Grief and Gratitude: Working with Stroke Survivors

by Carol Howard Wooton, MFT & Gwyn Fallbrooke

After suffering from a stroke herself, a therapist recounts her journey from patient to professional, culminating in her leading  groups for other stroke survivors.

Sections in this Article:

  • Together
  • An Interruption
  • The Group
  • The Beginning
  • “You Don't Get It”
  • Be Curious
  • Finding a Community
  • A Different Kind of Challenge
  • Look for Wholeness
  • A Good Boy and a Bad Girl
  • Warrior Heart


May we sit with wisdom and compassion
at the ancient fires
of dashed hopes
and lost dreams.
May the pain which brings us together
become the cave we enter
in reverent descent
and surrender
to what
May we have the courage
to bear this rebirth

—Carol Howard Wooton
From Wounded Healers, edited by Rachel Naomi Remen, MD

An Interruption

In 2005, our circle of six met in a poorly lit room of a community hospital. This afternoon, Tom had the floor. A former surgeon, he had been looking forward to cutting back his practice to spend time with his grandkids.

Tom had lived his life in constant motion. He had been a football star in high school and college before going to medical school. Now, at 67, he was paralyzed on his left side: his left forearm contracted in spasm, his once-dominant left hand clenched into a permanent fist in front of his belly, his left leg rigid below his knee. His chiseled face still handsome, he sat straight in his wheelchair, strong muscles supporting his torso—a powerful presence. But his eyes always gazed down; he barely looked at anyone.

“I used to be able to ski, drive, do everything around the house,” he said. “I loved my work. This summer, I planned to take the grandkids to the ocean, show them how to dive into the surf. What can I show them now? Nothing.” The other group members listened quietly to his grim litany; all of us recognized his truth.

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