When the Ambiguity of Loss Ends After Brain Injury

Although it is painful for a person with TBI and his family to recognize what has been lost from the injury, that understanding also frees them to grieve and move forward.

A brain injury is a pretty tough injury to come back from and be 100%, and at some point people realize that their lives are going to be different, and that's a very, very painful point, and all the literature in my experience says that it's a point where people recognize their loss. Maybe you could say that the ambiguity in that loss is gone. It resolves, and that's very therapeutic. People need to get to the point--and it's important to let people improve as much as they can. I'm not suggesting otherwise. But at some point people's abilities and skills and medical issues, they're not going to get much better. It could be 8 years later, but at some point it usually comes for people, and it's important at that point to recognize that's when the ambiguity is gone, where the person has tried and they've had difficulty and they've relearned what they can do and what they shouldn't do and that when the ambiguity resolves then they can grieve, and it was interesting because I just listened to a talk by Rosemary Rawlins. She wrote the book "Learning by Accident," and what Rosemary said was it was painful to hear the results of the evaluation, but I was almost surprised because she said, "I was very thankful because there were things that my husband was having trouble with that I didn't realize." "But what the evaluation helped me to do was to fully understand how he was different, what he could do, and what might be a challenge." And she said, "Having that understanding freed me up to grieve, and while grieving was difficult, it enabled me to move forward." And it was so interesting to hear her talk about that because it was a very painful experience but because of her character and her husband's character--they're smart people. They're hardworking people. They recognized the pain. They learned from the pain. They experienced the pain, but they moved forward, and that helped me as a clinician when I heard her speak, and I've known her for probably 8 or 9 years. When I heard her speak it helped me to better understand the experience that people have when they begin to learn that they're not able to do things that they used to be able to do.
Posted on BrainLine July 30, 2012.

Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough, Justin Rhodes, and Ashley Gilleland, BrainLine.

About the author: Jeffrey Kreutzer, PhD

Jeffrey Kreutzer, PhD a Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry at VCU. He serves as Director of Virginia's TBI Model System, a position he has held since 1987. He also coordinates VCU Health System outpatient services for families and persons with brain injury.

Dr. Jeffrey Kreutzer