Tuesday, February 1, 2011

In Denial

Recently I have come to realize that I am in a bit of denial when it comes to how my children are dealing with their grief. Most of the time they don't say much about how they are feeling, but then I have to remember, they are pretty much all teenagers. They aren't supposed to know what they are feeling anyway.

This past weekend I had some good friends over for the weekend. We spent a good amount of time reminiscing, and also sharing where we find ourselves in our lives. My 19 year old daughter was with us for most of this. At one point the conversation turned to a discussion about the various ways people can feel about their spouse. Some people consider themselves kindred spirits with their spouses, other's say they are good friends. Sometimes spouses will say they have grown apart, some have found deeper love with time. Some have shared honestly about compromises made to make a marriage work, and others share that they loved their spouse whole heartily.

During one of these type of discussions, I could see that my daughter was getting quite teary eyed. She then turned to me and asked how I loved Michael, and how did we relate to each other in private. I assured her that I loved the hell out of Michael. I also let her know that while we were mostly in sync with each other, we both really appreciated, and enjoyed, our differences. Those differences often became something endearing to each other. With these words, my daughter's face relaxed, and a peacefulness found a home in her eyes.

Yesterday afternoon I was driving my 12 year old home from school. I could see that he was in a deep, and thoughtful, place. I asked what was on his mind. He said that his class had watched a movie about bullying, whose main story line was about a gay teen. This story really cut him deep, and made him feel sad and emotional. He then said that sometimes he feels like life is not always worth living. Of course I have felt this way at times as well, but got very concerned hearing this from my son. When I questioned him further, he said that he feels that he has gone through so much more than other kids his age. He has lost Michael, his step-father, lost his birth mother, and has experienced the emotional, and physical, challenges that have plagued our family. Before I could respond to this he then said that at the same time, he feels very good about our move to San Diego. He loves that he has developed some really good friendships in our own neighborhood, and that I have given him some increased freedom, which makes him feel like I have recognized that he is almost a teenager.

Each of these recent situations have really caused me to look beyond my own personal grief, and get in better touch with the grief that my kids continue to struggle with. I have sometimes wondered if they were feeling the loss of Michael as strongly as I have, as their relationship to him was different than mine, and that the must have at some point pulled back a little from him as a way to self protect when he did die.

I love each of my kids, and try to always be mindful of the fact that loss has always been with them. Even at a young non-verbal age, they began experiencing loss, especially when they were removed from their birth mother. It's hard enough when you are an adult, and have words, and some wisdom, to attach to your experiences. It's another matter when your mind has not yet fully developed, and you are trying to make sense of something that will never truly make sense.

Now just as quickly, and unexpectedly, as my kids' recent sharing of their sorrow arrived, they have moved on to their other daily activities. They seem better able to just shift here, and shift there. For me, I need to not allow myself to get too far into my own denial of their grief. I need to remember that even though they are running around with their friends, laughing, and making plans, they too carry a considerable amount of grief with them everyday.


  1. so very true. my own children miss our Dragon very much even though they have both gone on to seem more joyful and are more actively involved with their day-to-day lives than i am. you are very insightful and simply said, a wonderful father. your children are blessed to have you. i wish you peace.

  2. Children, teens and even young adults live so much in the now. It's a developmental thing and it's good that we "out grow" it in terms of being able to plan and recognize consequence of action in long term, but it also has the effect of bogging us down as we get older. We don't "bounce" like we did when we were young. But it's not impossible to apply the lesson to our lives - that allowing ourselves to be caught up in the now is not a bad thing. It's not denial. Children are too honest for that and we can learn from that too. But adults are, imo, sometimes too quick to label a healthy, necessary thing - like being more interested in now/living - as denial b/c we have somehow picked up the idea that feelings need the constant care of newborn infants when in fact they are more like a vegetable garden or flower bed.

    My daughter and step-daughters have never mourned evenly. It comes up. It's acknowledged. It's let go. Mostly because life demands that of the young if they are to move and grow. Again, great lesson.

    As parents, we listen, offering that moment to rest and reflect before they pick up and go again.

  3. I can feel so jealous of my step-son - with his typical coping skills of denial and fantasy land, with his ability to play and do other things, that he has managed to disappear from our home (moved out of state) and I don't know - do his life. I also know my kid. He worshipped his father. The times I have spent with him, I can feel his pain sometimes, and his insight floors me, and makes me so thankful he is still his father's son in there. And, understanding the developmental stages of adolescence, how they couple with his own natural tendencies, how he has seen others cope with life - for good or for not. All I can do, for him and for myself, is continue to be the person I was, continue to be with him the way his dad and I were. Who knows what is going on in that young little being....

  4. One thing most of my wid friends have in common is how little their children show of the pain we know they must have daily from their loss. Partly I'm glad that my child seems to be doing better than me, 'cause if she was in as much pain as I am, have been, continue to be, I couldn't stand it. And would be deeply worried about her, more than I am, I mean. But partly I worry that she can't get away with not feeling it forever and want her to show it more. And it's not like she never shows grief, she does. Just not as much? as deeply? or the ways I do.

    I'll jump in here with my favorite thought ever about our relationship with our children. Please forgive me if I've shared it before. It changed my life the first time I read it. From Expecting Adam, a memoir by Martha Beck about her son with Down's Syndrome.

    "The hardest lesson I have ever had to learn is that I will never know the meaning of my children's pain, and that I have neither the capacity nor the right to take it away from them."