Friday, February 28, 2014

Denial is Not Just a River in Egypt

Deniala psychological defense mechanism in which confrontation with a personal problem or with reality is avoided by denying the existence of the problem or reality (

When Brandon was young, it concerned me that he’d use denial to cope with his learning disabilities. It was as if by “forgetting” an assignment or not facing some problem at school, it would all disappear. How could he not see that this tactic never worked and repetition did not improve the odds of it doing so?

Eventually, he got past most of this behavior. He graduated from college and became the kind of person who stuck with the job. He stuck with his job through surgery. He stuck with his job through chemo, and he stuck with his job through radiation. (Sometimes he stuck with his job receiving one or the other, and sometimes he stuck with his job while receiving both at once.) He stuck with his job through side effects that he made light of, but these side effects interfered with sleeping, eating, breathing, exercising, ad nauseam (literally).

Still, I don’t think he ever completely stopped visiting Denial. In fact, I think he took his old defense mechanism and really made it work for him during his illness. It allowed him to remain hopeful. It allowed him to continue saying, “Get ‘er done” when new "spots" were found and new treatments recommended. Denial let him joke and laugh through treatments and side effects that would bring most of us to our knees. It allowed him to take joy in his baby daughter, his wife and his life until the day he had to leave us all.

I never thought of myself as someone who dabbled in Denial. I’ve always considered myself as quite pragmatic. (Sure, I can be a bit oblivious, but that’s different than denial!) And then Brandon found out he had cancer. Initially, I didn’t realize I was escaping to Denial, but eventually I recognized it as the ultimate vacation getaway spot. I never stayed long; I couldn't. (Sometimes I wanted to stay forever.) Still, I usually returned feeling fairly refreshed. I could visit Denial and be ready to jump back into reality. At least I could do so until May 2012 when Brandon’s condition began taking a huge nosedive.

Since Brandon’s death, I continue to visit Denial on a frequent basis. Sometimes I’m there for only a few hours; other times I stay a couple of days, although that’s an unusually long vacation. Without those hours spent in the lovely land of Denial, I don’t know how I’d make it.

I didn’t seek these frequent but brief trips. My mind just seems to travel there of its own accord. Because when I really stop and let it in, when I return from Denial and must “feel the real,” I honestly can’t bear it. I still cannot truly comprehend or bear that Brandon is truly gone from this life for the duration of mine. And then the tears come – still. Twenty-one months after his death. Not simply a watering of the eyes that I can blink to a halt. No, before I’m even aware, huge blobs of salty liquid are rolling down my cheeks to splash wherever.
From: A Bed For My Heart
My trips to Denial usually let me get through the day so that I may cry in private at night. That’s the way I prefer it. That’s the way that allows me to keep moving forward. That's me. For now. For always? I'll go where it takes me.

So if you’re considering a brief vacation in the land of Denial, go for it. It is a beautiful land. Enjoy your time there. Just don’t stay too long… 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Sword Will Pierce

…and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted – and you yourself a sword will pierce – so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”                                                        Luke 2: 34-35

Pieta - Assisi, Italy
Pieta - Salzburg, Austria
When I went to Mass this morning, I was reminded that it was the feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. The full Gospel reading has more depth, but I automatically focused on verse 35. I focused on it because as Brandon grew sicker and after his death, I literally felt - and still feel - at times as if a sword had pierced my heart.

Many think that “heartbreak” or “broken heart” is a metaphor for the emotional pain one feels when a person one loves leaves or dies. But it is NOT a metaphor. It is quite physical. The weight one feels on the chest is real. The heart palpitations and chest pain are real. The shortness of breath and feelings of sheer terror are quite real. (And yes, I’ve had these “symptoms” checked out.)

There is a hole in my heart from the wound of a metaphorical sword, but metaphorical swords have physical consequences.