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Do people grief non-death losses?

October 12th, 2010

Recently, I received a series of questions from readers based on a review of my book in Bostonia, Boston University’s Alumni Magazine. A number of these were forwarded to me by the editor for my responses. The questions from readers covered a range of concerns, both personal and professional. The question below asks about grief from other kinds of loss:
“As a Clinical Social Worker myself, I work primarily with brain injury and stroke survivors who are clearly grieving their “loss” of self and working to find new meaning and purpose in their lives. Do you explore non-death related grief work in your book? Families too are grieving and need new ways to process this “living grief.”

Loss takes many forms in our lives besides death. This clinician recognizes that people who are disabled by brain injury and strokes lose their physical capacities. Often, emotional and cognitive functions accompany these problems. Their lives can be altered in an instant.

Many of the reactions I have witnessed reflect the strong emotions of denial and anger Dr. Kubler-Ross identified in her ground-breaking research: for example, one man, trained as an engineer, researched comprehensive studies of treatment for strokes, developed several adaptive devices to help him maneuver in his wheelchair.

Has he reached the stage of “acceptance?” Perhaps not; he refuses to give in to his disability. He is proactive in his hope to improve his own quality of life. By doing so, he has inspired other stroke victims he has met in his support group, and may have an even broader impact in the future.