Coping With Grief
Grief is a normal response to loss. We typically think of grieving in relation to the loss of a loved one who has died. But in fact, grieving will naturally follow any kind of loss, such as the loss of a job, the end of a relationship, or the loss of abilities.
Therefore it is expected that you will go through a process of grieving after your brain injury. Your family members and friends will also go through a period of grieving, as they adjust to the changes in you.
Everyone grieves in their own way, so there is no right or wrong way. It is a sad, scary, lonely and confusing time for the whole family. Unfortunately, without help many relationships do not survive, so it is important to get help as soon as possible.
There are several losses you may be facing since your injury, such as:
- Loss of your abilities – physical, cognitive, emotional and social
- Loss of your current lifestyle
- Loss of roles and relationships – your role as husband, brother, mother, employee, community member etc.
- Loss of your self image and sense of who you are
- Loss of hopes and plans for the future
Feelings of grief can be very strong and intense. They can be confusing, conflicting and overwhelming. They can change quickly, and they are often unpredictable. The good news is that eventually the feelings sort themselves out, and you will come to a point of new understanding and acceptance. The amount of time this takes is different for everybody, but it is not unusual for it to take many months, and sometimes more.
Here is an outline of the different stages of emotions you may feel. They do not come in any particular order, and you may experience them over and over again.
This is usually the first reaction to loss. It is the brain’s way of protecting you from something that seems just too painful to bear. It will gradually go away as you work through your feelings.
Anger includes blame, guilt, envy and resentment. It is a very common response because your injury feels so unfair. Most people are asking “Why me?” You may find yourself looking for blame – the person who caused the accident, the medical system, your family, fate or God. You may be blaming yourself, which is the source of guilt. You may be angry at others who are not injured. Your anger may be realistic, or totally distorted, but it will gradually lessen and disappear.
Many people find themselves bargaining, often to a God or a perceived higher power. You may say things like “I would give up…. so I could be normal again”, “If only I could go back in time and change….”, “If I promise to God to do…….maybe He would make me whole again”.
It is expected that you will feel sad, lonely and discouraged. You may isolate yourself from others in your self-pity, or you may talk about the situation over and over to anyone who will listen. You may feel overwhelmed with fear, panic or confusion, like you are going crazy. You may feel that the future is hopeless, and that life is not worth living. You will likely cry a lot, perhaps with screaming or wailing at times. This is all normal, and it will all fade eventually.
Acceptance and Hope
Finally you will get to the point where you can accept what has happened to you, and be okay with it. Your memories of the past will be less painful, and you will be able to look to the future with hope. Many people talk about developing and accepting a “new me”, and letting go of the “old me”, with some even saying they like the “new me” better. Many people also say that they have a new appreciation of life, and the things that are truly important. They have found a place for themselves in the world, and feel they have something valuable to offer. You may not believe this now, but you will get there.
Strategies for Grieving:
• Get your feelings out in the open. Otherwise they will fester inside and destroy you.
• Talk to people who have “been there”. These are the people who will best understand what you are going through, and who can offer tips.
• Write your feelings in a journal.
• Make sure that you, your family, and your friends all listen to each other. Everybody needs support at this time, and feelings should not be judged, as there is no right or wrong way for people feel when they are grieving.
• Look after your health and your body’s needs. Postpone major decisions. Get a lot of rest.
• Spoil yourself with things that are special to you – bubble bath, favorite activities, etc.
• Learn all that you can about your brain injury, and what you can do to help yourself. This will give you back a sense of control.
• Live one day at a time – this can be a life saver. Trying to fix your entire future is too overwhelming.