Spirituality : Facing the Truth and Denial
Posted by Chapster on Oct-23-2003 (2289 reads)

Each month ElderHope contributes two segments to the Community Focus broadcasts on KEOM 88.5FM. This month Mike's was about facing the truth of our own or a loved one's illness.

Facing the Truth & Denial
KEOM & ElderHope
Taped in the KEOM studios on October 22, 2003

Q:So, Mike, what are we talking about today?

A: Well, in a word, denial. Recently, I heard it said that the worst thing we do to ourselves or to our children is to fail to teach them to deal with reality. That comment has stayed in my mind because I think there’s some very real truth to it. As both a minister and a health care worker, one of the saddest things I see are the effects of denial, the unwillingness to face reality. A simple example of this is a circumstance that ministers see frequently. We have a parishioner who is dying but family is refusing to come to terms with it. They know mom wants, for instance, the rite called the Sacrament of the Sick, but don’t want to have the priest come out because they think it will scare mom. And, sadly, the priest is not called until the parishioner is just moments away from dying. And, despite the best efforts of our religious leaders, they just can’t get there in time, if at all. The problem here is one that we all struggle with: facing the harsh realities of life with courage.

Q: Isn’t denial helpful sometimes?

A: Absolutely. It is a deeply ingrained aspect of humanity that almost functions like a protective layer. It serves to protect us from facing difficult knowledge or emotions until we can more safely absorb them. Additionally, it is based in a deep belief in hope that we share as human beings. When we face moments of crisis, we deeply need hope, and we often need time to digest and process what we are experiencing. So, in the example I gave a moment ago, a family, not wanting to face the fact that mom is terminal, and indeed actively dying, avoids facing that knowledge. Part of it is the hope that she “pulls out of it.” Part of it is because of the pain of facing our anticipatory grief over the loss of mom. Occasionally, it is to protect ourselves from the guilt of a ruptured or wounded relationship with the person. In any case, it reflects an inability or unwillingness, at that time, to directly embrace the knowledge and emotions of what is occurring. And, that can often be just what the doctor ordered.

Q: What are the dangers of denial?

A: Even though denial serves a vital and protective role for us as humans, it also has substantial risks. Fundamentally, when we are in denial, we are turning off some of the senses that protect us, that routinely guide us through life. Part of us knows what’s going on, but we turn down the sensors. While this can be good for a while, like it or not, life is lived in time, in hours, and minutes and days. When we are in denial, we are using valuable time that might be directed toward resolving or addressing the crisis at hand. This is a difficult balance, between the need for space to cope, which is what denial is, the need to manage the crisis. I think Kenny Rogers hinted at when he sang the words: “You’ve got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, and know when to run.” No one can sit beside us with a watch and tell us when we should be done with our avoidance. Only we, acting out of a sense of maturity, can know when to move out of the numbness of denial and move on. The big danger of denial is that we will lose an opportunity to deal with the crisis that, once passed, may be gone forever.

Q: So, while denial can be helpful, we should remind ourselves that we need to balance our denial with actively managing the situation?

A: Exactly. We often need our space, to reflect on options, and indeed, just to come to terms with difficult news. But, we might be wise to remind ourselves that Father Time, waits for no one.

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