After Hugh’s traumatic brain injury, my family experienced a huge outpouring of friendship and help from our community. I remember finding it nearly impossible to put into words how much each small act of kindness meant. This incredible goodwill lasted for many weeks, but as the months dragged on, I noticed that TBI hung around while some of our friends did not.
TBI is all consuming. It takes over everything, until your family feels like a completely different family with a new set of emotions, new daily activities, and a new central focus. Friends don’t fall away without a reason after TBI. Here are a few reasons I think they sometimes do:
- They have helped you a few times and need to get back to their own lives.
- They find you and your situation alarming and back away.
- Being with you is a downer.
- They sense that the relationship is one-way with you always needing help.
- They sense that the relationship has changed forever in ways they don’t like.
- They feel guilty for their own good fortune, or helpless, and don’t know what to say anymore.
- They can’t do the activities they used to do with you because of physical or time constraints (i.e. work, ride a bike, swim, etc.).
- They don’t like to be reminded that life can change in an instant.
After Hugh’s injury, we didn’t hold on to all of our friends, but we did manage to stay in touch with quite a few and rebuild or restructure some friendships that lapsed over Hugh’s two years of intense therapy. Here are a few things that I believe helped:
Acknowledge the awkwardness
A few times I said to friends, “You are always asking about me and my life, but I want to hear about you and your family — even your troubles. Please don’t shield me. I feel like a friend when I can really listen to you. I miss that. So what’s new?”
Believe in your friends … and don’t resort to anger or bitterness
Thinking or saying, “You never call me anymore! You’re a rotten friend!” won’t help. Everyone needs an adjustment period after someone they love sustains a brain injury and that includes friends.
Ask for equal parts fun and help
If you do receive help from your friends, repay them in some small way with a note, phone call, or small act of kindness. Friendship is a two way street. Work to stay engaged if you want to keep friends.
Help your friends when they have a problem
Don’t let your friends fall off the radar for too long. They will have troubles in their lives too: work issues, relationship problems, and relatives that pass away. Be there to help. Being a good friend is the best way to keep good friends. Your help does not have to take a lot of time or be expensive. Be creative. Picking up one extra small item at the store and dropping it off on your friend’s front stoop with a note will tell that person you are thinking of him or her.
When all else fails, throw a party!
A year after Hugh’s injury, we threw a friendship party. There doesn’t have to be a holiday to throw a party. Here’s what our invitation said:
A Celebration of Friendship on October 19, 2002
You are invited to join us for a backyard party in your honor
For your friendship, sincerity, and help
For taking care of our house and making repairs,
For driving, cooking, praying, massaging, and mowing!
Please come dressed to play, laugh, and relax at the Rawlins’ house
We intentionally made it clear on the invitation that this party was going to be upbeat and fun. More than a hundred people showed up, and they saw us in a different light, re-engaging in life, barbequing, playing volleyball, and socializing. From that point on, more people called on us.
Having friends with whom you share your joys and sorrows is key to remaining healthy and vibrant. After TBI, keeping friends may feel like work, but having genuine friends will always feel better than going it alone.