Understanding the Grieving Process

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There are a number of very common emotional stages that people with a brain aneurysm/AVM go through. It is important to remember that different survivors react differently to the grief over the loss of the person they once were and knew before the brain aneurysm/AVM. There is often a grieving process a survivor will go through and there are a number of very common emotional phases attached to the grieving process. The process is often experienced in defined stages:

Anger and Frustration
Depression/ Withdrawal

Depending on where you are in the recovery process it will influence how you react or respond to situations. Such as, if you are currently in the state of denial, you are not going to easily accept the doctor not permitting you to drive. The person in denial says there’s nothing wrong, even when directly confronted by family members or trained medical staff. Through your denial, you inadvertently hinder progress. If you are angry or frustrated, it is very difficult for you to deal with the littlest of things and find yourself easily aggravated or blowing up often. It is difficult to reach the level of “acceptance”.  Acceptance only comes when you are ready and open for it. It cannot be forced and you will come to your own peace with what has happened to you in your own time. Being able to accept puts you on a better road to recovery.

Over the next several weeks, we will explore these four phases, beginning with the first – DENIAL.


The previous Topic of Discussion introduced the grieving process in which all brain aneurysm/AVM survivors go through.  It is important to remember that each survivor grieves differently to the loss of the person they once were and knew before the brain aneurysm/AVM. Survivors won’t necessarily experience all of the emotions (Denial, Anger and Frustration, Depression/ Withdrawal, Acceptance); nor will they experience the emotions in exact order listed. However, all survivors whether you had a rupture or not will experience at least 1 or 2 of these emotional stages.

“It’s not denial. I’m just selective about the reality I accept.”
-Bill Watterson

“It takes a lot of courage to face up to things you can’t do because we feed ourselves so much denial.”
-Zoe Saldana

“A man who denies his past is a man who truly denies himself a future, for he refuses to know himself, and to deny knowledge of oneself is to stumble through life as handicapped as the blind mute.”
― Tobsha Learner, The Witch of Cologne

“I protect myself by refusing to know myself.”
― Floriano Martins

Denial is often a survival technique used by brain aneurysm/AVM survivors when the reality of their situation cannot be accepted; they have not come to terms with what has been lost.  Change in one’s life can stir up fear, anxiety or uncertainty and people often respond to such changes with the defense of denial. Denial is the wall a person builds for a protective barrier, but all it does is create an alternate reality for which only one person can exist. There are two types of denial a survivor could experience.  The first type of denial is an emotional one in which something so horrible or frightening has occurred and a person is not willing to deal with it.  Often you will hear, “I’m fine” or “There’s nothing wrong with me.”  It is much easier for a survivor to minimize or deny the severity of having a brain aneurysm/AVM rather than learn compensatory strategies or to work towards a new normal.  It is not unusual for survivors to remain in denial their entire lives.  The second type of denial comes from the physical changes to the brain due to an injury (bleeding, bruising or swelling).  The brain refuses to, or cannot process denial or be cognitively aware of this type of emotion.   Often the medical system will unknowingly support denial.  Too frequently, doctors will say, “Just go home and live your life, you’ll be fine.”  For many survivors, they don’t get better and start to question why they’re not back to their normal selves.  They have these odd events and they keep rationalizing them away. Such as forgetting their best friend’s name or putting the ice cream in the refrigerator instead of the freezer.  It is not uncommon for a driver’s license to be revoked by medical staff due to a brain injury and the survivor argues, “I’m fine to drive.”

Defenses survivors will use for denial:

Smiling & Laughing
Changing the Subject

The difficulty with denial is that most are unaware that they are in denial.  Getting past denial requires more than admitting to the problem; survivors have to accept their new life fully.  Accepting changes in oneself after a brain aneurysm/AVM can be incredibly difficult because most are afraid people will view their deficits as unintelligent or stupid.  Working through denial is not about admitting to a problem; instead it is about deciding to confront the problem.

It isn’t easy to tell if denial is holding you back, but if you feel stuck or if someone you trust has suggested that you are in denial, you might try:

  • Ask yourself what you fear
  • Think about the potential negative consequences of not taking action
  • Allow yourself to express your fears and emotions
  • Try to identify irrational beliefs about your situation
  • Journal about your experience
  • Open up to a trusted friend or loved one
  • Participate in a support group
  • Speak to a mental health provider

By fully accepting your life as an aneurysm/AVM survivor, your deficits and/or your disabilities, you can make your life work.  Know that life is so much better once you confront a situation rather than to pretend it doesn’t exist. Denial can sabotage any progress towards the start of your new life as a brain aneurysm/AVM survivor. Running from your grief only delays the pain and sorrow you need to experience to be able to move on and towards healing.  Movement through denial takes lots of time and willingness, but, when you succeed, it represents a beautiful achievement and a chance to move forward in your life.

Please feel free to repost, but credit must be given to The Brain Aneurysm/AVM Support Group Sponsored by The Joe Niekro Foundation and Kimmothy Lane.

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Stay tuned for Part 2 of The Grieving Process.

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