Going Through the Stages of Grief After My Stroke


I remember learning about Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief in twelfth grade. The teacher explained that some people don’t often follow the steps in order – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – because it depends on what they are experiencing at the time, such as a serious illness or the death of a loved one.

sunset over a lake

As a patient who has several genetic diseases that are incurable, I’ve learned from the support groups I’ve attended, talking to the nurses who cared for me, as well as my physicians that it’s OK to cry when getting unexpected news we didn’t plan on getting. If we held our emotions in and didn’t express ourselves, it would be unhealthy and could make our symptoms worse.

From personal experience, I went through the five stages of grief much longer during and after my stroke because I was mourning the person I used to be before it happened. It took me a while to accept the fact that the way I do things now is entirely different than the way I was used to doing them, such as following written or verbal directions.  I was in denial when I was sent to the ER because I was only 37 years old. How and why did this happen?

Then I was angry at times because I had to start all over again walking, picking up items with my weaker hand that was temporarily paralyzed, working on my memory issues, plus my husband took over the household chores until I was well enough to do them myself. I didn’t even bother bargaining with God because I felt like He was angry with me and this was His punishment – that is until my best friend made me realize that sometimes the Lord gives us challenges in life to make us stronger as a person and in our faith so we can be an example to others. She made sense, but I felt like half a person because after I was tested to see what my deficits were, I was told I was at a tenth grade level instead of college level where I did extremely well. I was saddened and depressed because  the smart person I used to know was gone and may never come back.

I continued working extremely hard in physical and occupational therapy to regain the strength on my right side and worked on mental exercises to try and regain my short term memory loss as well as other cognitive issues. My persistence paid off after a year. I was walking better and I was able to resume some of the daily habits we take for granted such as grooming and dressing myself or making a simple meal, and I even tried driving around the area where I lived, going short distances until I was comfortable going further.

Then I noticed I was having problems with making complete sentences to get my point across. I could picture the subject I was talking about, but just couldn’t remember what it was. I went back after three years for a follow-up test to see if there were improvements after the first test. I was told I was still the same, my cognitive problems didn’t get better or worse, and was diagnosed with a mild case of aphasia – knowing what I wanted to say, but not being able to say it. The neurologist told me that if anything was going to improve, it would have been within the first year after a stroke and since some things hadn’t changed, they most likely wouldn’t.

woman smiling next to a giant teddy bear

I refused to accept that. I worked very hard in college to graduate on the Dean’s list but now, my skills were affected by a clot in my brain. I had to face it. This was going to be the “new normal” for the rest of my life. So with the encouragement of my husband and close friends, I adapted to the way my brain’s retrained itself in following directions, continued with writing poetry and when I get flustered and the side effects appear, I can joke about it now and say it’s due to my “old age” of soon-to-be 50 years.

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