What is Recovery After TBI?

What is Recovery After TBI?

What does the word recovery mean after a traumatic brain injury (TBI)? Does it indicate the full return of your abilities, talents, and skills? Is it finishing rehab, learning to speak, walk, and think again? Is it returning to who you were the day before the trauma that changed everything? Or is it much more? Could recovery mean a return to life—a life that feels whole and full of possibility again?

The dictionary says recovery is "a return to health, the return to a normal state." But what is normal when everything is changing around us all the time. Every day, our lives expose us to new information, experiences, perspectives, people and places, to new ways of being in the world.

Just before a car hit Hugh in 2002 causing a severe traumatic brain injury, we were a family in transition. Our daughters were transitioning from middle school to high school; Hugh and I were transitioning into parents of young adults and learning how to live with young teenagers who wanted to be independent. I was thinking about returning to school and growing my small business, and Hugh was on track to be a Chief Financial Officer or even a CEO. That was his dream.

But here's the thing about life: dreams change. Circumstances change. People change.

And yet when I usually write about our family at the time of Hugh's accident, I write as if we were a family frozen in a picture, framed by the good life, a perpetually "happy" family. We were happy—sometimes. We had our ups and downs, our good and bad days. We had our struggles, as everyone does. We shared joy and laughter, but there were also slammed doors, family arguments, and tears. We were living life, and life is sometimes messy, and always morphing and changing and throwing us off balance just a bit, even if it feels as though we are moving along right on course. In reality, we are tipping and spinning and finding our feet each and every day. We are aging, we are learning and growing, we are stretching, questioning, and faltering, we are failing and succeeding and reaching.

Traumatic brain injury forced our whole family to stop and look around and to reconsider. For the first time in a long time, we really saw ourselves, not as a job title or as parents or as students or teenagers, but as vulnerable, complicated humans. We collectively became particles swept up in a tide of TBI debris, left wondering on the side of the road—what just happened? In our own time, we each caught our breath and tentatively stepped out into the world. We thought deeply about our next steps. And in doing so, those steps were more deliberate than the steps we were taking before Hugh's accident. They involved different goals: more experiences and fewer things, more time spent doing what we love to do, more consideration for others, and many more "I love yous."

I finally admitted to myself that I was tired of writing resumes and wanted to write something more meaningful. I joined a writing group and worked on publishing my writing. Our daughters decided to pursue the arts, and both have worked hard to make a living doing what they love to do. Hugh decided he eventually wanted to live at the beach, so we bought a small beach place not too far from home and travelled there on weekends for several years, and now we are relocating to Nags Head, NC. We've had progress and setbacks, success, and disappointments.

We've laughed and cried. It's life after all.

Thirteen years have passed since TBI blew through our household. We've picked up the pieces. If nothing else, we are proud of sticking it out, of our combined deep gratitude for the finite lives we have been granted, and for the opportunity to give back.  Our lives have changed and will keep changing. The difference between who we are now as opposed to who we were before the accident is this: we now constantly and consciously reconsider our circumstances and adjust in the hopes that our lives will change for the better. We're not just finding our feet; we're watching where we place them.

Comments (17)

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Rosemary, I want to give you much praise for sticking by your husband because I totally know everything about a brain injury.  I obtained a brain injury through a car accident that I had found myself involved in back in 1998.  I also had been involved in one serious physical impairments that had almost taken my life away from me.  For many years I had my major problems going through my up's and downs but my friends had stuck there for me like you had done for your husband.  Reading your post for the very first time, and seeing your determination to help other people has given me the idea of signing up for your newsletter so you can help me the same great way that you were there for your husband!  I Will Succeed Because of being strong For Your Husband And people Like Me and Him!  Thanks for your support!  Love- kevin

Well said our family has a brand new outlook on life, such a life altering event but in one way or another you come out stronger on the other side

Very well written! So very true!!

Rosemary Rawlins, you are an exquisite writer...an outsider looking in, you caught from the inside...remarkable feat. You need to compose a bit more through Brainline. Just don't place your name on the piece...!!!

Rosemary, your writing has stirred many TBI people to reply and realize the beauty, not the hopelessness, of what has occurred in their life. Recall, "there are no mistakes in this life." Coming from a totally different angle, you reinforced this truth of life and instilled the avenue/path of acceptance for many people who sustained a TBI. Not good, bad, but just the way it was suppose to be...!!! ac

A TBI forces a family to place into context what is, what was, and what shall be ever more...it redefines the parameters of life!!! In one way enriches and one way steals what was not...and shall never be. To sum it all up, Just Right!!!

