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Loss comes in many forms and when we are in the middle of it, seeing the pleasantries of life seem out of reach but as I have been reminded in recent years, there are often good things awaiting us on the other side of our pain. One such reminder was a few years back when I lost my 16 ½-year-old cat, Carmine, to end-stage renal disease. Five weeks prior, I moved to Texas to start a new job and I was thousands of miles away from family and supports. This was not how I saw his life or our life going. I was very sad and felt displaced as I am an animal lover and I view animals as ‘family’.
As life would have it, another cat who I later named Mika came into my life. At the time, she was a young, stray, and pregnant calico. Over the coming weeks, we came to know one another, and one day she brought me her two kittens. From that day, we were a family. I did not feel ready for this change or a cat family as I still grieved Carmine; nor was I sure I could successfully integrate three kitties into my already busy life, but today I can say I am really glad I did. Looking back, they needed my support to survive, helped me heal from Carmine’s passing, and brought me much joy. I can’t imagine my life without them! I share this story because it is another reminder that there are ‘good’ things waiting for us on the other side of loss and pain. We just have to be willing to open ourselves up to the unknown and to the possibilities we have yet to discover.
Loss and change are hard and are often described as something people would rather not experience. Loss is a term typically associated with concrete life experiences such as the death of a loved one, the ending of a friendship or relationship, or the destruction of one’s home due to forces of nature, but in reality, loss encompasses much more and is sometimes a part of the process of adjusting to living with a disability.
Society and bystanders not well-versed about the realities of people with disabilities sometimes view loss and disability as interchangeable and automatic. “Outsiders” sometimes view living with a disability as a tragedy or something to be feared especially when their views are associated with beliefs about things people cannot do. For some, disability is an experience that is associated with negative beliefs and low expectations. Examples include the ways people focus solely on a person’s loss of function, alterations in navigating one’s environment, or getting a specific task done.
Similarly, disability is an experience sometimes associated with lack of independence, changes in employment, and inaccurate stereotypes and generalizations. One phenomenon is the occurrence of ‘spread’. Spread is a term brought to light by the work of Beatrice Wright (1960, 1983). Wright described “spread” as those situations when people see someone with a disability and assume that the person is not able to do anything else. For example, if a person has a visible, physical condition, people without disabilities may view the person as not able to see, hear, think, make decisions, order from a menu (my personal favorite speaking from experience), lift objects, or be independent. The list goes on. In essence, spread is about people’s assumptions and lack of understanding and knowledge about what people with disabilities are truly capable of doing. As a result, they make several inaccurate and often wrong assumptions about peoples’ abilities. Even more concerning is the fact that these beliefs and assumptions are often promoted and sustained as a part of society when people are not aware of what they are doing.
Despite these situations and the reality that numerous people view disability as a loss, it is not the outcome for people with disabilities. While learning that a disability is present and that a person’s life may be different, living with a disability is not always equated with loss or doom and gloom. While it is likely that people may have some initial questions or emotional reactions (i.e., anger, fear, anxiety, depression), it is also true that many learn to adjust to the disability and its associated changes.
Going a step further, some learn to see how the disability has changed them for the better (i.e., reports of being a kinder person), helped them see what truly matters in life, along with the positive side of living with a disability. People who can move past the hurt, pain, and change are afforded the opportunity to see the world in a new way and the possibilities before them. Furthermore, healing one’s hurt and rising above the loss gives people a chance to help others and to emerge “stronger” and more “evolved.” As a part of this personal transformation, people realize what they are made of and discover they have many more abilities than they previously thought. It is through this process that people awaken to the positive side of disability, the good things in life, and discover their “purpose” or “passion.”
If disability is a part of your life or that of someone you care about, I encourage you to take time to step back from the pain and to consider how the disability can be used to improve your life, the life of others, and/or the world around you. Disability is an experience that can feel isolating, if we let it. Yet, it is one that can catapult people into doing some marvelous things that change not only their own life but the life of others. The question we all must answer for ourselves is, “Am I going to let the disability define me or am I going to rise above and master it so I can be a part of the change I seek?” My hope for you is that you will consider and explore how your situation can be used to help yourself and others as it is through this process that we begin to see the ‘brighter’ side of our disability and the possibilities awaiting us!
Wright, B. A. (1960). Physical disability: A psychosocial approach. New York: Harper & Row.
Wright, B. A. (1983). Physical disability: A psychosocial approach (2nd Ed.). New York:
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