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Are You Listening?

Two service members together talking
U.S. Army photo by Kim Wheeler, Fort Jackson Leader

As a caregiver for a husband with traumatic brain injury (TBI), Rosemary Rawlins shares insights garnered from her own experiences along with insights from other caregivers and family members in her blog, “Learning by Accident,” on BrainLine. In this blog post, Rosemary reminds us that sometimes the most helpful thing we can do for our loved ones is to just listen to them.

Here’s one simple way that caregivers can help their family members with TBI: just listen.

Listening is an act of love, and it’s critical for caregivers. In the day-to-day rush, it’s easy to half-listen or not offer your full attention. But listening well allows you to better understand your loved one’s feelings, challenges and needs, which will help you handle problems and know when to offer encouragement. It’s a skill I always work on because I get distracted easily, and it’s difficult to listen well.

The people I love and admire most are great listeners. They give me time to speak, maintain eye contact (unless they’re on the phone, then they offer positive verbal cues), and respond appropriately to my concerns and ideas.

Did you ever call someone up to say, “Hi,” and find yourself listening to your friend for twenty minutes without a chance to get a word in? According to “The Devil’s Dictionary,” a bore is “a person who talks when you wish him to listen.” Enough said!

A person my daughter deeply admires once told her, “I never want to be the person who doesn’t hear you.” Feeling heard and understood is a deep human need. It’s the basis for our connection to one another. Thankfully, listening is a skill that can be improved with practice. Strive to:

  • Stay present
  • Listen with your ears, eyes and heart. Body language and facial expressions say a lot. Sometimes silence says more than any words can convey
  • Minimize interruptions
  • Don’t always try to fix or solve, just receive and accept the message openly, without judgment

Last year, I read about a woman in a New York Times article who was in hospice care. She called her alma mater — a nursing school — to see if any students there wanted to learn about cancer or hospice by using her as a case study. The school thought it was a great way to give students hands-on experience with a patient. The article goes on to say:

At Ms. Keane’s urging, the students eventually stopped asking questions and practiced what she called “therapeutic communication” instead. “The way we’ve learned in school, and haven’t applied enough, is just saying, ‘I’m glad to be with you; you must be frustrated; you look uncomfortable,” Ms. Keane said. “And let the patient just talk and talk and talk, and see where they’re at.”

There’s great value in good company. Listening to words and observing gestures, facial expressions, and even silences from our loved ones may help us fill in the blanks, and provide information we may need to find the right treatments at the right times. And sometimes, the only treatment that’s needed is to feel heard and understood.

View Rosemary’s original blog post at brainline.org.

For questions on TBI or to be directed to resources in your area, contact the DCoE Outreach Center at 866-966-1020 or resources@dcoeoutreach.org.


Comments (2)

  • William D'Emilio, Jr. 18 Feb

    as i learned during my brief but comprehensive military transformation...there is no "easy way" to do a difficult task !! when failure is not an option and all roads do not lead to Rome...then focused adaptation is necessitated to prevail in detail whereupon silent solutions speak volumes...Rosemary exemplifies the "can do" spirit her husband represents (lucky for him)...even if the "Army of One" slogan is no longer defacto recruiting bait..it is refreshing to see what an Army of Two" can do    =)
  • DCoE Public Affairs 19 Feb

    @William, We appreciate your comment and absolutely agree.


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