Grief after Brain Injury – There’s No Way Around It
Grief after Traumatic Brain Injury
By Janelle Breese Biagioni
You have undoubtedly heard the saying – “You can do this the easy way or you can do it the hard way!” However, what if the task at hand, as in grief, is already hard? The reality is there is no easy way to grieve. When grieving a loss – whether it is a death, catastrophic injury, chronic illness or transitional loss – the journey is hard, long, and difficult. Furthermore, the grief journey can be longer and more difficult if we do not engage in the process.
Avoiding the pain…
It is natural to want to avoid painful situations and for us to encourage others to do the same. Unfortunately, we also live in a society that supports the myth that “moving away from the pain” is the best way to move life forward or get things back to normal after a tragedy. As an example of how society supports this, consider the following: How many employers do you know whose human resource policies allow an employee more than three days bereavement leave if a death occurs in the family? And, how many of those employers have an open-ended list of people that qualify as important enough to warrant giving bereavement leave to an employee should someone on that list die? Not many – if any! The provision is usually for the death of an immediate family member as in father, mother or a sibling.
But what about the person whose family are their friends? Are they not entitled to time off when their “stand-in mother” dies just because they don’t share the same blood? There are many individuals whose family is not close, or who are not on good terms with their family and therefore, garner their day-to-day support from friends. In essence, these friends have become their family.
The meaning of time…
Commercially, we are flogged with the perception that anything worth having is instantaneous – high-speed email, fast food, digital pictures, instant messaging and on and on. It is no wonder that society holds the false expectation that when tragedy strikes, people should “heal fast” and “get back to normal as soon as possible” so they are fun to be around again! For those who have traveled the journey of loss, we can tell you – it is not that easy.
The more accurate and supportive phrase for the bereaved is “time heals all”. Keep in mind however, that time doesn’t heal in the sense that it “fixes” what is broken. It heals in the sense that by taking all the time we need to feel, remember and acknowledge the reality of our loss, we are able to move forward in life. In fact, it is the only way to heal and to move life forward.
Recognize and respect the loss…
To engage in the grief process is to suspend life and to be fully aware of each aspect of the loss, including secondary losses. For example, if you are catastrophically injured, you may not have the ability to return to work and as a result have limited or no income. The loss of financial security is a secondary loss. Each loss and every aspect of the loss can be a source of pain and must be grieved. Unfortunately, you cannot grieve the losses simultaneously – each loss needs to be worked through individually and yes, this takes time.
The good news is that by engaging fully in the grieving process we can come to terms with the loss and eventually renew our capacity to love, laugh and plan for the future. As difficult as it sounds, there is no way to the other side of grief except to go through it. Take time to heal – for however long that takes! You are worth it!
By Janelle Breese Biagioni
Book on marital stress and adjustment by a family when a spouse has a brain injury. Discusses emotional trauma for family, grieving, mourning, parenting, and caregiving after severe head trauma.