As is my habit, I was listening to Charles Stanley at 5:30 this morning and he had some earth-shattering news for me.
The premise of his message was how you sometimes can’t know a real personal relationship with God because of baggage in your past that you have spent years denying. He spoke of how children from abused or neglectful homes will build coping skills to survive hurtful things in their lives and those coping skills though useful to help them “survive” their immediate trauma do not always serve them well later in life. He said that one of those coping mechanisms is denial; the ability to cover up, smooth over and stuff down the things that you feel so hurtful that you cannot face the pain. So you just go about “pretending” it didn’t happen; thinking if you can just avoid it long enough that you will just eventually get over it. “Pretending”? Wait, did he just say pretending?
I thought I understood the word “denial” and it never would have occurred to me that my "pretending” was in any way related to “denial”. I was not in denial. After all how on earth could you deny this kind of loss? You can’t. It is in your face twenty-four/seven. I face it. I face it hundreds of times a week. They are all gone. There is no denying that even if I wanted to – I couldn’t.
Apparently though, I can sit in denial of certain aspects of this horror by avoiding all of the pain involved in participating in --let’s say, the Holidays...
Like sitting at the Thanksgiving table with three empty chairs – three! And the traditional pumpkin pie that no one in my family ever really liked… but Brian, or the fact that our last family Thanksgiving Dinner was hosted by Kara at their house; the house that was sold on the courthouse steps; the house they completely remodeled themselves; the house they brought Paxton home from the hospital to; the house they lived in and loved and died in.
And then there is Christmas. My lame attempt to avoid dealing with what all of the pain of Christmas without all of my children will feel like, Christmas presents with no baby and all of the memories of all the Christmases past or having to make a decision about a Christmas stocking that has been hanging in our home at Christmas for the past forty years that will now either be orphaned standing alone untouched on Christmas morning or left abandoned in the attic from here on out. And all of the Christmas ornaments that have graced our family tree for the past thirty years or so will now be like a dagger to my heart with every memory they provoke.
And like my running away for Mother’s Day – the day set aside for mothers; a day when you always remember the birth of each and every one of the children that made you a mother. Also the day that excavates memories of little hand-prints, homemade cards with stick pictures of me and lop-sided handmade ashtrays. Mother’s Day a day to remind me how totally unnatural it is that I am living and my child and grandchild are not.
And Birthdays – more days that I have avoided by pretending they were just another day. Because of memories of favorite cartoon characters on a cake from birthdays past, of a favorite Teddy Bear named Fred that became a member of our family for several years or memories of milestone days; those that have been and those that will never be; reminders that they are all forever stuck in time in the “terrible two’s”; twenty-nine and holding and fabulous forty - plus one.
And birthdays that are way overshadowed by another day now – a death day; the terrible anniversary of the worst day in my life.
I have been using my avoidance as a coping skill never realizing it was anywhere akin to denial and I too, have been of the opinion that if I could do this long enough at some point I would be healed enough that I could live and have some semblance of normalcy – maybe- someday.
His message to me this morning that came through loud and clear was that it does not work. You only heal by acknowledging and working through – dealing with the hard and hurtful stuff. Learning to live with it; learning how to live in spite of it.
What he didn’t tell me was: How?