The ways in which life-changing injuries affected relationships with children and other family members varied. In some cases, the injury caused damage to relationships. As Ed said it can have a ‘detrimental impact’. But more commonly, people we spoke to talked about how their relationships were strengthened through the experience and they became closer to the partners and families.
In general, people were well supported by their immediate and extended families, both in hospital and at home. Parents, siblings and children cared for the injured person financially and practically, through giving them lifts to appointments, looking after their affairs, and encouraging their recovery through exercise. They also provided emotional care through love and affection, and spending time with them. Often it was family members who knew the full story of what had happened from injury to hospitalisation and rehab.
Louise said that her family wanted to hold her because they were happy she was alive, but she didn’t want that: ‘I don’t think it was because I was burnt and I was scared of people touching me. I think it was more that I had no personal space for so many months’. Wesley said his mum sometimes treated him like a little boy, now he is living back at home with her.
Some people had family members who were disabled or had health conditions and they thought they were more sympathetic and understanding because of it, although Nick Y said he felt sad that both he and his son had become disabled.
People said their families dealt with their injuries in different ways. Sometimes families had difficulty accepting people’s life-changing injuries. Jack’s parents were very angry following the injury that led to his amputation. Families sometimes had difficulty accepting that people had been changed by their injuries. Brian said, ‘It’s hard for people to accept the way you are because the person that you were before is gone’. Amy described how her ’emotions had been flattened’ and this was difficult for her family. Other people reflected on how their behaviour had upset family members. Jack said his mum felt a loss that she described as a form of bereavement. He felt he responded to her distress abruptly and could not understand what his parents had gone through.
Jane’s family had a difficult time accepting her brain injury. Her father had sustained a severe brain injury several years before hers. She confided in him about the difficulties she was having, but he didn’t tell the rest of her family about this. She felt they didn’t understand her brain injury because she was not as seriously affected as her father.
Other people felt that extended family didn’t understand. Bryan said he felt bad because he’d lied to his family about his accident for a few months because he felt ashamed.
People sometimes felt that their roles changed within their families. Bridget said she used to be the one who organised family gatherings, but hasn’t done that since her injury. Others were frustrated that they couldn’t do things in the same way that they used to (e.g. helping out around the house). Sometimes this was only temporary as they regained their abilities or found new ways of doing things.
Injuries sometimes stopped people from doing all the things they wanted to do with their children. Since his spinal cord injury, Nick Z can no longer play football with his son. After John’s injury he was unable to drive his daughter around; she is disabled and doesn’t feel safe in their area. In other cases, people (usually men) gave up busy jobs that had involved travelling or working for long hours. They felt like they had missed out on their children growing up. Because they were at home more after injury they saw more of their children and were able to help out with things like doing homework with them. But sometimes people didn’t see their children anymore.
People found it difficult to maintain normality for their children after injury as they had seen things they wouldn’t normally see. They worried about the effect their injury might have on their children and were motivated in their recovery by them. They also worried about the financial implications for their families as there was sometimes less income coming into the home.
Some people felt their children respected them more because they had witnessed how much they’d struggled. They also thought that by living with a parent who had a life-changing injury their children had become well-rounded people.
For more see ‘Support after aquired disability from carers and helpers and helpers