Building a "Survivor Family" After Traumatic Brain Injury

Building a "Survivor  Family" After Traumatic Brain Injury

I’m about to show my age. When I was a kid, I used to love watching TV shows that are now most likely on the TV Oldies Channel. Coming home from school, I’d get out of my school clothes, get into my play clothes and flip on the console sized television. Back in the day, we used to have dedicated school clothes. There I go showing my age again.

A couple of my favorite shows on afternoon television were Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best. In the spirit of complete disclosure, though I didn’t know it at the time, these were reruns of shows that had aired many years earlier.

Families were pretty traditional back then — both on television and in real life. Most dads went to work all day, some moms worked, others stayed home. My family was about as average as could be. My dad was working in the aerospace industry on the Apollo rocket project while my mom was a middle school math teacher. I grew up with a mom, a dad, and 2.0 kids in our family.

I enjoyed a typical childhood and a relatively uneventful adulthood. But a brain injury is a game-changer. It’s like having the very foundation of your life torn out — leaving you in the position of having to rebuild yourself from the ground up. Relationships change and many end completely. Careers change or end completely. Marriages change and some end tragically. And families can’t help but change. It goes with the territory.

During the first couple of years after my own brain injury, if you had asked me my thoughts about how families are impacted by a traumatic brain injury, I would most likely have chimed in that families are fractured and torn apart when a family member sustains a traumatic brain injury.

But as the years pass, I see it for what it really is. Perspectives I have in year five were not possible early on after my brain injury. Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, I now see that my family was not fractured. It was slowly being rebuilt as a new kind of family — a survivor family.

For the first couple of years, the dust from my cycling accident still filled the air, making any real clarity unattainable. But as the dust settled, and my eyes began to clear, I looked around and realized I was surrounded by a new kind of family. These family members, some knowing and others unaware, have saved my life, have sustained me and have supported me—even during the times I felt like I was unable to support myself.

Long gone is my childhood belief that true family is defined by mother, father, brother and sister who share the same DNA. I have learned to redefine what family means to me in the last few years. Looking around with clear eyes, I gaze in true amazement at my new survivor family.

I am one of the fortunate ones because my wife Sarah has been an unwavering member of my family, as have my mom and dad. They know and love both David’s — the David who was, and the David who is. The casualty count has been high as I’ve lost a few souls very close to me since my accident. But members of this new survivor family continue to do what true family does — love unconditionally.

So, who are these new and unexpected members of my new family? At the top of my list are fellow TBI survivors. My family first started to grow, with me blissfully unaware, when I started attending a face-to-face support group. We are now in year five of meeting as a support group, and many of the members of this group have been part of my life for many, many years. They are family, and I love them.

The family circle grows wider with many of those who are now part of my life as a voice for the TBI community. I have come to cherish relationships I’ve formed with fellow writers, bloggers, editors and others. At first glance, these people might be perceived to be professionals with whom I associate. But my relationships with these people now transcend work. They have become true and steadfast friends. Many of these souls are now part of my new survivor family.

And lest I leave out one of the most unexpected surprises along the way — Facebook. Most anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a shy guy on social media. And I’m glad I’m not. A short ten years ago, there was no way for other survivors to instantly connect with each other. Thankfully those days are gone forever. In fact, I believe that there has never been a better time to be a brain injury survivor. Through a wide range of social outlets, survivors connect instantly — like neurons in a big virtual brain. In a few clicks of a mouse, experiences are validated, new friendships are made, and isolation ends.

So many of those who are part of my social circle are now counted as members in good standing in my new survivor family. If I happen to share that it’s been a tough day, I am encouraged and supported by others — many of whom I will never meet. Like a traditional family of old, they help support me. And I do what I can to support them. We are all in this together. These days, having a bit of perspective can be a great thing. No longer am I tempted to look at the glass as half empty. No one recovers from a brain injury on their own. When I take a moment to look at my life, to really see with the eyes of my soul, it’s hard not to be grateful for all that I have. I’ve got one of the largest extended families of anyone I know — an extended family that is my new survivor family.

And if it’s worked for me, it can work for you, too. There are others, people like me, who are at the ready to be part of your very own survivor family.

Comments (11)

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Wish all this had been known 20+ yrs ago..  Maybe the marriage of 13 yrs. and the damage divorce did to my three children could have been avoided.  Happy things are not so bleak for those going through it now.  And yes, facebook is a great sounding board for us all. 

Ironic, Another poster is at their 8 year accident anniversary. Today is my 25th wedding anniversary and I am 10 + year mark from my fall. Your article hits home with me as well. As time goes by perspective does too. Facebook was a life changer for me as well as I can't personally attend the support groups due to a tbi sound problem. And as so many in the tbi family experience, <span style="\&quot;line-height:" 1.6em;\"="">we are down in the traditional friend department as well. I have made friends online that are true family to me. For that I am thankful. I appreciate your positive perspective. Some days are better than others, however a positive attitude when possible helps.

Yes, David, it all begins with family, Mom, Dad, and expands from there after one sustains a TBI. Your family becomes infinitely larger afterwards. One of the benefits of TBI is the opportunity to see the exquisite human nature of those around us when called upon to provide providence. Art C. 

Well said. I'd add my rehab therapists to the extended family. GG

This article is great!  My brain injury was the result of 2 AVMs and the 1st one burst about 4 years ago.  Recently, I told my personal trainer who was hired by my husband about 9 months after my injury that she was now like family to me so I could relate to this article's mention of new family members. 

"Congratulations, to these beautiful people!"

What a frank, and uplifting story, this writer expresses the journey so well, worth a read, over and over and over!

Dave, pleased to hear things are going so well for you. A supportive family makes a world of difference. I am a 15 year survivor and still have annoying symptoms some worse than others. It was wise for me to take early retirement as I couldn't contribute what I used to, that took a lot of pressure off. As a work-a-holic the adjustment was tough though. You have a great attitude. Keep mixing with those who "get it", and get lots of rest. That is my best suggestions!

You are so right... the family is not fractured, it's rebuilding itself. And it's almost as difficult to rewire/recover the family as it for healing the injury as well.  RJ

On my 8 year anniversary of the accident, this was nice to read. I appreciate my TBI family💚 some knew the old me and stayed around to know the new me, others never knew me before my injury and r close. My husband stayed, kids r understanding and healing(finally) what a long long recovery. Thank u for sharing💚 Heather McGrath

A mom to TBI son age nearly 32 now 5 yrs post. Our familyfound we drew close to oneanother binding us together to make things work as a unit instead of 4 people trying to go in  different directions. It was not easy, but working together proved to be much more fruitful. we found out who our real family was as well and who were only fair weather friends. Our support is a small group but so very tightly knit together.