We come to the conclusion of our blog post series on moving through grief after a traumatic brain injury (TBI). In Part I and Part II, we explored the first five of the seven stages of grief. Let’s look at the final two. As mentioned in the previous posts, please remember that these stages aren’t necessarily linear.
Now we come to the “upward turn,” as it is called in some articles on grief. This is where you begin to adjust to life with a new normal, things calm down a bit, and you start to become more functional. During this phase you start to reconstruct your life with and around your new reality. You start or continue to work through anger and any other lingering challenges in your grief process and set realistic goals for your new life.
I’m just starting to dip my toes in this phase, while still heavily engulfed in others. In my own experience, the stages of grief don’t have clear beginnings and endings, but are rather meshed together and overlapped much like ocean waves throughout the entire bereavement process. In some aspects of my life reconstruction has been easier than in others, and I would imagine it is the same for you, too.
Acceptance and Hope
Over the years people have said to me, “It’s amazing that you’ve overcome your TBI.” While I know what they are trying to say, which is, “Wow, you’re pretty amazing given what you’ve been through,” I personally would not use the word “overcome” because I still live with this every day, and could very well live with these same challenges the rest of my life.
When I watched a viral video on social media of Auschwitz survivor, psychologist, and author of The Choice and The Gift, Dr. Edith Eger, talking about her experience, she said something that really stuck with me. She said, “I did not overcome, but I came to terms with it. Every experience in life is a learning experience. It gives us a choice whether we are going to be victims or survivors…You can have a new beginning today.”
So much truth and wisdom in her words that I will remember every day that I am struggling, and every day that I am not. When I think of acceptance, I think of allowing my life to be as it is, and finding joy within that. It doesn’t mean I don’t strive for more answers or improvement when it comes to my health. It means that I don’t try to strive for a life that is other than the one I’m living. To me, acceptance means letting go of the “shoulds” and “coulds” of what my life was “supposed” to be, instead of what it is.
When I think of my life with total acceptance, I am at peace, happy, and not reaching endlessly for answers. I have less stress. I smile more. I am relaxed. I am motivated to make a difference in the world in spite of and with respect for my challenges.
Dr. Eger also said, “There is hope in hopelessness and you never ever give up hope.”
Since my book is titled Head of Hope, of course I want to give others hope, and have some myself. In a recent conversation with my counselor, we talked about what we termed unhealthy hope and healthy hope. Unhealthy hope refers to the hope that my life could be drastically different, with all of this TBI stuff gone, and everything is peachy keen. Visually it would look vast and wide, with almost no borders. Healthy hope, on the other hand, is smaller in scale, its edges defined. This hope is the space I hold for possibility and curiosity for what might happen, without expectation. I see both of these forms of hope in my clients on a daily basis. Sometimes I do see huge, dramatic changes that one might call miracles. Other times, it’s small and steady progress that leads to huge improvements in their quality of life. So often I find myself eating my own words, and this idea of healthy hope is no exception. Can you, too, hold space for possibility and opportunity without expectation?
Grief is such an individual experience, no matter how many commonalities there are between people who are grieving. No two people grieve the same, or for the same duration. No one can put a time frame on it or tell you when you should be done. I think of the scene in the movie Dances with Wolves where the Native American father tells his (adopted) daughter that she is no longer in mourning for her deceased husband. While this may have been their tradition to have an elder say when one should be done mourning, I do not personally believe that anyone can or should try to do so.
As I go through this grieving process, I recognize that I’ve been grieving for many years and just never put a name to what I have been going through. It has been helpful, almost a relief, to have a name for this pain and this process. My days are getting easier, emotionally, even if they feel mostly the same with my physical symptoms and limitations. There is a long way to go yet till I feel like I am getting much closer to reaching the Acceptance phase, and sometimes feel like I’m there already. That’s okay. It’s not a race. I can have a new beginning today, and tomorrow, and the day after that. So can you.