Anniversary is a Reminder of Loss after Brain Injury

Posted by Marilyn Lash

January 20, 2011

Anniversary is a Reminder of Loss after Brain Injury

Those of us who have had a spouse, parent or close friend die know the significance of that first anniversary of the person’s death.  It is a milestone and a reminder of the time that has passed and the emotional pain that accompanies the grief as we mourn the person we have lost.  Clinicians and grief counselors describe these renewed feelings of sadness and loss as anniversary reactions.

In a Christmas letter I recently received from Janelle Breese Biagioni, I was touched by her reflections on the 20th anniversary of the death of her husband Gerry.  She has written poignantly about the motorcycle crash that resulted in his severe traumatic brain injury in her book A Change of Mind: One Family’s Journey through Brain Injury.  She reminds us that even though our lives move on, the person who has died still remains within our lives.

The anniversary of the day that the person sustained a brain injury occurred can trigger a reaction.  But life is filled with days of special significance for all of us.  My brother always had a difficult time in the fall.  Program staff regularly reported that he was more argumentative, having trouble sleeping, and not going out.  They could not explain why.  But we knew this was the time of year that our parents had died.  Even though he could not remember the dates of their deaths, he still was showing all the signs of an anniversary reaction.  From that time on, program staff knew he would need extra support and help during this time of year.

Everybody has special days and events in their lives that can trigger memories and intense emotions – whether or not you or anyone in your family has a brain injury.  But a brain injury can make it more difficult for persons to have insight into these reactions and to know how to cope with the emotions.

If you are struggling with this, you may find the tip card by Janelle on Loss, Grief and Mourning after Brain Injury helpful.  You can request it for free by clicking here.

4 responses to “Anniversary is a Reminder of Loss after Brain Injury”

  1. Annie Pixley says:

    Janelle and Marilyn,
    Thank you for taking a compassionate albeit somewhat painful look at “anniversaries”. Although no one in my immediate family has sustained a brain injury, my husband passed away last year from pancreatic cancer. A loss is a loss, and I found your words and others very helpful when I first started working at Lash and Associates. You and Marilyn are absolutely right as regards having a loving support system. I feel very fortunate that I not only had the support of friends and family, but also, through Hospice, a kind “ear” through their bereavement counseling. I have also found a remarkable number of reading materials here at Lash that deal with grief and mourning, and for that I thank all of the authors. Kudos!

  2. Janet Cromer says:

    Thanks so much to Marilyn, Nick, and Janelle for raising this important topic. My husband Alan suffered the heart attack and cardiac arrest that led to his brain injury on July 5th. For the first few years, we had a small celebration and called it Alan’s “second birthday.” He thought the occasion deserved gifts, and I agreed! After a few years, he no longer wanted to be reminded of the day life changed so drastically. He couldn’t follow the calendar, so I didn’t bring it up. In my heart, July 5th is the day my husband died the first time. Alan lived seven years after his fatal heart attack, but died on Sept 3, 2005. He liked holidays, bur the celebrations around July 4th and Labor day make me shudder a little. I choose to avoid the hoopla, spend some time reminiscing about the good times, then join friends for a low-key picnic. Yes, anniversary reactions are so powerful and respond to a balm of kindness applied generously to the heart.

  3. Yes, I agree that anniversaries can be very difficult even after several years. In my case it’s 9 ½ years since that ill-fated September morning and it is still very much a part of my life. I am luckier than some 3,000 others but I did not escape unscarred. I am not the same person I was before that morning. I am a very different person today. Gone are some lifelong passions, interests, ways of behaving and hobbies. They have been partially replaced with different things, different skills, and different ways of acting and different ways of looking at things, in short a very different me. On or about the anniversary of that Tuesday morning, I still relive portions of the day. Sometimes the memories are very vivid, graphic and intense; leaving me very disturbed, emotionally drained, unsettled and frightened. This past anniversary was the first time I chose to invite friends over to spend the day with, talk with, joke with, eat with and just live life with; almost as a “celebration” of my survival and how far I have come. So, in conclusion, certain anniversaries can be hard to take but the level of intensity or hurt dim as time marches on, for that I thank God!

  4. Marilyn:
    Thank you for your kind words regarding my letter. It is true…anniversaries are a trigger for individuals living with loss. As time moves forward, if the individual has received adequate support and had the opportunity to work through their feelings of grief, the pangs of sadness or sorrow on the anniversary are less intense. Nonetheless, feelings and memories are still easily brought to the surface. For those facing the anniversary, I often suggest they find or do something that is meaningful and comforting for them to do to acknowledge the date. For those supporting someone who is faced with an anniversary, remember that the grief journey evolves at an individual pace. You do not need to understand “why” the person is still triggered, you simply need to emphathize and allow them to feel what they need to feel without imposing judgment. Appreciating that an anniversary can be a trigger and that the person living the experience may have special needs at the time is perhaps the greatest gift you can offer.

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