I was recently working with a family on life issues and stumbled across something of interest, at least to me anyway. Often times we judge people unwilling to change as being in denial and though it looks that way I think there is something else going on underneath denial – discomfort.
Even though an outsider may judge an individual, family, or group as being in denial – “Well can’t they see what I see?” “Can’t they see how dysfunctional they are?” Can’t he see there is a better way?” there is something deeper going on. Comfort.
In physics there is a law – a body in motion tends to stay in motion, a body at rest tends to stay at rest. This applies to people too. A life in motion in a particular way tends to sat in motion that way – inertia. The individual or family tends to feel at home or at rest there. This tendency in human terms can be called comfort or comfortable.
Whether judged good or bad, functional or non-functional, right or wrong, there is a high degree of comfort, inertia, or stasis in the way an individual or family lives. We humans tend to resist discomfort at all cost and instead flee for the comfortable couch of the known. We resist the unknown for the comfort and certainty of the known. “The shit you know is better than the shit you don’t know.”
If this comfort – discomfort dynamic is true in life it must also be true in death, let’s have a look and see.
Around dying and death is draped a suit of denial that shows up in many styles and colors; overt optimism, bargaining, possibility, stiff upper lip, it’s in God’s hands, their going to a better place and denial itself, it can’t be so. Another way of saying all this is – “I want my normal back.” or more accurately put, “I want my known back.” “I want to feel comfortable again.”
It is the paralyzing discomfort of the unknown that masquerades as denial. Instead of working with folks on their denial perhaps it would be more helpful to work with them on their discomfort of their unknown.
How that might look –
We could help others make the unknown known where possible, especially for the survivors of the death. And yes, there is the reality of the unknown for sure, even thought we may have faith in our own after life beliefs there is the rawness of really not knowing for sure. This being said though there is a lot of work we can do to help others learn about what they don’t know about dying and about the survivors’ life after the death of a loved one.
We could educate people on the dying process itself, how it could look and what sorts of things can go on mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually as a person is actively dying.
We could help people imagine how there life could be without their loved one alive.
We could help people learn about all the details of taking care of an estate after a loved one dies.
We could help them imagine and prepare for the funeral or celebration of life.
We could help individuals imagine how they could remember their loved one at special times and places.
We could help families imagine how they could move on with life while still missing their loved one.
In other words we could help them paint pictures of their future in order that they can begin the process of making the unknown familiar initially perhaps not comfortable but at least known.
Instead of working on denial let’s help folks move from discomfort to comfort.
Warmly and with gratitude