What Do You Expect of Your Family after Brain Injury? by Rosemary Rawlins

When the world of our family changed

Family is changed by brain injury and is the beginning of a long journey.

Brain injury means a new beginning for a family.

Did you ever expect one thing and get the exact opposite? Anyone who experiences or cares for someone with a brain injury will most likely answer, “Yes!” 

At some point in all of our young adult lives, we create a life plan. This plan may include starting a career or vocation, volunteering, or getting married and starting a family. Many of us eventually fall into a routine. We know the plan and go with it day by day.

I married Hugh when I was twenty-two years old, and I’ve always expected to grow old with him. I was working full time as a human resource administrator for an engineering company on Long Island, NY, when we got married. We grew up together, continued our educations together, and moved to Vermont where Hugh became a CPA and I gave birth to twin daughters. When the girls were two years old, we moved to Virginia and have been there ever since.

Life in Virginia was solid. We had a life plan. I worked part-time running a small business of my own, and Hugh worked full time providing us with benefits. We were saving money for the future and all our activities revolved around our daughters. Then, at the end of Mary and Anna’s eighth-grade year in middle school, Hugh was struck by a car and nearly died of a severe traumatic brain injury.

Life stopped. All expectations were erased. The future was unclear.

Uncertainty after brain injury for our family

One of the hardest things to accept after a family member sustains a brain injury is uncertainty—hundreds of questions with no answers. “Will he live? Will he be able to walk? Will he be able to speak? Is his memory impaired? Will he ever work again?”

Doctors cannot make promises in the early days after a brain injury because every person and each individual brain injury is unique.

All of our life expectations changed. They changed so drastically that Mary and Anna couldn’t even expect me to pick them up from school or get them to an appointment on time. I had always been a very attentive mother, but here I was completely preoccupied and emotionally wrung out. Could my kids expect me to comfort them? I tried, but they sensed my dread. I’ll always be grateful to those who stepped in and comforted them, and me.

As Hugh slowly recovered, we felt more optimistic and new expectations came into play. Five months after his crash, his company asked him if he could return to work and he wanted to try. It took only a short time for his company to realize he was not able to work at that level anymore. When he lost his job, our expectations were once again smashed and we both fell into a pit of despair. When we saw Dr. Jeff Kreutzer, a neuropsychologist, he gently suggested we “take some time to grieve for our old life, and start a new one.”

How do you do that after 46 years?

Starting your family over with a new life plan

With counseling, support, thoughtful discussion, reflection, education, meditation, exercise, guided imagery, dark chocolate, and a long list of family and friends, Hugh and I were able to form a new life plan that suited us both and created stability for our family. Here is some of the advice we followed:

  • Take a realistic inventory of your strengths, skills, and what you enjoy doing.
  • Revisit dreams you may have put on the back burner and see if you can make them work now that you have a clean slate.
  • Support and encourage each other.
  • Meet each other where you are today. (Don’t try to communicate as if nothing has changed. Use communications strategies that work now.)
  • Don’t get stuck in the past.
  • Try new things together and apart and share your experiences.
  • Cherish old memories while making new ones.

I’ll always be grateful to Dr. Kreutzer for being so direct. He gave us an ending, “Grieve for your old life,” but he gave us a beginning, too, when he said, “Start a new life with realistic expectations and move forward.”

Hugh took the time he needed to heal. We developed new goals that we felt confident we could reach. In the struggle to learn more about ourselves as individuals and as a family, we grew closer. Mary and Anna were once again able to depend on us. I began to lean on Hugh again. Incredibly, he did return to work in an executive position.

Expectations can be comforting if you don’t attach yourself to them too much! Now, when I expect something like a perfect holiday, I tell myself not to get caught in that trap. Just let it happen, roll with it, and life will go on as it was meant to be. You won’t be so disappointed with your failed expectations if you know they are sometimes no more than wishful thinking.

Brain injury is a family journey for everyone.

Brain Injury Journey will help a family with information and support.

This article is posted with permission from Brain Injury Journey – Hope, Help, Healing, Vol 1, 2014.


One response to “What Do You Expect of Your Family after Brain Injury? by Rosemary Rawlins”

  1. Neil Perkins says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. Being in a situation like yours is very hard to deal with. You need enough courage to face those difficult times which are unexpected. I can’t imagine how you overcome it. All I can say is that you are really amazing.

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