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Embrace brother’s journey to recovery

Q. My brother was injured in Iraq and came home with a traumatic brain injury – doctors call it “TBI.” He seems to have a different personality. I miss the brother I knew, and I am confused about how to relate to him. Any advice?

A. First, we are sorry for your brother’s injury and grateful for his service to our country.

“Even with a mild TBI there may be some personality changes,” Tyler Stanley, a policy specialist at San Francisco’s Family Caregiver Alliance (, told EndNotes.

While you may grieve the brother you knew, you can build a strong and authentic relationship with your brother as he recovers from his injury.

“The person emerging is a mix of both the past and their future,” Stanley said.

At the Alliance, “we encourage the caregiver that through a long journey, what they will get back is their loved one, different, but sometimes better,” Stanley said. “Little is mentioned about the intuitiveness that grows inside a survivor or the gifts discovered while remaking their new self.”

Your willingness to be patient will contribute to his healing. While your brother is working toward recovery, you will be learning, too. Listen to him. Often when trying activities, you will stumble upon helpful behaviors.

When you act as a role model for an activity, you are creating the image in your brother’s mind about what success “looks like.” Be the ultimate cheerleader as each little step moves toward a new or recovered skill.

Tap into his passion: If he loved snowboarding, he may not be ready for the slopes, but take him for a walk in the snow. Focus on possibilities and what he can do, not what is lost.

Each traumatic brain injury is unique and therefore the path to recovery is unique – and challenging. So seek support and wisdom. With your love, mutual determination and guided effort, your brother will find a path to his new life. Remember: The human spirit is limitless.

Q. I have been a widow for five years, and I recently took early retirement. I would like to move to a different city, and I am getting so much advice, such as “move near your kids and grandkids” and the opposite “never move near your kids!” How do I decide?

A. Move where you can create a new life filled primarily with your own interests and needs. It’s not selfish; it’s the best way to guarantee you won’t become bitter as you age.

If you move near a grown child and grandchildren because you think you “should” or because you hope they will take care of you if you grow dependent, you’ll likely end up disappointed.

So start with the environment you prefer. Big city or smaller town? Four seasons or warm weather year-round? Home or condo?

Next: How would you like to spend your day? Volunteering? Pursuing an encore career? Make sure the places you explore offer plenty of volunteer opportunities and/or continuing education.

Factor in your social life. Older people need peer friendships most of all. How will you find those in a new location?

If you have a chronic illness that requires ongoing medical attention, choose a location known for good medical care.

Consider locations within driving – or just a short flight – from your grown children, if you choose not to settle in their cities. In crises, we really need family.

In 1974, author Lynn Caine wrote the best-seller “Widow” in which she described moving to the suburbs from her New York City apartment three months after her husband died. She hoped the couple she and her husband had been closest to would help care for her family. The expectation ruined the friendship.

You are a widow facing these choices in 2012. Our society has changed dramatically for widows in the past 30 years. Enjoy your search.

Catherine Johnston, a health care professional from Olympia, and Rebecca Nappi, a Spokesman-Review features writer, welcome your questions about what to do in times of illness, dying, death and grief. Contact them through their EndNotes blog at blogs/endnotes.