Have you ever watched a child hold a helium balloon on a string and see how something so light can begin to feel so heavy? The child may need to have the string tied to his wrist because his fingers can no longer hold the balloon. When at last, the child must let go of the balloon, she cries, as she watches it weave and bob and drift out of sight. Think of that balloon as your anger, you hold it until your fingers turn blue, until the string digs under your skin, but it only hurts you. If you let it go, it still exists but it floats away like a useless bag of air.
In addition to suffering through a TBI, families have to deal with the trauma and emotional baggage of what caused the TBI. Was it an accident, an act of violence, a careless mistake? Who is to blame?
In our case, a woman hit Hugh while he was riding his bicycle home from an afternoon workout. She was charged with reckless driving at the scene. During the critical stage of Hugh’s injury, many of Hugh’s friends were furious at this woman, but I wasn’t angry; I was too devastated at first. I focused solely on bringing Hugh back. My anger rose to the surface when Hugh was out of the danger zone. It flared as time went by and we never heard one word from the woman who hit him. My anger fully ignited when one of my daughters had a crying jag of frustration over how drastically our lives had changed while this woman was going about her normal day. I had not heard from the woman who hit him, not a single word. I realized that her lawyer probably told her not to call, so I called the police officer that was on duty the day Hugh was hit, and she told me that the woman who hit my husband showed little emotion at the accident scene, even as grown men cried and nine Firemen struggled to strap Hugh to a body board. My anger formed like a rock in my chest. How could people be so unfeeling? She had not only nearly killed my husband, but also hurt me and our daughters — she wrecked our lives.
In his article, “Anger, Forgiveness, and Healing,” Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein explains that it’s normal and healthy to be angry when we have been hurt or traumatized. He says that “anger needs to be acknowledged and processed,” and that “acknowledging revenge fantasies within oneself or with trusted others is integral to the process of freeing oneself from the shackles of anger.” This I could relate to. I had a few fantasies I’m ashamed to admit even now. Bernstein’s article goes on to show how, ultimately, people can forgive and move on. While forgiveness sounds nice, I felt something integral missing, so I kept researching and stumbled on something I had not seen before.
In an article called “Unforgivable Hurt; What Do You Do Now?” Dr. Mark Banschick, suggests that it’s bad therapy and bad religious advice to insist that someone forgive another for a serious wrong when “bad things are done to good people.” Forgiveness means you stop feeling angry or resentful toward that person. Is that always possible? Is it possible to forgive someone who caused an accident that resulted in a lifelong disability? Worse yet, is it possible to forgive a violent criminal or abusive spouse that causes a TBI? Dr. Banschick does not feel it’s necessary. He opts instead for acceptance. “Acceptance,” he says “is a coming to terms with the random harshness of life.” No one is exempt from pain. He says that patients should not be made to “feel guilty because they cannot do something superhuman (forgive the unforgivable).”
Back to the balloon. My family went through a phase of anger and blame, and I even thought I had forgiven the woman who hit Hugh on that day in April 2002, changing the course of our lives forever, but I realize I have not. I may never truly forgive her, because she never showed she cared. That said, I have accepted what happened. I accept it as I see that balloon fade to a dot on the horizon, as it drifts further into the distance with each passing day, and I hope one day, it will completely disappear.
- Bernstein, Jeffrey PhD., Psychology Today. “Anger, Forgiveness, and Healing.” http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/liking-the-child-you-love/201010/anger-forgiveness-and-healing
- Banschick, Mark, M.D.http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-intelligent-divorce/201301/unforgivable-hurt-what-do-you-do-now