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Research Article

Grieving my broken body: an autoethnographic account of spinal cord injury as an experience of grief

Pages 1823-1829 | Received 23 Oct 2013, Accepted 02 Dec 2013, Published online: 02 Jan 2014
 

Abstract

Purpose: For good reason, the trajectory of contemporary research and therapy into rehabilitation following spinal cord injury (SCI) has moved away from focusing on the pathology of depression, to highlight the contribution of resiliency, optimism, and hope to long-term well-being. This article complements this literature, exploring the analogous links between the losses of SCI and the experiences of the grief that accompanies the death of a loved one. Method: The article uses autoethnography, drawing on the authors’ writing about his own experiences as a C5 (incomplete) quadriplegic, to identify a correlation between the stages/symptoms of grief and the journey of rehabilitating from an SCI. Results: The article highlights the “wild” and ambiguous reality of adjusting to an SCI, and so challenges the dualist tendency to assume that people are either resilient or weak, successful or unsuccessful in their recovery. It recognises that adjusting to an SCI involves complex swings in emotion – sadness, anger, and melancholy, alongside hope and determination. Conclusion: Drawing on strategies of grief therapy, the article suggests that constructing and reconstructing the story of one’s own life is essential to learning to accept and live with an SCI.

    Implications for Rehabilitation

  • Since the losses accompanying SCI are analogous to grief, grief therapy strategies that recognise the complex and ambiguous nature of recovery can be part of rehabilitation.

  • Therapy should encourage people to construct and reconstruct narratives – life stories – that help them mourn their loss and make sense of their new lives.

  • The loss of an SCI is especially potent following return to the community, so storied therapy should continue beyond the period of the in-house rehabilitation.

Acknowledgements

It seems appropriate to conclude this autoethnography with a note of gratitude for the dedication and care I received from Annalisa Dezarnaulds, Clinical Psychologist, Department of Spinal Medicine, Prince of Wales Hospital.

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