The Process of Dealing with Loss and Grief After a Brain Injury

Family therapist Taryn Stejskal talks about how families sometimes come to think of "acceptance" as a dirty word, but the process of learning how to grieve for the "old" person and embrace the "new" one post injury is crucial.

See more of Dr. Taryn Stejskal's videos here.

Often times I really try not to use the word "acceptance" in the clinical work that I do because to many families and people that have had injuries, that can be sort of a dirty word. They're told from the time of injury, "Look, you just need to accept that this is how things are." And people get really tired of hearing that I think. But there is a very important process of getting to know this new individual after the injury, and it's a process that a person has to undergo themselves to get to know who they are after they've sustained a traumatic brain injury, and it's also a process that families and friends undertake in getting to know who this new family member is or who this person is that I'm married to now. And I think there can be a great deal of grief and loss associated with that process. And, in fact, I think what makes it difficult is that it's not a culturally sanctioned process. And so what I mean by that is when someone dies, we have a funeral and there's an obituary in the newspaper and there's a gravestone and there are things that we do to memorialize or celebrate that person's life. But when people feel like they have died or part of them has died as a result of an injury, our family members feel like this person in their family is very different and they're not going to get to do some of the things that they had hoped and dreamed of like going to college or getting a track scholarship or maybe they don't believe that they'll get married or ever be able to parent children. There's this sense of grieving that people go through, but there isn't a culturally sanctioned process for that, so people do that very individually and very much on their own. Another thing related to this idea of acceptance that we see is oftentimes it goes hand in hand with awareness. So, after an injury, a person can be very different, but if they don't have as much of an awareness of how they're different there's less of a grieving process and less depression and anxiety. And so sometimes family members will see that this person is different, but the individual with the injury doesn't see that as much. And then for family members, that can really be sort of a very lonely process because maybe it's just the wife or just the husband who sees that this person is different, and they're the only one who really recognizes that, and it can be an isolating type of experience to have.
Posted on BrainLine January 8, 2013.

Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough and Jared Schaubert, BrainLine, and Dan Edblom.