rebecca’s articles for us here.

Rebecca Anne Withey is a freelance writer with a background in Performing Arts & Holistic health. 

She is also profoundly deaf, a sign language user and pretty great lipreader. 

Her holistic practices and qualifications include Mindfulness, Professional Relaxation Therapy, Crystal Therapy and Reiki. 

She writes on varied topics close to her heart in the hope that they may serve to inspire others.

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