Denial is the first stage of this process. Denial serves several functions. We may have too many losses at one time to deal with all at the same time. When faced with trials, loss, or suffering we often try to deny them. We often refuse to think about the trial or loss. We may even deny death. Some parents, such as Jill, refuse to clean the room of a child after the child's death. Jill's son was killed in a car wreck just a few days after graduating from high school. She keeps all of his things intact in his room. His favorite pair of tennis shoes, which he wore when he died, sit on top of the dresser as though he will be home anytime. It has been many years now.



Her only accptance is when she touches the shoes, she cries. In denial we may stay busy working or playing and act as though nothing has happened. A study was done at St. Jude Hospital in Memphis of the families of children who had died of leukemia one year previous. Half of the parents continued to blame themselves and the other half were blaming someone else for the child's death. The best sign of progress in recovery was if the family had cleaned the clothes, toys, personal items from the child's room.

Example of Denial


Denial is often used as a method of coping with the troubles within a family. Many "know" their spouses are cheating but are unwilling to face the reality. George knew that something was wrong with his marriage. He overlooked all of the signs. His wife was working overtime, taking night classes, visiting a sick aunt late at night, never at home, always at a function of some kind. Because of the children, he also ignored it when she wanted to "be her own person" and open a checking account in her own name. Two months later she left George and their sons for a man she had been seeing for over a year. It was hard to accept after he had trusted her during 19 years of marriage. George will continue to suffer.


When we have recognized our denial in our dealing with loss we could go directly to accpetance but that is neither ususal nor easy. Facing reality is never easy. When we do not have whatever we want or need we often deny there is a problem. We may predict that our job is to be eliminated by changes in technology. We may see signs of an illness. We may see the aging process in our bodies yet deny it. Courage is needed to face reality. Ordinary people can face reality. When "Anna" answered a knock at her front door one afternoon, there stood a state trooper. He said he had bad news, that her husband was dead. Anna quickly said, "I'm sorry but you are mistaken". Reluctantly, the state trooper showed her the drivers license of her dead husband and asked if she knew him. She wept, having to accpet what she did not want.

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