Janelle Breese, Featured Collaborator
The one thing I know for sure is that hope begins with a heartbeat. There are many ways to suffer a catastrophic injury, and the outcome is different for everyone. Nonetheless, it has been both my personal and professional experience that when a family is notified a loved one has been injured, they breathe a sigh of relief when told that he or she is alive.
A family’s connection to the outside world shrinks tremendously when in crisis. They go from a life filled with activity to a family that no longer listens to the radio or television, or reads the newspapers. They become entrenched in what is happening inside their four walls and for a good reason. The family’s world is under attack. Everything they knew to be reliable and genuine, no longer is. Each person is being transformed before their very eyes – nothing looks remotely the same.
In our family, because of a split second error, we had no time to transition from who we were to who we had become. Instantaneously our roles and responsibilities took an enormous hit. I became both mom and dad. I made all the decisions for our family; no longer having anyone to share in that process. I was responsible for all the cooking, cleaning, parenting, financing, coordinating services, answering to lawyers, liaising with doctors, all while attempting to put new routines in place, assist in my husband’s recovery and keep our family together. This story is not unique – my scenario mirrors that of hundreds of families any given day.
Don’t ask someone to across the river without giving them a way to do it
Acceptance of a brain injury and acknowledging the impact of the loss is critical to moving forward. This approach is valid not only for the person with the injury but also for the family. The problem is that people are told, “You just have to accept it and move on.” That’s like telling someone to cross the river without a boat or bridge. “Just do it” doesn’t work. If you want someone to cross the river, then give them a way to do it. Teach them to swim. Build them a bridge or a raft. Don’t expect they can walk on water and just do it. The same is for grief.
When this happened to us, I was amazed how many professionals thought that we could just get on with life. They said things like, “You just be the wife and the mom and let us do the rest.” That is easier said than done. One afternoon I explained my resistance to an Occupational Therapist this way: “Consider our family and life together as though it were a Broadway play. What if my leading man came on stage and he no longer stood on his mark or said his lines the way he should? Do you think that I as the leading lady, who takes her cue from him, could go on to play my part?” Of course not. Our family as we knew it no longer existed. It was frustrating that nobody acknowledged it. Instead, there seemed to be this false perception and expectation: We looked like the same family of four; therefore, we should behave like the same family of four. We needed to grieve the ending of our life together as it existed before my husband’s injury so we could embrace the new family we had become. Had we done the grief work, we would have gained acceptance for things lost, transformed, and to come in the future. Remember, acceptance is not the same as being defeated. Acceptance is a starting point; from the point of acceptance, you can take action.
The Veils of Loss
There are several models of loss, and each has merit. Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross developed the five stages of grief (DABDA). Dr. Alan Wolfelt developed the Companioning Model (walking with a person through his or her loss). I have used both and benefitted greatly. In my work, I use a combination of these and my model, The Veils of Loss. I like the use of veils. ecause They gently move in and out and overlap, and nothing is fixed with them. That’s the way the grief journey is. Free floating, all intrusive, and it blows in and out on any given day at any given time.
Hello Goodbye Hello
The part of Wolfelt’s work that I use most often is, “Hello, goodbye, hello.” Essentially this means the bereaved need to say hello to whom they were, then say goodbye so they can say hello to who they have become. This process is so applicable to brain injury not only for the survivor but also for each person in the family. It’s necessary to transition from who you were to who you are. Loss associated with brain injury is not the kind of loss where the person or family are invited to mourn publicly. Like death, the endings are permanent. “Suck it up buttercup” is not an approach that works.
Hello, goodbye, hello requires the person to take the time to reflect on the life he had (hello) and to let go of the parts that no longer exist (goodbye) and finally, embrace the new person they have become. In accepting a new starting place, each one acknowledges his strengths, gifts, and beauty and recognizes the “human flaws” common to us all (hello).
To help my clients cross the river, I ask them to do a SPECIFIC EXERCISE. It requires quiet time to reflect and write, so it’s important that one turns off the telephone, shuts down the extraneous noise of TV or radio, and other distractions. This letter is to you from you. If it is helpful, you can insert a photo (pre-injury) at the beginning; and then, a current photo at the end of the exercise.
Janelle Breese, RPC, is an author, speaker, and counselor with expertise in grief, loss, life transitions, and brain injury. She resides with her family in Victoria, BC. She is the author of Life Losses: Healing for a Broken Heart. Visit her website at www.janellebb.com and follow her on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/HopeGenerator. Contact her at [email protected].