Trauma

Rising Up After Brain Injury

The resurrection motif perpetuates grief when imposed without offering healing.

Posted Jan 25, 2020

Shireen Anne Jeejeebhoy
Source: Shireen Anne Jeejeebhoy

I wrote previously on brain injury grief and grief on top of extraordinary grief. I want to expand on expectations of recovering from brain injury.

Resurrection, like one rising from the corpse of the old life, is an immortal motif in Western thinking. We celebrate stories of people who experienced a terrible injury or endured a body-altering illness and rose up from it. We eat up stories of people who went through a kind of crucifixion wherein they lost a limb or lost a spouse or lost a child and stood up again. When my health care provider suggested gently I unpack the boxes of the new me, she was reflecting this crucifixion (brain injury) and resurrection (creating a new life with an injured brain) narrative.

One problem: it’s difficult to rise up when you neither understand what happened nor are given the tools to recover. You cannot stand up when you’re not allowed to grieve and are denied health care to heal the injury.

In the resurrection tradition, Jesus knew he was going to be crucified then raised. He told his uncomprehending disciples, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now.” (John 13:36) Athletes may be aware of concussion risk. But most of us do not see it coming. And until a person has had their brain injured, they cannot see how it can kill the person that they are, a death while alive.

Jesus understood his death because he saw it coming, he knew why he was to die, he saw the part it played in the plan God had designed for his creation. Jesus's human disciples could not despite him teaching them. So it’s unsurprising we humans who are driving along a road, planning our day or week, thinking ahead to the dinner we’ll be sharing with our closest friend, are flung out of our known plans into a future not of our making and are confused about it all. We watch helpless as our friends walk away, dinner unmade and never made again.

Why?

Jesus understood why for his death. Yet he grieved without shame. Jesus looking ahead from his last Passover meal and again in the Garden of Gethsemane, cried tears. Sadness troubled his spirit; anguish flooded him, and he sweated blood (John 13:21; Luke 22:44).

So why are we who have no understanding of our own deaths are expected to immediately comprehend, leap over our grief, and vault straight to resurrection?

We must be helped to comprehend what has happened and allowed to grieve. We must be given space to ask, “Why?” without judgement, and walked beside as we search ourselves, our lives, the world, and maybe God for an answer that makes sense beyond the physical explanation.

After he grieved suffocating to death on the Roman cross, Jesus was raised and was fully healed.

We humans may be told we have concussion or brain injury, but few are afforded full and proper diagnostic tests, the kind I’ve outlined in my book Concussion Is Brain Injury: Treating the Neurons and Me; nor are we offered comprehensive treatment to heal damaged neurons. It is a failure of medicine that most doctors still close their minds to the possibility that neuroplastic treatments exist that harness the brain’s ability to regenerate, to regrow axons, and reconnect neurons and neural networks.

How can we reconcile our death with the knowledge that the very professionals tasked to heal us, refuse to do so for whatever reasons? It is difficult enough to live with an unhealed injury; it’s traumatic to live with an injury that could be healed if not for closed minds and lack of medicare. Yet we are still expected to follow the resurrection motif.

We’re built to adapt and survive. Some can mimic resurrection by denying brain-restoring treatments exist, some by falling into line with the ideology that standard medical care of rest and strategies is treatment. Some use others to compensate for their broken functions. Perhaps those others will endure the added stress for the rest of their lives as sacrificial lambs to the ones they love. Perhaps the stress will eventually crush them; it will certainly sicken and weaken them as years turn into decades.

The rest of us, though, cannot hide ourselves from the truth. We see the future stretch into an infinity of lost talents, gone skills, impaired abilities, and no more book reading that used to give knowledge, pleasure, and escape.

When Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead, he showed them the scars on his hands and side from the crucifixion. Scars were the sole marks left only three days after being whipped severely, having a crown of thorns dug into his scalp, and suffocated on the cross. He experienced complete recovery.

The resurrection promises no injury, no illness can touch us or leave its mark.

Brain injury unhealed leaves its crippling mark. By definition, this is not resurrection.

We cannot stand up like Jesus did when, unlike Jesus who knew his purpose of dying and being resurrected, we no longer know our own purpose. We cannot stand up when unlike Jesus, for whom God rent the curtain in grief, do not have our weeping heard and comforted. We cannot stand up like Jesus did when, unlike God who healed Jesus fully, our fellow humans withhold healing from us.

God was Jesus’s all-in-all. Human beings in family, friendships, neighbourhoods, communities, cities, society are each other’s all in all on this Earth. When we do for each other what God did for Jesus — love, validate, hold up in grief, walk with to find purpose, vindicate, work together to heal physically, emotionally, cognitively, spiritually — then those of us with brain injury can stand on the rock of truth as once more a member of the human family. And rise up in resurrection.

Copyright ©2020 Shireen Anne Jeejeebhoy. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission.