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Cant Break Denial


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My friend Lester, whom I lived with for 10 years then moved in with my now husband next door died in October. I still dont believe it. I cant bring myself to delete his phone number from my cell and cant delete him from my email address book. I just dont believe he is gone!! He went so darn fast. I thought I had time, but I didnt. I didnt get a chance to say goodbye. This may sound sick or what have you, but when people die, I need the funeral to be open casket to help me. He was cremated, there was no casket.

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Dear friend,

I'm so sorry to learn of the death of your dear friend Lester, and I certainly don't think what you've said is "sick." Rather, I think you're simply struggling to cope with the death of your friend, and you're using whatever mechanisms you can find that seem to work for you – and denial is one of those mechanisms. Richard Lazarus, a psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley, has studied the role of coping strategies in handling stress. Denial or avoidance, he says, can be a highly adaptive strategy when the individual is faced with a stressor she cannot change.

You say you still can't bring yourself to delete your friend's contact information from your cell phone or your address book, and you "just don't believe he is gone!" Denial is a problem only to the extent that it interferes with your ability to function, and only if it proves to be harmful to you or to other people. If you're like most people, you will continue to hold onto your denial until you don't need it any more, or until it stops working for you ~ that is, until the reality of your friend's physical absence from your life becomes so strong that you won't be able to deny his death any longer. How long that will take is completely up to you. Think of it this way. Right now, denial is for you not unlike a crutch. If your leg were broken, you would need a crutch to help you get around, at least until your bones healed and your leg grew strong enough for you to walk without it. In fact, the time would come when you would want to get rid of the crutch, because eventually it would become a hindrance to your walking normally, rather than a help ~ and you wouldn't want to become so dependent upon it that you could never walk normally again without it. In other words, the time comes when you feel quite motivated to get rid of that crutch ~ especially if you're also working hard in some sort of physical therapy to get yourself physically stronger in the meantime.

The following is taken from one of my earlier posts, which I think bears repeating here:

When we are faced with a stressor we cannot change, such as the death of a loved one, denial or avoidance can be a highly adaptive strategy. It isn't that you really don't know that your [friend] has died – after all, you wouldn't be here, posting messages on a grief site, if you didn't know that this death has happened. Rather, what's happening now is that this is so big that you simply cannot let yourself believe it, because your mind cannot fully process it yet.

In grief, denial is an important protective mechanism that helps us to manage our feelings and to give us moments away from our pain. It helps us to cope and to hold onto the belief that we will survive. It enables us to pace ourselves, letting in only as much as we can handle, just a little bit at a time. Letting this in all at once would overwhelm us emotionally.

Denial serves a useful function, especially in the beginning. It is your mind's way of protecting you from more pain. Your brain doesn't "get it" because it is loaded with memories of your [friend]. Although your [friend] has died, he continues to exist in your memory and in the memory of others. Denial is a problem only if it is used deliberately over a long period of time to avoid the reality of death or to escape the emotions resulting from a loss. These feelings can manifest as insomnia, fatigue or chronic depression.

What usually happens is that, as denial continues to fade, the reality of this loss begins slowly to sink in, and all the feelings you've been denying eventually will start bubbling to the surface. Gradually you begin to search for understanding, which is indicated in your questioning how this death happened and why.

As you . . . connect with the reality of your [friend's] death in the weeks and months ahead – however gradually – I encourage you to take time to consider the following:

  • Are you pretending that things are all right when they are not? Try to be more honest with yourself and others.
    • Do you keep busy with tasks unrelated to the death of this person? Distractions may keep you occupied but don't help you move toward resolution.
      • Are you facing up to the truth of your pain? What would happen if you opened up the protective shell you've built around yourself?
        • Have you taken a hard look at what is gone and what remains? Try taking stock, counting, reciting and recounting what's been lost.

        [*]Can you face the fact of this death squarely, by naming it, spelling it out and talking it out? Try replacing delicate phrases such as "left" and "gone away" with more truthful terms like "died" and "dead."

        [*]Try some confrontations and experiences to jolt yourself out of your denial. Confront the reminders rather than avoiding them — both pleasurable and painful: people, places and situations. Reread old letters. Smell a favorite cologne. Look at photographs. Go to church. Listen to songs. Gather meaningful sayings and phrases. Visit special places.

        [*]Let others (especially children) see your tears and participate in your sorrow. It shows them how much you care and assures them that it's all right to feel sadness when you lose someone you love.

        Your goal in dealing with denial is to acknowledge the truth of this death and to accept the reality that your [friend] is dead.

        Denial must be dissolved eventually, but there is no specific time frame. Be concerned only if it interferes with your ability to function normally, in which case you may find it very helpful to meet with someone in person for individual grief counseling.

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What Marty has written is oh so true. I would walk around shaking my head for months every time I 'remembered' my husband was gone. I would chant 'it can't be true - how can it be true?'. It was just too awful to contemplate yet I clearly knew it was fact.

My denial really was protection against the incomprehensible. I think I would have imploded if I had been forced to admit to myself that it was true in the early days.

After six months I am still struck by the enormity of my loss and still have those feelings of being in some nightmare fantasy, but rarely, and with much less emotional trauma. I guess I am starting to be able to deal with it.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm sorry for your loss.

When I did volunteer work at the cemetary-the first time I had to scatter cremation ashes-there was no one there.

One day this man came looking where to visit his brothers grave. He did not know the state uses the cheapiest method since no one had claimed the body and cremated his brother.And I sadly had to take him out and show him the rose garden where the ashes are scattered.

Perhaps if you aren't the only one who would like another way of saying goodbye to your friend,perhaps arranging a private ceremony somewhere special would help?

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