Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Digesting Grief

Samuel Johnson, the eighteenth century lexicographer, considered by some to be the greatest English mind of his time, made a very astute observation on grief. He said “While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates. You must wait ‘til grief be digested, and then amusement will dissipate the remains of it.”
Those of us with brain injuries know this very well. The last thing we want, or need to hear, is one of those trite phrases which we all have heard like, “Well, you’re lucky to be alive” or “You think you’ve got it bad…” or worst of all “I know how you feel.” These genuine attempts at soothing our nerves come from the feeling that they need to say something; something positive and uplifting. As though we’d just turn our heads and say, “My God, you’re right! What business do I have to grieve? Thank you!” and then we’d go walking away whistling Zippety Dooh Dah. Of course, our friends and family members are only trying to offer solace; we certainly don’t need berate them. My point is that people don’t have any generally accepted and useful way of responding to grief.
The most helpful thing for them to do is to acknowledge your grief and share it with you as best they can. As Nietzsche observed, “sharing joy increases it, and sharing grief decreases it.” Unfortunately, very few people know of Doctor Johnson’s quote and few spend their time pondering how to respond to tragedy which is why Nietzsche’s observation is so sagacious.
What all this is leading up to is the fact that the only path past grief is to digest it. We need to accept our situation as bad and just feel it. Trying to ignore it or look at the bright side is not going to let it pass, nor is farming it out and trying to figure out a solution by rolling it over again and again in our minds.
In most situations, one can only grieve for so long and our natural human response is to tire of the grief and move on. It is at that point that the bright words and encouragement, the numerous offered diversions can help us to finally get over it.
The tough part about brain injury is that you can’t put it behind you. Yeah, if it were going to be over tomorrow we’d be through grieving soon enough, but there it is; every day the same as before. It is similar to when somebody has a loved one who remains in a coma, they can’t grieve their passing because they haven’t passed, and yet they aren’t really here either, so they are stuck in between, waiting.
That’s where I was, and would still be, waiting to be better before I could move on. I would always be waiting to get better. I was like the person who says, “I’ll be happy as soon as I win the lottery.” I had made this agreement to be happy once I met an unlikely, if not impossible, condition. Ultimately, I decided that was not how I was going to live my life, waiting for the day I would wake up and not be brain injured anymore.

That was the first day I began living again after my accident.

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