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Stroke Smart Magazine

January/February 2007

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Grief and Loss

By Ted Bowman

Stroke Touches the Lives of everyone in the family. When a loved one has a stroke, expectations about personal and family life are disrupted. Confusion, fear and grief often follow. Even if adjustments are made quickly during and following hospitalization — and even if the family handles it well — it is a new situation for everyone.

Many strokes not only impact the brain and body but also basic routines and daily living. This is what is called loss accumulation or overload. A medical event ripples into a social, spiritual and family crisis.

Grief is the normal and natural way a person or family responds to new experiences that involve loss. People grieve in different ways. Some cry; others wail. Some ask questions; some want answers. Others talk a lot; many are quiet. There are those who want to be alone; many need and want friends and family closeby. For the stroke survivor, some of these ways of expressing grief can be compromised, thereby adding to the grief for the entire family. The most important response is one of acknowledgement that changes have occurred.

Here are examples of losses heard from families dealing with stroke:

  • loss of dreams or altered expectations about what one's life would be like at this time

  • loss of family harmony as disagreements about care and responsibilities strain family relations

  • loss of emotional stability as families experience chronic worry or sadness

  • daily losses of time and energy connected to

  • medical appointments and managing the survivor’s care

So, how might families respond to the grief they experience? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Befriend all emotions, even the dark ones.
  • Take care of yourself.

  • Allow tears and laughter.

  • Provide/create a calm, happy place.

  • Be willing to ask for help.

  • Remember that family members will differ in their ways of grieving and coping.

  • Listen, follow the cues of the other person.

  • Don't just problem solve — acknowledge the losses.

  • Use support services.

  • Maintain perspective — limit over or under-reactions.

  • Be aware of ripple effects, how other family members/friends are reacting to this loss.

  • Provide continuity and stability.

  • Remember that grief takes time. Allow for later reactions.

  • Allow for surprises, especially the happy ones.

Many families are so busy giving care that they overlook their own grief. Grief is a part of life. Altered expectations deserve attention. When done well, families can benefit.

Note: This article is just one source to help you deal with grief and loss. Remember to balance it with other sources, such as help from a professional counselor, stroke support groups that incorporate the caregiver, friends and family, and other written material on the topic.

Ted Bowman specializes in change and transition and the resulting grief and loss. He also teaches at the University of Minnesota. Bowman has written two booklets about loss: Finding hope when dreams have shattered and Loss of dreams: A special kind of grief.


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National Stroke Association’s mission is to reduce the incidence and impact of stroke by developing compelling education and programs focused on prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and support for all impacted by stroke.

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