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Life-changing injuries

Relationships with children and family

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. 
 
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In his extended family, Jack's family is seen as the strongest after all they have been through.

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The support network of the family has helped. But now that we look back on it, we're stronger all of us for having gone through what we've been through. And now whenever our family are going through something, like an event or whatever, they turn to us or for that strength. We have become the strongest family in our circle of people as it were. We are the strongest family. We are viewed as the strongest family, which is a credit to us, I think. So yeah it was minimal, minimal support. We've kind of dealt with it on our own, but we’ve dealt with it. And I also think that, without sounding arrogant, the fact that I've dealt with it and achieved quite a lot has helped my parents as well so and my sister so. 

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.
 
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Nick Y's son, Jamie, also had a life-changing injury and has given his father a lot of support.

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Age at interview: 68
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My main feeling in the hospital, not suicidal exactly, but incredibly depressed. I knew something really serious was wrong and so it seemed that my life was going to come to an absolute stop. My son, doing up my house, sailing my boat, riding my bike, seeing my girlfriend, my woman friend. I mean all these things that I’d retired to do. So it was a very depressing time, extremely depressing. I was absolutely very depressed, and I owe a lot to my friends and particularly my son for trying to cheer me up. 
 
Anyway when I was in hospital he sent me a succession of texts on the mobile and he writes in this really strange style. He’s got a language all of his own, he really has. So I typed them up because I want to keep them. So this is a guy who’s quadriplegic, in a wheelchair. So this is February 11th, this is the day after the amputation or a couple of days after it. “Bonne nuit, goodnight, or good morning, amazingly brilliant Dad.”, “Please keep motivated, be strong, as in the near future I’m looking forward to being your boson crew on the boat we’re hounding. And only if you think I’m capable…” I can’t read it. I still can’t. “Only if you think I’m capable of additionally being a co-pilot for our boat.”, “Be it in sunny Cornwall or elsewhere.” I can’t read it. “I really don’t mind. Because is no matter life’s little injuries thrown our way we’ve strongly survived and we’re together wherever we are.” I can’t read it. Sorry. It was so nice I couldn’t believe it. He really wrote that from the bottom of his heart. “We’ve strongly survived and we’re together wherever we are I won’t care or mind. Lots and lots of adoring love. Jamie xxxxxx” Yeah. And I’ve scribbled a note here, “Cheered me up reading this going to and fro the hospital by ambulance”. This is when I was going back and forth to rehab yeah.

 

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.
 

Jane avoided family gatherings after her injury because she felt her family did not understand...

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Age at interview: 34
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I think given my circumstances with having my father with a severe brain injury I kind of joke that you probably almost need to chop your head off to equal that in terms of such a traumatic thing to go through. Yeah, I think I, I didn’t really know that my family didn’t believe that there was anything wrong with me, but it did come out that they didn’t, and I had to actually cut off contact with them for a while, because I couldn’t, I needed to get better, and I got too upset dealing with it, and I think it did impact on my rehabilitation. Getting upset and not sleeping was not very good and my sister had sent me quite a nasty email and really abusive and pretty much told me I was crazy and making it up to get attention. I wouldn’t recommend a brain injury to get attention. That’s probably not a good idea. But, rob a bank it would much more effective. 
 
But yeah, Mum did realise and she apologised, but it was a very, very lonely time and I still find with extended family I don’t really know how to, what they think of me. And I don’t really given that no one came to visit, no one helped, no one sent a card.
 
Yeah, I’ve avoided a few family gatherings, because I don’t know, I haven’t been able to face a whole bunch of people who might not know me, and like my sister and brother have both got, kind met boyfriends and girlfriends at that time, about that period, so there were kind of other people on the scene that I didn’t know that had probably only heard bad stuff. And I just made decisions. They also usually did them on Sunday nights which was not a good night for me either. So usually I wanted to be resting, particularly when I started working, I’d spend all day in bed on Sundays sometimes. So, no one, no one ever, and I haven’t spent Christmas with my family since before the accident as well. 

 

 

Amy’s siblings didn’t really understand her brain injury. She said they “acted out” to try and...

