Grief is an emotion that is not exclusively associated with losing someone you love. In fact, you may find that you experience grief when you change jobs, (i.e. retirement or being fired) or when there is a significant change in you or your loved one’s physical or mental health. For caregiver Donna O’Donnell Figurski, grief was among the many emotions she experienced when her husband, David, suffered a brain injury. Grief blanketed their world as they realized that life as they knew it would never be the same.

In an interview with caregiver Donna O’Donnell Figurski, the author of Prisoners without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale, she shared the experience she had with her husband’s injury and the lessons she learned from it.

Where it All Began

This sudden and significant change in her family’s life began with David stumbling into their bedroom with his hand covering his right eye. He was complaining about severe pain in his head. Donna responded immediately by calling for medical help. At this point, Donna had no idea of how significance his injury. After David was assessed by the health professionals, anxiety, shock and fear struck Donna’s heart as they revealed to her how seriously David was injured. Donna then had to undergo the pain of approving three brain surgeries for David in the space of two weeks. This is a lot for any woman, caregiver, or wife to go through.

David’s brain injury changed their life forever. According to Donna, “David’s subarachnoid hemorrhage, his aneurysm, and his arterial venous malformation (AVM) reduced him to an infantile state. He had to relearn to walk, talk, eat, dress himself, and perform social skills.” It was now Donna’s duty to research all of these things. The greatest thing about this situation is that David’s cognitive brain was not affected by the brain injury. This spared him the complications of behavioral and emotional symptoms.

What Donna Learned from the Experience

From this experience, Donna learned that a brain injury can lead the survivor, their caregiver, and relatives to a completely different life. “Before takeoff, flight attendants say, ‘In the case of a drop in cabin pressure, please affix your mask first, then take care of others.’ Great advice, exclaimed Donna, as she shared that one of the main lessons she learned from the experience was the importance of caring for yourself while offering care to a loved one or client.

Grief Gave Birth to Her Book

“When David had his brain injury, I was lost. I searched the Internet for books that could help me understand what was happening—books to let me know that I was not alone in this terrifying new world,” shared Figurski. She then continued to share that she could not find many books on her situation. This lack of available resources led to her writing, Prisoners without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale. It is her hope that individuals faced with a similar predicament will find hope in the midst of their grief by reading her book.

Prisoner without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale, chronicles Donna’s journey as caregiver for her husband David. “I felt like an ill-equipped lifeguard in a deep, rough ocean with a struggling victim. I could barely keep my head above water, but I had to keep treading water, or we’d both drown,” stated Donna as she reflected on her experience. Her book is “also a story of hope and love and of never giving up.” The book reveals how both her life and David’s unraveled because of David’s brain injury. While the book covers a tough experience, it is also filled with comedic events as Donna agrees with the adage that states that laughter is like medicine.

In the Midst of Grief, there is Hope

The surgeries that David had to undergo were not expected. There was a very low chance that David would survive any of the three brain surgeries. This story is one of strength, resilience and the importance of remaining optimistic even in dire straits that seem as if all is lost. As a committed caregiver and wife, Donna shared that, “though I struggled, and still do, with my role as a caregiver, I remain positive throughout David’s recovery.”