The famous self-help book I’m Ok, You’re Ok was written in the late 1960s by Thomas Anthony Harris. Over 15 million copies of this book, which is about Transactional Analysis, have sold over the years. Transactional Analysis explains the three observable ego-states (Parent, Adult, and Child) as the basis for content and quality of interpersonal communication. The title of the book invokes a sense of acceptance of self and others, which is wonderful, but not easily achieved. To fully accept others requires that we work on accepting who we are as an individual first—warts and all! Then, we can accept others.
When it comes to loss, especially loss following brain injury, the quote at the top is reflective of the situation and the reverse of Harris’ book. My quote dictates that everyone is “okay” and if you are not okay…well frankly, I don’t want to hear about it…okay? Sound familiar? When people impose “You’re okay…okay?” it is actually a reflection of their inability to be present to the emotional pain of another. It is not that the person dealing with loss is doing anything wrong or not doing the work of grieving.
When a crisis happens, a network of support flocks to us with the heartfelt intention of helping. It’s easy in the early days to wipe our tears, listen to our story repeatedly, and understand the rollercoaster ride we have been launched on. Eventually, however, the reality of life takes hold and our loving supporters are called back to their home, work, and community responsibilities. This is usually when the supports for the bereaved are needed the most, and when the supports most often weaken or dissipate all together.
Support May Come from Unexpected People
Extended support is needed for individuals traveling the journey of grief and may come from unexpected sources when traditional supports are no longer available. It requires those needing support to be open to whom or what is available. Sometimes the help is right in front of them, but they don’t recognize it. A lesson in this came to me when I took my grandsons to see The Land Before Time at the movie theatre. This classic children’s film shares the journey of five orphaned dinosaurs as they search for the Great Valley, a part of prehistoric Earth spared in the great earthshake.
All five characters are from different species. They are characterized as the Long Necks, Flat Heads, Sharptooths, etc. They were raised to believe they are different from one another and that they do not do anything together. The main character, Littlefoot, questions his mother about this, and she replies, “That’s the way it’s always been.”
During the big earthshake, Littlefoot’s mother engages in a battle with a Sharptooth and dies. Littlefoot is heartbroken, and must continue in his journey to find the Great Valley where he will be reunited with his grandparents. Along the way, he meets up with four other dinosaurs who are also orphaned.
The prejudices of the group come to the forefront, but they quickly learn they must stick together if they want to survive, regardless of what beliefs they were taught. They open their hearts to see beyond their different species and offer one another love, encouragement, and comfort. Had they been told that those they “shouldn’t associate with” would be the ones to help them to achieve their goal they would not have believed it.
It reminded me how we may judge and dismiss others by thinking they couldn’t possibly be of value or assistance to us on our journey. You never know who is going to support you, who can lead the way, who will inspire you, who will give you courage and comfort, who will understand you like no other person could. You never know until you open your heart and let them in.
Develop a New Perspective on Your Relationships
To gain a perspective is to gain another point of view. In a relationship, it is important that we try to understand where the other person is coming from. Seeking to understand first before being understood is a challenge for most people, but if you can approach a situation from this angle, I guarantee you will gain a new perspective.
My husband changed because of his brain injury. I changed. Our children changed. The roles in our family changed and therefore, not only how we related to him changed, but how we related to one another changed. My husband no longer related to me as his wife—I was his caregiver, nurse, legal advocate, and service coordinator. Our children took on tremendous responsibility. He was not able to be the father he had been prior to the accident. Did it mean he loved us less? Absolutely not! Did it mean any of us had control over the change? No. It did mean that we had to find a new way to relate to each other, but to do so we needed to understand who we had become. That’s was the difficult part.
Our supports changed too. We had wonderful support from family and friends, but as time went on they were less available to us. And there were some who could not understand what we were going through or be comfortable with my husband’s behaviour so they stopped coming around altogether. We, as a family, had to find alternative supports and coping mechanisms that came from professionals and activities (music, journaling, walking, etc.) to help us survive.
Questions for Reflection
I offer some questions below for your reflection. Use these as a springboard to examine your greatest supporters and who is no longer available. Reflect on the people you have met since being injured or since a loved one was injured. Are you overlooking their willingness to be a support to you today? What other things can you do to help you cope with the journey?
Before you answer the questions, set a plan to take care of yourself as this exercise may bring up deep emotions for you. Do you have a friend you can call after for support? Take time to sit quietly and reflect on your feelings. Ease back into your daily routine after answering these questions by doing something nice for yourself first.
• Reflect on those in your life today.
• Who has been your greatest support since you or a loved one sustained a brain injury?
• Who has become important to you since you or a loved one was injured and whom you did not know before?
• Is he or she the type of person you had in your life pre-injury? Is so, why? If not, why?
• Did anyone leave your life since you or a loved one was injured? What feeling have you been carrying about his or her actions that don’t serve you?
• How are you different? Do you still have the same beliefs as you did pre-injury?
• Finally, give yourself permission to seek support from someone who will understand what you are experiencing and will not judge you for your feelings. Talk about how you feel and begin to identify what you need to do to move forward in your relationships and your life.