Many Layers of Loss after Brain Injury – Grief is like an onion

onion2Grieve your losses after brain injury by Marilyn Lash, MSW

Grieving is just not that simple – or easy. Remember that game little girls play where the petals of a daisy are plucked one by one to the chant of, “Loves me, loves me not.” I played this all the time when I was young and at the end when all the petals were gone, I had my answer. It was either a “yes or no” depending on where the last petal fell.

Grieving is just not that simple – or easy. Remember that game little girls play where the petals of a daisy are plucked one by one to the chant of, “Loves me, loves me not.” I played this all the time when I was young and at the end when all the petals were gone, I had my answer. It was either a “yes or no” depending on where the last petal fell.

Grief is painful but necessary

There is no timetable or clear path for grief. It’s a process not an event. It’s unpredictable, disorderly and lonely. Even the destination is uncertain. When will it ever end – or will it? The path is even more unclear for families after a brain injury because we have established rituals for death. There are the wakes, funerals, gifts of food, donations, and flowers. We know what is expected of us and we know what to do when someone dies.

As Janelle Breese Biagioni, an expert on grief and loss says, “The only wrong way to grieve is not to grieve.” But so many family members are confused by their feeling of loss and grief – because, after all, the person survived their injury to the brain – shouldn’t they be feeling grateful, relieved, even joyful? You can just hear friends and relatives thinking, “It could have been so much worse. Why is she still so sad?”

So many people have said that a brain injury is like a partial death. The person has survived, but what about the soul or essence of that person? How do you know that person now? How does it affect your relationship?

Mourning after brain injury is extraordinary for families

There is a concept called “extraordinary mourning” and I think it fits the experience and feelings of many families after a loved one has had a brain injury. It’s involves these four things.

  1. Unusual emotional distress – No doubt about that. There is an emotional trauma for families that accompanies the physical trauma of brain injury.
  2. Grief – This is our internal response to the losses that resulted from the injury. Think about the feelings of sadness, anger, confusion, and fear that families feel. They are part of the grieving process.
  3. Secondary losses – There are so many repercussions to brain injury and these are called secondary losses. It can be loss of income, friends, role as head of household, and responsibilities on the job. Like ripples in a pond, the effects spread out in widening circles and are called secondary losses.
  4. Non-physical death – This makes the mourning process so extraordinary. Some of those qualities that made the individual so special and so unique have been damaged and lost, yet the person has survived but in so many ways is a different person now.

2 Responses to “Many Layers of Loss after Brain Injury – Grief is like an onion”

  1. Dear Melanie,
    Thank you so much for your comments. You have shown extraordinary courage in the face of such great losses and grief.

  2. Extraordinary Mourning is a perfect term. I often refer to myself as a married widow – my husband survived the car accident, but the man we have now is just a shadow of who he was before (his injuries are severe and he resides in a nursing home). I’m also a married “single” mother. It’s a tough reality because we are wired for progress. This situation leaves us suspended…waiting for closure, yet striving to relish each day we still get to spend with him. It is truly extraordinary.

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