Moving Through Grief - Denial Ain't Just A River
This week I want to focus on grief and its effects on us in the Daily Devo. Each day we're going to address one of the "Five Stages of Grief" established years ago by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her work on grief and how we process it.
Today we're going to talk about the first stage: Denial.
"Denial ain't just a river in Egypt."
Most of us have heard that line before, but most of us probably don't know that it's been part of our cultural lexicon for a long time. It's believed that author, humorist, and essayist Mark Twain was the first to coin that phrase, which dates back to the late 19th century.
It's one of those things that we say or think when we are passing judgment on another. I've typically used that phrase when commenting on someone else's inability to see the obvious about themselves or the world around them.
But I almost always never think it applies to me. None of us do.
After a significant loss in our lives, we often go into maintenance mode, focusing on doing the things that need doing rather than allowing ourselves to feel. It's easy to slip into not-feeling at this point, acting as though everything is all right.
Whether we lose a loved one, our career ends, a relationship falls apart, or we have a crisis of faith, most of us settle into denial before anything else.
And it's difficult for us to see it in ourselves, as Melody Beattie points out:
Denial can be confusing because it resembles sleeping. We're not really aware we're doing it until we're done doing it.
Denial serves to shield us from the reality of our grief most often when we probably need to be feeling it the most.
Grief is not our enemy. It's a feeling that should be felt because it reflects the feelings of loss that we've experienced---feelings that are not only normal, they're necessary.
The other day, I saw a photo of my mom taken in the last few weeks of her life. I was shocked by her appearance in that photo. I had to confront my own level of denial during that time as I'd refused to believe that my mom was dying.
I also realized that if I'd allowed myself to feel the grief below the surface of my denial, it would have changed the way I acted, the things I said, the time I could have spent comforting her, and speaking honestly about what was happening.
I must say that while I wish I'd done things differently, I also give my past self a lot of grace, and I won't live in regret. But this is a life lesson for all of us that we should not ignore.
Our efforts to avoid pain at all costs don't do us any favors when we go through seasons of loss. We need to feel the pain. It's the most human thing we can do in those moments, and pain can help us through our loss, not the avoidance of it.
So if you are dealing with loss right now and sense that you might be spending a lot of energy trying not to feel the pain of that loss, perhaps it's time you let yourself feel what is beneath the surface.
And know that you are not alone as you feel your pain. There are people in your life who are undoubtedly aware of what you might be feeling and long to help you through it.
You are also not alone because the God who intimately knows what it's like to feel as you feel is with you in your grief. This God will never leave or forsake you in your pain. This God is also the God who restores, renews, and resurrects.
May this bring you hope and peace. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always. Amen.