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“Just be grateful you are alive”
“Just be thankful you didn’t die”
“You should just focus on the fact you survived”
Brain injury survivors hear these types of well-meaning lines all the time. They are used by family members and friends to help survivors see the “brighter side” during their recovery periods. There is undeniable truth in each one of these statements; traumatic brain injuries, strokes and other forms of acquired brain injuries lead to death for millions of people worldwide every year. It is worthwhile to be thankful for life. But these well-intentioned statements can all too often serve as double-edged swords.
Taking a step back for a moment, most survivors are truly thankful to be alive following their near-death experiences. But that does not mean that they have not suffered real, painful losses. While one may feel the commendable impulse to encourage and support survivors, it is also important to allow them to mourn these losses. There is nothing inherently wrong with lamenting loss of arm function or fluid speech, as long as this does not lead to a serious decline in mood or performance. For instance, wouldn’t any person be upset if, after decades of normal walking, he or she would have to suddenly learn how to walk all over again because of a stroke? A balance has to be struck between fostering positive mood and allowing for reasonable mourning of loss. “Just be grateful you are alive” is clearly not an inherently harmful statement, but it can still nonetheless be overused and thus inhibit healthy adjustment to change. Excessive repetition of such a statement can often cause survivors to be frustrated and feel as if they are being discouraged from expressing their feelings. Though it may be difficult for family members or friends to witness as survivors experience sadness or anger, this is often one of the steps necessary while making a successful transition into post-injury life.
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