Podcast Overview and Highlights

Podcasts

The podcasts below were recorded with a clinical social worker and they each include full audio along with text transcription for accessibility.

Explaining Grief to Others with Melissa Abate, LMSW

How do you recommend explaining the grief to someone else?

There is a wonderful quote that’s a Molière quote, “grief unrecognized will only redouble.” Giving families a safe space to grieve, to be able to talk about how this injury has affected their lives, think about it, you go from living your life every day getting up, going to work, coming home, having dinner, go to bed, now your day is immersed in doctors and tests, unclear visions to what this will be. Everything is turned upside down, there is a beauty and a grace to this. On the other side, nothing in life is black and white. There are always two sides to the coin. Going through this experience also lets you let go at a lot of little things. It’s really hard to get angry or upset when someone doesn’t take out the garbage when their supposed to, when you’re dealing with such existential issues, of how do I get this person back where they can have a purpose, can feel joy, can belong to something bigger than themselves, and have a reason to get up every morning. So in a way, if you can support a family though this they can come out the other side with a very different appreciation about what family means, what relationships mean. Your back is against the way and you’ve fought back. A lot of families that I’ve worked with have found a strength they never knew they had, have found a grace that they never knew they had. But part of that is allowing them to grieve. To me grief is being able to share the stories of what you’ve lost. Share the hopes and the dreams that you had, that may be different now. And helping families understand that different doesn’t have to have a value judgment on it. Different can simply be different. This isn’t what we had on our radar. This isn’t what we expected, but it doesn’t have to be negative.

It's a Process: Allowing the Family to Grieve with Melissa Abate, LMSW

Working with catastrophic traumatic brain injury one thing that I’ve learned more so than anything, is for a family to be whole again, they need to go through a process and the process is not something that is easy considering the steps and the different levels of care. Imagine for a minute if you got a phone call in the middle of the night that your loved one was catastrophically injured at that point in time your only hope and your only concern is “will they live though the next 72 hours?” You’re not looking at long-term and what this life will be like. So for families, giving them an opportunity to grieve what they have lost is something that I don’t think is done enough, people hear all the time, families hear all the time, survivors hear all the time, “you’re so lucky,” “you’re so lucky that you survived.” But what does that really mean? What is the luck involved in that? What does it mean when you’re a spouse of someone who is catastrophically injured and you can’t have the same conversations that you’ve had for 20 years of a marriage, an example of that is a family that I’ve worked with for many years where he had a standing fall in an airport and things went wrong and he had a massive brain bleed. For his wife, the breaking point came almost a year and a half after his injury when she went to pick out paint colors to redecorate their home for accessibility. It was the first time in a 30-year marriage that she made the decisions on her own. That he didn’t have a voice in it. That she didn’t ask him what colors would work, and it’s a very minor thing when you think about when you think about everything that she’d been through at that point but it’s the moment that caused her to break. So part of what needs to happen is being able to acknowledge the grief and loss. The grief and loss of the life that was expected. The milestones that you expected for your child, your spouse, your sibling that may not be achievable. In order to get to the other side, and live the “new normal” you have to be able to for both families and patients, you have to acknowledge what you’ve lost in order to bring forward the things that you still have. Without that important piece, you’re stuck in this weird limbo, where the essence of the person is different or tragically altered but the person is still there. When someone is killed in an accident we have ceremonies, we have markers, other people know what to do what to say to a family member, what to say to an injured person, but when someone survives but is characterologically different, nobody knows what to say, nobody knows how to handle that. The things that you hold dear, your truths, of I know if I say this to my son or daughter, or my spouse, this is how they’ll react. Where do you put that when you don’t have that footing?

Getting to Know Who They Were with Melissa Abate, LMSW

So one of the things that can really help is to allow families to be able to share stories.  A mom of a young woman who was catastrophically injured in a t-bone accident by a semi-trailer at a high rate of speed, said to me one time, “all you know is this broken little girl how can you get her back to who she was if you don’t know who she was?” Which is an extremely powerful statement when you take a second and really think about it. We meet folks after the injury, we don’t know who they were, what they were, what motivated them, what their personality quirks were, all the little things that a family member does know. So giving peoples an opportunity to tell family stories. In a safe place. We used a family group for this purpose, to tell childhood stories. To tell one of the first questions I always ask for married people is “how did you meet?” how would you describe someone’s personality especially if you have a whole family system. Each of us, if you think about your own families, we each have different relationships amongst ourselves. So everyone has a different take on what someone’s personality and their quirks are. So getting to know who the person truly is, is how you have a successful reintegration into this “new normal.”

BRAIN TRAUMA 101

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