Grief after stroke

December 03, 2014
People often think of grief as associated with death or the loss of a close family member or friend. However grief can be a symptom of loss in all its forms. After stroke, for the survivor and their loved ones grief can be associated with the loss of a way of life, mobility, confidence or independence.

Having an awareness of the 7 stages of grief can help to recognise feelings, work through grief and help those around you to understand your experience of grief. It is uncommon for people to pass through the 7 stages in an orderly way and some even experience more than one stage at a time or may fluctuate between a few.

1. SHOCK & DENIAL: It is common for stroke survivors and loved ones alike to react to stroke with numb disbelief, sometimes even total denial. Shock provides us with emotional protection from being overwhelmed. This can last for weeks.

2. PAIN & GUILT: Although it can be excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience emotional pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or other substances. Guilt is a common emotion for people affected by stroke. You may have guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn’t do with your loved ones before stroke. Life can often feel chaotic and scary in this stage.

3. ANGER & BARGAINING: Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for poor health or recovery on someone else. It is important to recognise these feelings and try to control them, to prevent permanent damage to your relationships. During this stage some people question “Why me?” and may try to bargain for a way out “I promise to be a better person if you just stop the stroke from having ever happened”.

4. SADNESS, REFLECTION, LONELINESS: At the point when everyone thinks you are doing ok and getting on with your life some people experience a long period of sad reflection. This is the time you realise the true magnitude of your loss. Some feel they need to isolate themselves to reflect on things they did or did not do before stroke and focus on memories of the past. It is a time you may experience feelings of emptiness or despair. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not feel you need to be “talked out of it” by well-meaning outsiders. Encouragement from others often doesn’t help during this stage.

5. THE UPWARD TURN: As you start to adjust to your life after stroke, life becomes a little calmer and more organized. Your physical symptoms lessen, and your emotions begin to lift slightly.

6. RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH: As you begin to adjust to loss, your mind starts to feel clearer again, and you may find yourself seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life after stroke. You may start to work on practical and financial problems and planning for your future.

7. ACCEPTANCE & HOPE: The last of the seven stages, you learn to accept and deal with the reality of your situation. Acceptance does not always mean instant happiness. Given the pain you have experienced, it’s unlikely life will feel the same but you will find a way forward. You will start to look forward and actually plan things for the future. Eventually, you will anticipate good times to come, and yes, even find joy in life after stroke.

Even after reaching acceptance and hope some return to other stages of grief. It is important at these times to not feel you have failed in your recovery but to take some time to recognise your feelings. Think about what helped you through the stage last time and remind yourself that acceptance and hope is still on your horizon.

Can you relate to any of these stages? Where do you feel you are at right now? Can you reflect on what has helped you at any of these stages?

It can be helpful to speak to a qualified professional about your feelings and adjusting to life after stroke. If you need help finding a suitable professional to speak with please call StrokeLine for advice on 1800 STROKE (787 653).

If at any time you are feeling overwhelmed or experiencing extended periods of sadness please speak with your doctor or call lifeline on 13 11 14.