Grief and Denial: Head vs Heart

I’ve taken training classes about helping others through grief; I’ve read books and articles on the subject, been a listening ear for friends trudging their way through it.

Kathryn and Grandpa, 2010

I know denial is the first “stage” of grief. I suppose I’ve often pictured it rather dramatically. A heart-wrenching scene, possibly even accompanied by sobbing and/or hysterics. {Too many Lifetime movies, perhaps?}

At the very least, I’ve always thought denial was literally denying the facts. That’s common when someone receives very bad news: the cancer has spread; your spouse is leaving you; the doctor can’t find the baby’s heartbeat…

I watched my dad do this, denying for a long time that he had ALS. Dad convinced himself the doctors were wrong about his diagnosis. This is what “typical” denial looks like.


But for me, it’s not like that.

I know my Dad died. There have been no moments of denying that fact.

My uncle says he’s briefly forgotten, just long enough to pick up the phone with the intention of sending Dad a text to check on him — and then he remembers.

But I haven’t forgotten, not even for a minute; I almost wish I could.

his motorcycle jacket

I’m careful to use past tense verbs when I speak of him. I’ve taken screen-shots of our last text conversations just in case I accidentally delete them because I know I’ll never get another text from Dad. When Ken says he needs to start spraying the peach tree to keep off insects, I know it’s because Dad won’t be reminding us this year. When my car wouldn’t start last week, I knew I couldn’t ask my dad what the problem might be. I know why his motorcycle jacket is here at my house, instead of his own.

thank you to Cindy for this photo

While on a walk in the Tennessee mountains on last weekend’s blogger retreat, I put my toes in the ice cold creek because I knew that would’ve made Dad smile — but even as I did so, I knew I wouldn’t be able to tell him about it.

I know all this, but I only know it in my head. My heart is not yet convinced, and it’s going to take a long time, bit by bit, for my heart to work its way through this.