Denial is an important and normal stage of grief. It is our reaction to severe grief and loss. It serves an important protective function and is your your mind’s way or protecting you from more emotional pain. Understand that it is normal to not fully get that a loved one is gone. Your mind is not yet comprehend a life without that person or pet. Be open to seeing reminders about your loved one. Even if the experience is painful as it will help you through the denial stage of grief.
- It is normal to feel like this is not happening to me.
- I can’t belief it.
- I want to go to sleep and pretend this did not happen.
Denial is the refusal to accept the facts of the loss, either consciously or unconsciously. If dealing with death is personal, there is a refusal to take necessary steps to prepare for death, such as a will. If the grief is for someone else, the denial is prolonged by refusing to deal with the consequences of the death: visiting the grave site, getting rid of personal belongings, or even filing necessary paperwork.
A Purpose in Denying: Time to Adjust
The feelings in this stage of denial often protect and help the individual from feeling too many emotions at one time. This stage gives the person a little time to adjust to the way things are now going to be. The person is likely to “relive” memories and pleasant times experienced with the departed loved one. They will soon begin to focus on the events surrounding the loss, replaying again and again the story. This is one of the best ways to make those events real.
If you are experiencing the grief yourself, the best thing you can do is allow yourself time. Understand that the purpose of denial is to protect yourself and shield the harshness of the loss. As time passes, you will adjust to your circumstances at your own pace.
A Plan to Encourage: Be Present
Are there things that you can do to assist someone in the denial stage? Here are three ideas to encourage the person to implement:
First, make sure that the person has a support network. Because the person is in denial, they may not have the perspective to build this on their own. With a group of friends, make sure that the grieving person is contacted daily. Most people reach out to the person grieving in the beginning, but most need to be contacted after the first month following the loss. With your presence, you will assure your friend that they will not go through grief alone.
Second, listen the stories about the departed loved one that will be told. The stories are actually not denial, but processing.
Finally, as you begin to talk, help the friend determine the things that are important in life. The immediate reaction may be to site the lost loved one. But by mentioning family, children, and others who are dependent, the friend will see a purpose beyond the departed. It is at this point that a spiritual or religious person will begin to look for answers that are in line with their spiritual beliefs.
As a person begins to wrestle with how and why the loss happened, they are beginning to move from the denial stage to the next stage, anger.
- It is normal to not fully get why a pet or loved one is gone
- Your mind is not able to fully comprehend a life without a person
- Be open to seeing reminders of that person
- Be honest with others about your feelings and thoughts
- Cry freely and let others see your tears
- Understand there is no specific time to stop feeling this way
- Denial is normal