In May 1989, when I was 14, my 38-year-old mother sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in a serious auto accident. When Mom came home from the hospital, her personality had change dramatically. It’s odd to have a mom who does not know your schedule, your likes and dislikes, and your personality. My pain was made worse because others could not see this change and thought I should just be happy that my mom was home. Unfortunately, I did not have a church where I felt safe to turn to with my thoughts and feelings, nor did Mom feel safe at this church.
Fast forward to more recent times: my mom is able to live on her own, but she is impulsive. I thank God that she has learned to consult me with large decisions and purchases. I feel stuck in that sandwich generation of having to keep an eye on my mom and raise my own child, but Mom has received support and love from the last two churches she has attended.
About five years after her accident Mom started attending Third Reformed Church in Grand Rapids MI, and they found a fit for her, personality quirks and all. When she would volunteer for something they were not sure that she could do, they brought someone alongside her to see how things worked out and to mentor her. She was welcome in a small group even though she has short-term memory loss and cannot remember what she studied throughout the week. She cannot be left alone with children but is an awesome nursery assistant. She is like a kid herself in a lot of ways since the accident. She loves to play games and sing songs with the kids, so she helped with family night and vacation Bible school. More recently she transferred to a church closer to her home (Olivet Reformed/Harbor Life in Grandville MI) and has had the same wonderful experiences there at well.
So what can the church do to assist someone with TBI? The church must recognize that when the family member with TBI comes home, everything may change for the person and for the family. Be there for the family. Appoint a person (or couple or family) to support them through the process, especially if there are children. Give family members a safe place to share their feelings. Stay with the person with TBI so family members can get out once in a while. Remember that a person with TBI may still want to serve, even if not in the capacity as before, so find ways for the person to serve if willing.
When a church is loving, supportive, and helps where needed, the person with TBI and their family receive care, and the church is blessed in return.
Read additional stores in Breaking Barriers about traumatic brain injury including these:
A Ministry of Presence: By experiencing the reciprocal nature of ministry of giving and receiving, I learned to be fully present in the moment to each person.
A View of Prayer Transformed: Now when I tell people I will pray for them, I count it a privilege. I will never again say I'll pray for you, without realizing the incredible power of prayer.
Married to a Different Man: Taking care of Harold since his accident has brought some joy, but mostly hard work, stress, loneliness, and fear. I give it all to God, and he is with me every step.
Learning to Trust and Obey: The entire family has been impacted by our son's accident. We know how precious and fragile life can be, and we are able to share our faith with other families.
Editors Note: Your Neighbor with TBI: A Michigan church begins its monthly consistory meetings with 45 minutes of devotions at a residential facility for people with brain and spinal cord injuries.
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