Grieving Losses due to TBI by Denise Boggs
Grieving Losses Due to TBI
By Denise Boggs & Debbie Leonhard, M.Div., M.A.,
A person with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) faces many challenges and losses. The caregivers are also having to face their own losses and challenges. When we grieve, we are facing the pain and sorrow of the losses, touching them, experiencing them, and finally, releasing them and moving on while embracing life. We do not have to go through this alone. When you & I grieve we will be given the opportunity to accept and receive comfort and encouragement to move forward from God. Not only from God, but also from family and from friends. “We are mutually strengthened and encouraged and comforted by each other’s faith….” Romans 1:12
Every TBI generates some degree of loss. Each injury, though unique and different, has one thing in common — loss. Whatever the loss may be, recognizing the stages of grieving will help us process the loss. If it is someone we love that has had a TBI, he or she could experience losses in:
- Physical Strength
- Emotional Connections
- Cognitive Abilities
- Reasoning and Memory
You as the caregiver, engage in grieving alongside the TBI survivor. What is important is for you, as a caregiver, to avoid grieving these losses alone or silently. Instead, go searching for and . . .
- find someone who will listen
- find someone who understands
- find someone who cares
Grieving shouldn’t be done alone. All of us need someone who knows how to and actively does listen. You and I should choose to look for, find, and invite that someone into our lives. By doing this, we will have the strength to work through the nine stages of grieving that take us down into and out of the Valley of Grief (TBI).
The primary goal is to keep moving through the valley of grieving until we are on the other side. Having someone walking with us through this process will keep you & I from getting stuck along the way.
Stage 1: Shock
Shock is temporary – lasting just a few days (it may last longer for some). Characteristics of Shock include . . .
- no feelings
- no emotions
- lack of energy
Many people in shock often do not show feelings of grief or mourn over the loss. When we are in shock we feel numb, almost like we’re living in a fog. What we used to call “Life” is meaningless and empty. In some cases, we may even act as though the loss never happened. This is denial – refusing to accept the reality of what has happened to us because of the trauma (TBI, death, Alzheimer’s, etc.). We should be able to recognize denial by asking:
- Am I minimizing what’s happened?
- Do I recognize my feelings of grief, but am minimizing them, or trying to hide them?
- Am I trying to convince myself, “Everything’s fine!” Or, “Nothing has really changed in my life!”
Recovery from Shock begins by . . .
- sharing what we are feeling with that someone who listens, be it a family member, a friend, a counselor, a therapist, a minister, etc.
- talking about how the loss(es) or change(s) affects us.
Stage 2. Anger
Anger is a genuine response to our loss(es). This stage can last for several years if misunderstood or not addressed or treated improperly. When we stay in this stage for extended periods of time our anger begins to gets . . .
- directed towards others
- blamed on others
- aimed at or towards ourselves
- us feeling like we did or did not do something to stop the trauma from happening
- us thinking we should or should not have done what we did (guilt).
- us feeling so guilty we actually block the grieving process.
- us to the point where we are angry at God – “How could He let it happen?”
Stage 3: Sadness
This is a natural and healthy emotional response to loss. However, it is the emotion most people try to avoid, stuff down, internalize, etc. When we have this kind of response, it may lead to the onset of some physical symptoms – stomach aches, headaches, loss of energy, that create more problems for us. Unfortunately, many grieving individuals “get stuck in” and unconsciously adapt “the sick person” role in an effort to get the emotional needs met – we are looking for someone to comfort us. What should we do?
We face our loss(es). That’s when “the great sadness” is felt. This is an important part of the grieving process that must be embraced to move onto the next stage. God has promised in Psalm 30:5, “weeping (sadness) may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (NIV)
Stage 4: Face (Dealing with) the Loss
“This really did happen. I have lost my son (someone). He was very precious to me.” This is the heart, or, the core of the grieving process. In order to work through the process of recovery, begin by making a list of changes or losses caused by the trauma (TBI):
- personality changes
- disruption of clear thinking
- friends aren’t coming around anymore
Looking the chart below, we see that facing the reality of what has been lost is hard. It takes us almost to the bottom of the grieving valley. It feels like we are getting ready to hit the bottom. It is at this moment when we all finally realize that everything has changed, everything will be different.
Stage 5: Forgiveness
Forgiving others is the turning point, the moment when we start our outward journey, going up the hill towards acceptance. But, who do we forgive?
At this point, we may need to revisit Stage 2: Anger. We need to know who we need to forgive.
- We forgive the one we blamed for causing the loss.
- We forgive ourselves if we were and are blaming ourselves.
- We forgive God if we were and are blaming Him.
The person we are forgiving is not needing our forgiveness and may even not understand what we are doing. We are not doing this for them, we are forgiving so that we heal ourselves. Forgiveness is a major part of grieving because we can’t fully grieve and heal from what we have lost until we have forgiven the one or ones we are blaming for the loss(es).
Stage 6: Release
Once we forgive, we can begin letting go or releasing what and/or who we lost. What does this really mean? We are no longer trying to hold on to the “old” person and we no longer have to control the outcome.
Stage 7: Facing Reality — Loss
Many of us may get confused when we face our loss once again. We may feel some of the same emotions as before: sadness and/or anger, for example. But if we have gone through Stage 5: Forgiveness, and have forgiven those we blamed, then we will pass through the process of facing the reality of our loss quickly. Every time we face one of our losses, we make the choice to grieve all over again. We will need to revisit Stages 5 & 6 each time we make our choice.
When we do not have the opportunity to grieve losses, they begin to pile up, one on top of another.
When we do not process each loss as they show up, we open ourselves to some type of emotional turmoil, like depression, hopelessness and despair, which may even lead to mental and physical problems.
When we are in this state, even the small “ant hill” loss will become a mountain. This is why it is vitally important to deal with and grieve each loss as it surfaces. Things we need to keep in mind are . . .
- don’t let things pile up.
- decompress- talk things out daily.
- when we feel sad, talk about it
Stage 8: Final Release
At some point in time it is important that a final release takes place. When this happens you will actually feel as if a heavy weight has been removed. This bring you to a place of accepting that life will be different. You will feel lighter, more at peace, and begin to have an increased hope and expectation of what God is going to do in the future.
Stage 9: Acceptance
What is this? It is believing, admitting that loss has happened. It is coming to grips and acknowledging that everything has changed. Full acceptance will come with time. The reality is that life is different right now. As we have gone through the grieving process we have gained several things, including a strength to be able to accept our new lives with the differences and changes. Acceptance, ultimately, will bring a lasting peace to our hearts, minds, and spirits. Acceptance has several keys that open the doors to recovery.
- In time…and in every situation, when we put our faith in God, He will work all things together for good.
- Make a list of things and people you are thankful for.
- If you practice having a thankful heart each day, with God’s help you can overcome the difficulties of each day.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7
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