Grief: Denying Denial

I never really had a choice about feeling my grief. It wasn’t so much that I embraced it, but that it embraced me. It took hold of my life and didn’t let go, though it is easing enough so that I am able to see the process for what it is.

People talk about denial as if it’s a bad thing. If I’d been able to deny grief and just go on living as if my mate of thirty-four years hadn’t died, I’d probably have done so. Grief is debilitating, disorienting, causes innumerable physical and emotional reactions, makes one susceptible to cancer, accidents, and other closer-to-death encounters and on top of that, it’s just downright painful.

So why deny denial? Because in the end, it’s better to embrace grief, to learn to live with the pain (which does diminish, though according to comments left on this blog from others who have also lost their mates, it never goes away completely. It can resurface even years later). By embracing grief, by learning how to cope with it, you can learn how to feel deeply again, look forward to the future, and embrace life. This in no way negates your loss, but allows you to honor his death with your life.

Another reason to deny denial is that grief will affect you whether you embrace it or not, but the effects of denied grief are not overt ones such as crying, eating too much or too little, sleeping too much or too little, feeling as if you’ve been kicked in the gut, feeling as if half your heart is missing. Instead, grief that goes underground can create in you long-term problems, including the symptoms of post-traumatic-stress disorder. Two friends — both of whom lost their husbands a few month ago, both of whom are deluged with family and family obligations that give them no time to grieve  — were diagnosed with PTSD after days of internal quivering that only responded to drugs. They do not have time to spare for grief, but grief is not sparing them.

Grief is stressful, which is why crying, screaming, beating up on defenseless sofas are necessary — they help relieve that pent-up stress. You can go into denial and hold grief in, but it’s like holding in your stomach for years on end — you can never think of anything else but your stomach. If you hold yourself tightly against memories, dreams, unexpected encounters with photos, you have no time for living. Perhaps you don’t see a purpose for living now, but if you do your grief work (and grief is work, there’s no doubt about that) chances are you will regain your desire to live. You might even be able to love fully again, and that means risking more pain, but after dealing with your grief, you will be strong enough to accept the risk.

At least, that’s the way I’ve interpreted the grief process. You might see different reasons for either denying grief or denying denial.