A Series of Small Losses
Since I started writing down stories and some (forehead-smack) lessons from my family’s tragic accident a few years ago, I thought I had a pretty good idea about what ‘loss’ is supposed to be given my crash-course in the ‘Life goes Sideways’ category. Until, strangely, last week.
As a word, I’ve gotten quite comfortable using ‘loss’ and have become fairly well practiced at dropping ‘late-husband’ into a casual group setting without it having to derail everyone’s conversation (this took some practice). I’ve gotten much better at discussing loss as a ‘concept’ and even softened to it’s wide-swinging definition: the (of course) harrowing loss of a friend, baby, or parent – a quite tragic financial version of losing your retirement savings or selling-the-house-at-a, or the theft of a family heirloom or disappearance of a well-traveled pocketknife still so felt deeply – perhaps even the shame-inducing loss of your drivers license, your temper, or the losing of your mind.
So, at the Otolaryngologist office last week (I had to look up the word) I told the hearing specialist it seemed like ‘I couldn’t hear things sometimes’ more and more frequently. As in; my boyfriend and 10-year-old son staring blankly at me after the 3rd time I say “What?”, or I find myself popping my head up quickly with an already-pasted smile to soften the oddly confused person who has to repeat themselves (again) while I hope their not secretly thinking I’m just a bitch and ignoring them.
The smiley-head-snap comes easily, familiar, as it dawns on me my Dad wasn’t just lost-in-though or simply becoming ‘more introverted’ at social settings as I grew up. Maybe as a gentleman and proper mid-westerner he doesn’t want to ask, “Could I sit in the middle of the table so I can hear you better?” but a few words slipping by here and there slowly becomes bigger slices, then whole pieces. I wonder how much he was missing…Mom calls out his name to guide him back to the conversation after, what, minutes?
Nearing a year after my late-husband’s death, I was spiraling about in one of my weekly counseling sessions trying to ‘get a grip’ on ‘the loss’ and ‘moving on’. Describing a dinner I’d just had with two recently separated friends who were online-dating up a storm, I was trying to start – but it still felt ‘wrong’. I understood the reality that he was dead and I was ‘single’, but I kept saying, “But Delia, I still kinda feel married”. I love it when she puts down her mug of tea, it means she’s about to drop something serious…”that’s the thing additionally hard to reconcile about your kind of immediate and traumatic loss, while we can never compare, divorce or the death of a spouse from a long illness are devastating losses, but they can also be a series of small losses over time, yours happened all at once.” I repeated this no less than four dozen times.
Sitting in the padded and slightly claustrophobic sound booth with wires going into bulgy earplugs – after listening to a series of hums, pings, beats whirls, chirps and random words to repeat (was that ‘ton’ or ‘tongue’?) the doctor returns with the slight pause and extra intake of breath needed only by those who carry bad news. “Just tell me”, I say while trying to channel Cher’s lets-not-pussyfoot-around approach. “Yes”, I hear quite clearly, ”significant hearing loss…surprising for someone so young…well in the range for hearing assistance”.
“A series of small losses”, clear-as-day words from years ago are kicking around my head as the doc continues.
Has my hearing faded so slowly I didn’t really even notice? The signs small enough I didn’t really see them as they went by? Was the accident such a traumatic, full-body-slam loss I forgot how to listen to the softer slips and more subtle dips. The everyday stuff?
Since I became a widowed-single-mom I’ve been pushing myself – and as it turns out millions of others through the Get Your Shit Together project – to keep cracking that shell open. To have a bigger, better, fuller more amazing – everything – means feeling all of the feelings and being awake to the losses along with the wins – sit with the uncomfortable things, talk about it, soften to your scared and vulnerable places, remove whatever ‘optional suffering’ we have created in our lives.
While it makes me sad (read: pretty fucking bummed) to learn my suspicions are correct – the truth is I have moderate-to-significant hearing loss, in both ears. It is also true that just because I wish it weren’t the case, it does not make it not so. And, I can do something about it. Sure, I can get by just fine right now, as-is, but I made a deal with myself to frequently ask and honestly answer: In a world where so much is out of my control, take care of the stuff you can change.
Well…I want to be comfortable in loud restaurants – answer back when someone I love calls out from the next room over – be connected to the full world around me – stay present and pay attention – be able to really listen. Are there birds out there I haven’t heard? Can folks, uh, ‘literally’ hear a soft breeze?
These are the individual slices of life are the little losses I am most afraid will start quickly adding up. The doctor stares at me from her chair, the soft, well practiced, “no pressure so take as much time to think about what…” speech is just beginning when I interrupt, “How soon until I can get fitted for hearing aides? At the very least, I want to know what I am missing.”