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From Bereavement to Belonging – Nurturing Spirituality After Brain Injury

April 03, 2018

We all have a spiritual self – that unseen part of who we are that provides our physical self with insight, intuition, and other ways of knowing and being beyond what we experience in the physical world. Some find their spiritual self through organized religion, others through their own inner spirit or strength.

For most, however, the spiritual self is an important part of recovery after a traumatic injury, such as a brain injury – for patients, families and loved ones. It’s where we go to find strength, comfort and meaning.

Spirituality can be very personal for some, and for others, it may be more communal. For some, it is believing there is a power bigger than themselves, as well as a strong sense of individual strength. Cultivating one’s spirituality brings the opportunity of personal growth and possibly participation within a supportive community.

It is important to recognize that a person’s experience and recovery after a brain injury is as unique as their spiritual journey and both may need attention in order to live well with a brain injury.

“Often, we see patients go one of two ways after their injury – they turn toward their spirituality or they begin to question it. Neither is right or wrong; it’s all a part of the journey,” says Candi Boyd, MDiv., Chaplain at Craig Hospital. “I tell patients, ‘You are where you are. Let’s work with it and pay attention to it, but most importantly, let’s find your center.’”

For patients and families who find themselves moving closer toward their spirituality or faith after a traumatic event, Candi advises that they should continue their practice and not to feel guilty about praying for the same thing over and over. She also says, “Sometimes, scripture and readings can provide guidance during this time when you’re looking for answers or encouragement.”

Specifically in the case of brain injury, it can be difficult to re-integrate into your religious community. It’s important to have open communication with your spiritual leaders to talk about what you can and cannot manage with regard to crowds and stimulation; make a plan and ask them to share your wishes with others. It’s also okay to be honest about your needs and to say no if the support from your community – for example, visits or meal delivery – gets to be overwhelming.

For those who find themselves struggling with their faith or spirituality after brain injury, Candi says to be easy on yourself. “It’s okay to be angry, to question, to place blame with your God. But it’s not a healthy place to stay for long. I like to find ways to help people get back to a positive place and move forward somehow.” Breathing exercises and meditation can help patients and caregivers re-center and focus on paying attention to their needs, let go of anger, and reconcile themselves with their own spirituality.

No matter your beliefs, spirituality is an important part of the healing process. At Craig, we are grateful to have Candi on staff to work with our clinicians, patients and families, helping them to pay special attention to both the physical and the spiritual needs of patients as we aim for the best possible recovery outcomes.