Applying Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief to disability, part I

I recently read a PMLA article by an English English professor, (as in one from the united Kingdom), who took Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-ross’ stages of grief and applied them to disability:  Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.  I thought it was an interesting structure to use in considering blindness, though emotional reactions do vary in the population.  the conventional wisdom is that those who go blind deal with two things, the grief from the lost sight, and the new challenge of being different.  Those who are born blind don’t experience the loss, just the difference.

Regarding denial, I confess that I’m a bit of an advocate. As I was going blind, I did everything  I could medically and then tried to forget about it.  Frankly, I just could not imagine life without sight, and I was reassured constantly by the medical community that they’d discover a cure.  This couldn’t happen to someone so young.  I certainly faced reality every time my retinas hemorrhaged, but as the blood settled and I could see again, (though not as well), I adjusted and stepped back into denial.  Since the onset of my blindness, I’ve heard arguments for denial, for not becoming so consumed with one’s illness or disability, as to become the thing.  I was multifaceted sighted; I would want to be multifaceted, blind.  But I have witnessed in family and friends the total destruction Denial can reap if one doesn’t take the proper medical precautions, if one doesn’t plan for the possibility.  In my case, denial served me well, allowing me to enjoy my final days of elementary teaching, of swimming in the Pacific, of biking and dancing and moving about without thought and concentration. But then my childhood ophthalmologist broke through to me.  “What the hell happened to your eyes?”  and “Do you realize if this doesn’t stop and soon, you’re going to be blind?”  I suppose if I hadn’t gone to see him, the retinal bleeding would have given me the necessary wake-up call–when steps began to look level and I fell, when I knocked over enough filled glasses that looked settled in one spot but seemed to move an inch right or left.  I knew I needed training, and that’s when I entered Kubler-Ross’ second and third stages.  (To come in next post).



About Sally Hobart Alexander

Blinded at the age of twenty-six, I left California and elementary school teaching for life in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, I met my husband, got a Masters' degree in social work, had two kids, now 35 and 32, and became a writer. Surprisingly, the writing career led me full-circle to teaching, and I teach in Chatham University's M.F.A. program and lead two writing critique groups. Always, since the age of 26, I have traveled, not in the stereotypic darkness attributed to blindness, but a mist. My blog then, "traveling through the mist" will deal with issues in my culturally different life as a blind writer, teacher, speaker, and human being.
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