grief week: it starts with denial

kathyescobar faith shifts, healing, spiritual formation 17 Comments

denial chalkboard

well, exactly a year ago i said i was going to do a one week series called “grief week”, centered on the 5 stages of grief that can be part of church and life losses alike. then a friend from the refuge died suddenly in a tragic accident and i decided to start my summer blog-break early.  it’s been quite a year since then. the refuge moved into our new home (it’s been amazing, exactly what we had hoped and are in the process of raising our year 2 rent right now, fun fun, i’m a terrible fundraiser), i finished the manuscript for faith shift: finding your way forward when everything you believe comes apart, and graduated a son from college and another from high school. with my big kids already gone and another leaving for college next week, jose and i will be down to 2 kids in the house, for the first time in over 18 years. it’s really freaky!

the weeping has started for us, the reality that we will now have launched 3 of our children with only two more to go, and the hole my #3 is going to leave around here is a big one (he’s just so fun). we are starting to grieve. plus, i am ready for my annual summer blog break, a time when i just don’t think in blog and spend a lot less time online (i’ll be off all of july and august, there’s plenty to read around here already and always good to take a breath).

all that to say–i thought this would be a perfect week to finish up what i never really started.

so every day this week we’ll be walking through a different stage of grief, using elizabeth kubler-ross’s 5 stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance).

just a little summer fun, eh?

honestly, though, grief is the weirdest thing and most of us are always grieving something.

loss through death, loss of relationships we may or may not have wanted to end, loss of dreams, loss of our health or the health of someone close to us, loss of church or a once-certain faith, loss of jobs or security. 

it’s good to respect grief as a natural part of life.

to own its realities.

to feel what needs to be felt.

to keep moving through our losses and finding hope and relief and new life in different ways.

many of us have been told a message from our churches, our families, or own-internal-i-shouldn’t-feel-this-way-messages that grief is not okay–that we should be stronger, better, happier, more grateful and not focus on the negative.

but the truth is that avoiding grief only makes it worse.

and pretending we don’t hurt when we do only increases the likelihood of more pain later.

i will never be able to cover all of the bases on grief, but what i’ll try to share is some of what we have used during our walking wounded weekend experience, our walking wounded class, and at a grief night we hosted at the refuge as well as a night-for-those-caught-in-the-middle-of-a-horrible-church-breakdown.

so here goes, the first step of grief and one a lot of us are pretty good at–denial.

there are a lot of forms of denial–minimizing, justifying, rationalizing, rejecting, ignoring, pretending. 

but when it comes down to it, denial often helps us initially cope with the reality of whatever loss we are experiencing. it can be a healthy protection mechanism at first. i always say “denial has its place, and then it usually outlasts its usefulness.”

denial can be a way to cope with our traumas initially. but often we can keep thinking we are “okay” when we’re really  not.  it makes me think of this silly monty python clip that we showed at our walking wounded gathering a few years ago:

this is so me! i am a master at pushing through losses and struggles, getting back up and minimizing the reality of my experience because i need to “press on and keep on trucking.”  i can’t tell you the number of times i’ve exclaimed “it’s just a flesh wound” when so much more was going on underneath.

the result of remaining in denial: we will never get to the other side of our pain. 

a good way to begin to address our denial is to consider ways we might be minimizing, justifying, rationalizing, rejecting, ignoring, or pretending we don’t hurt when we really do.

here’s a few prompts we used at a denial station.  ours was centered on church loss but i added a few other options here.

take a few minutes and reflect on ways you used denial to cope with whatever your loss is (a person, church, faith, relationship, dream, job, health).  

how did you (or are you) minimize the pain, stuff the pain, find ways to cope?

some possibilities to get you going might include:

    • “itʼs not that bad”
    • “i should get over it”
    • “i drank a lot”
    • “i told everyone i was okay when i wasn’t”
    • “i worked harder”

we had a chalkboard to write on in real life, but since we’re not all together, maybe we can share in the comments. what are yours? 

please, be kind to yourself. denial is a way of coping with the reality of the pain.

tomorrow we’ll look at the next stage, anger. 

i’ll end with this reminder, from elizabeth kubler-ross: “the most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. these persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. beautiful people do not just happen.” 

i know so many of you have been or are in the midst of some really weird & hard & painful losses.

you are all really beautiful.