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Age at interview: 59
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Now let me see with my family – the more distant family like brothers and sisters that had moved away, that was more difficult because they didn't really understand, they didn't understand what had gone on. They understood that there was a change in the person that they knew and I think that everyone in a family close to people or far away from them, they mourn the person that was there and they want that person back and a lot of times people act out to try to get that person back. So they'll do things to get attention or to provoke or they'll get angry because of their own grief and so it's important to realise that that is the part of the process and not to take that personally, just to realise that they need time to realise that things have changed and there's no going back really. So that's about, that's about it with my family I guess yeah. 

 
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Jack said his sister was relieved when she saw him laughing soon after his amputation. The only...

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What was your sister’s experience of it?
 
At the time, I think she was quite shocked by it, but she toughened up. She's a very tough character anyway and when she saw me laughing and joking – she's told me that – “As soon as I saw you laughing and joking”, she was OK with it. At that point when she saw me having a laugh she was like, "I'm OK with it". And she treats me accordingly now. We have a laugh and a joke. We're closer as a brother and sister than we were before. The only impact, the only negative impact it had meant she missed an exam at university, which she didn't pass in the summer, so had to re-do that unit, so delayed her course by a year. But she's on the third year now so it's fine. That was the only negative impact I would say. But apart from that she's been fine with it.

 

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.
 
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Since his brain injury he does not see his daughter. She has a new stepfather who she's happy...

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Frustrating. It does. Frustrating, you know, hard. Very hard. You know, I don’t see my daughter no more, because I’m not the same. You know, my whole life has changed. I can’t be a father for her. She’s got a new step dad and she feels happy with him, you know, educational things and things that she can’t do, things that’s her stepfather can do is take her out the places she wants to go. With me not working, not taking my daughter out, you know, it’s tough. You know, parts that I can take my daughter to do educational-wise and start bringing her up in a very happy way and, you know, moneywise it’s child support. Not being in work I can’t afford to look after her no more and it’s a bit... I found it hard. Very hard. But, yeah. 

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.
 

Catherine’s daughter said, “When the surgeons cut my dad’s leg off, they took away his happiness”...

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Age at interview: 57
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Catherine: He was on a lot of drugs. So he wasn’t really totally compos mentis he was sleeping a lot of the day. My daughter has come out with a couple of things that have been said. She doesn’t say very much, but one of the things she said was, “When the surgeons cut my Dad’s leg off, they also took away all his happiness.” That was how she felt. Actually now cannot actually remember him before the accident, just like me taking out photographs and showing what he was like and things like that.
 
The worst thing for them, for all of us really, was that you never knew when you were going to get an outburst. So you’ve living under that pressure all the time. Like you, you don’t know if he’s going to react, and generally, or it could be in public places, so the children have got to get on with all these people and there’d be Bill taking them on for something or other and the children were just like …
 
Bill: Oh God not again.
 
Catherine: Yeah.
 
Bill: Dad, don’t do it now.

 

 

Ed wanted to recover as best he could so that his son wouldn’t experiences any negative effects...

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Age at interview: 42
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But unfortunately some people, events over take them a bit and it gets to a stage where it gets unnecessarily bad. And in some instances, it can end up getting beyond repair. And the important thing for me, is I don’t want, I mean for myself, for those around me, I don’t want to go down that route. So we’re putting quite a lot of corrective action at a comparatively early stage in the life cycle and I want to be, I want to end up being calmer, more pleasant, better. 
 
I don’t want, and I got this across in a couple of the sessions at [retreat location]. I don’t want to be responsible for my son growing up with deep seated issues and problems, that is going to affect him throughout his life. That is wrong. And that is a responsibility that I have and it is something that I can control. There’ll be lots of other things that end up happening to him, that I won’t be able to control, but that is something that I can. And I do have responsibility as a parent to do that. 

 

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.
 

Bill and Catherine described their children as thoughtful and good.

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Age at interview: 57
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Bill: But my son came out with a very interesting comment, didn’t he? Because he was asked by someone outside the family how you know, how all these events and social issues had affected him and he went, “Well actually I wouldn’t be the person today that I am ….”
 
Catherine: Without them.
 
Bill: ….without them.” So you know, he, and I think my daughter is the same as well actually I mean, I mean the different ways that they deal with it, but I mean they’re, they’re very thoughtful and social issues and how it affects people outside. So it has made them very rounded and thoughtful, good children. Adults. Tweens. 

 

For more see 'Support after aquired disability from carers and helpers and helpers'.

Last reviewed October 2015.
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