Thank you for writing this article. With all the bad that my brain injury has brought to me and my family, it has provided many positives. Mainly, our perspective about life. We were racing through life prior to the accident. Now, we have slowed our pace and make decisions based on what we truly want to do. Sandy

I have a daughter who had an 'AVM' , blood bleed or 'TBI' .. She was married (he left). She too had to relearn to walk & talk! Looking at her you would not know anything was wrong! However, she did a total flip and was/ is not the girl we knew! She is working and has God in her heart!! She is however, so much better today then right after the bleed! Our family stands by her in everything and always will! God bless you, for staying and not running, and being there through thick & thin, loving your husband and father of your children!


An excellent piece of writing from the perspective of the caregiver. You reach areas in blunt terms of dealing with TBI but also instill hope, for life presents an ever changing kaleidoscope of colors. Your family an yourself have accepted this fact. Sorrows, happiness, they all merge together, one way or another, TBI or not. TBI experienced by husband brought this evolution sooner on family. Each an everyone in family has grown by leaps and bounds...touched by the hand of God, Life, Fate, call it what you want, the results are proof you've been touched. No turning back in the journey...a narrow highway that expands into a super highway the deeper one is immersed in the magic of a TBI life experience, caregiver or recipient!!!

Arthur Cortis...almost 35 year recipient!!!

This article was so moving and profound on many levels. Our family is not yet 3 years post TBI, and the storm of it all continues to relentlessly thrash us all around. So much of what Rosemary says and describes here displays hope, portrays reality and also gives us some sort of direction. I intend to share this with each of my family members and I so appreciate BrainLine.org, and it's contributors who remind me that we really are not alone in this battle that often seems so much bigger than us. Thank you for the honesty, hope, and perspective. 

Beautiful. You are a very strong family. You have taught your family life lessons that will carry through every decision they make.

Very nicely put ! T. B. I. Changed me so according to my husband . And I see it as,, oh shucks but,,, tis my life and his to work to enjoy what we can now . However, I would like to say . A hard part is I feel the same sometimes , other times I scream at the fact I stumble some still . Only 2 1/2 years since my auto accident . Noise, crowd, , to much stimulation and Head pain puts me in rest mode or anger I just keep saying " Tis life, live or not live " . No one knows what's around the corner . Thank you Sincerely Gailane

Thank you for your encouraging message and the reminder that life is in fact more than titles.  I am almost 7 years post TBI.  I was a single parent of my son then 13 and my daughter, then 11.  My son has graduated HS, is self employed and learning business by experience.  My daughter just graduated HS and will continue her schooling to be a teacher. Our lives are successful, meaningful and we are a loving family. TBI changes lives but also gives a different perspective.  When we grow beyond the loss and grieving and can forgive we can live a more meaningful life.  Perhaps rather than recovery as being final we can say restoration and recovering.  Restoration of relationships that are affected by TBI and always recovering from injury since our brains are capable of relearning although differently than prior to injury, and maybe better.  This lifelong process requires love, patience, mercy and forgiveness from everyone involved. 

You, so articulately, voiced exactly what I've felt for the last 10 years since sustaining a TBI. I appreciate that my life was spared so that I can use what I have learned by surviving.

This is a wonderful article! I had never thought of wanting the person back "before" brain injury as a person who was also moving forward every day. That "old me" was a person frozen in time at the time of the injury. That person does not and never would have existed even if I never had a brain injury. Thank You. This has put things in a whole different perspective for me! WOW!

I know, firsthand, that after TBI, there is not a return to normal as you knew it before TBI. Insread, you accept a "new normal." Sandy Potts, Texas

This is very well said!!!! Myself, being a TBI survivor find myself saying a lot more ' I love you's' It is a lifelong thing. One day you can wake up w/your memory pretty much in tact. The next day you may wake up w/things not so clear. You learn to adjust and work through it. I am thankful for my TBI, it taught me to be strong. Years later, when melanoma tried to do me in, I was reminded how I have the ability to pull through a traumatic brain injury, I can pull through the chemo, ct scans, etc. I am working full time, live on my own, drive, and have a semi-normal life. Glory be to God for everything :)