What Day Is It? A Family’s Journey Through Traumatic Brain Injury
by Rebekah E. Vandergriff, LMSW
Bear’s Nest Press, 2008
Full disclosure: the author is a close friend of mine, and I make a few cameo appearances in this book.
In 1989, Becky Dyer–model, cocktail waitress and party girl–was in a car accident that left her comatose. This book, part memoir and part advocacy, is the tale of her slow, painful rebirth as Rebekah Vandergriff–college graduate, wife, mother and social worker.
Let’s get the book’s shortcomings out of the way first; they are few. A handful of typos and grammatical errors made it through the proofreading process. A couple of brief passages aren’t entirely clear. Vandergriff sometimes switches from the personal to the clinical too abruptly. These are minor flaws in an important work.
Someone has said that what we want from a book, any book, is to know the author. Vandergriff has been my friend for years, but after reading this memoir, I know her better and appreciate her more. What Day Is It? displays her courage, not only in the way she meets her challenges, but in her fearless honesty. Vandergriff is a serious person, but not a somber one, and this also is reflected in her writing. Her journey is excruciating, but she is helped along the way–and so are her readers–by a sense of humor, even if it sometimes verges on the cynical. (“The general public does not have the patience–if money is not being exchanged–to wait for a stranger moving in slow motion…”)
Vandergriff’s story is inspiring, but if it were only that, it would be one uplifting tale of many. She has intelligence, courage and drive, and she should be proud of her accomplishments. She also had advantages not available to everyone who suffers Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). She had insurance. She had a supportive network of family and friends. She had a mother who was wise, strong, and determined to help her daughter become independent. What matters in this book is not so much her victories (though they are important), but her insights. She’s experienced TBI from the inside, and she articulates for us the pains, the challenges, and, yes, the joys, in a way clinical descriptions can never do. She also discusses rehabilitation and coping in practical terms, including topics that are often neglected, such as TBI and sexuality. (No, a brain injury does not usually make one asexual, however much caregivers might want to believe otherwise.)
Anyone close to somebody with TBI, or who works with TBI patients, should read this book. It will give them not only hope, but understanding and practical wisdom.