The old me died (Findings)

“I had to mourn the old me,” Peggy tells me before taking a long sip of her coffee.

“I had to say goodbye to that version of me.  She’s dead.”

Peggy adjusts her glasses and pushes back the graying hair that falls in front of her face. After going through a stroke that completely changed her cognitive ability and her life, Peggy is still coping with the loss of who she was before. She explains:

“That Peggy died. The stroke took the Peggy I once knew, and I had to deal with that. I had to mourn the loss of someone very close to me . . . Me.  And I miss her dearly. I miss her like I‟d miss a best friend.  This new person I am – well I guess I‟m getting to know her slowly – but really, I am still grieving losing me right now.”

Three years have passed since Peggy‟s stroke, and even though she has attempted to put together her life again, she also recognizes that for her, the grieving process is more important than “meeting” her new self right now.

I listen intently as Peggy continues her account.  This is our second interview together, and she has expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to share her story with me numerous times.  In manifold ways, retelling her story keeps the memory of her former self alive.

“I had to quit writing because it was just too difficult after my brain injury.  And I miss the journalist me.  I miss her writing, her ability to be a professional in that industry. . . .  But that‟s why I try to write and talk about my experiences as much as I can.  It reminds me of the old me . . . the one who died.

Peggy’s story speaks to the true depth of sadness and loss that my peers and I feel from experiencing such a traumatic event as brain injury. Communicating about that loss allows us to co-construct our identity with a piece of our former selves.

When we conceptualize reconciling our former identity as mourning the death of our old selves, we gain insight into the emotional pain and loss that brain injury survivors experience.  For some brain injury survivors, losing ability and the sense of self is akin to the loss of a close loved one. It’s a long, arduous journey that involves a grieving process.

If I think of a time when I lost someone close to me, I feel like I get a glimpse of Peggy’s true loss, of my unbearable loss. I miss the old me too. She’s dead.

Although the grieving process may differ from person to person, in nine of the 16 meetings I had, participants used words that describe grief, “saying goodbye,” and “grieving time” as important after experiencing brain injury.

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