Thursday, July 17, 2008

Denial Isn't Always Good

A recent “Dear Abby” column dealt with the issue of whether a father should force his teenage son to attend his mother’s funeral. The teen said he would rather remember his mother the way she was, and the father was unsure about pressing the issue. A responder said he had been forced at age 19 to attend his mother’s funeral and that the experience “did not bring closure, but additional trauma.”

I’ve mulled this over for almost two weeks, trying to find a response that might make sense and not be judgmental or disrespectful to the young men. My first reaction was total amazement that they would not want to attend their mothers’ funerals. Yes, it’s painful. Lots of emotions all over the place, but gosh, the women gave them life. That’s got to mean something.

Over time, another realization has hit. Not going to the funeral gives a person a way to avoid some of the tougher parts of the grieving process. It’s part of denial. And while denial can sometimes be a perfectly acceptable mechanism to cope with trauma, I don’t think it is the right call here.

The impulse not to go to a funeral to avoid the trauma is akin to saying, “The only feeling I had when my mother died after a long, painful illness, was relief. I couldn’t be sad because I knew she is in a better place.”

Pardon my bluntness, but that is hogwash. Sure, the dominating feeling might be relief and a bit of happiness that she is no longer suffering, but that has to be tinged with sadness. This person is gone, leaving a huge hole in our lives and it is only natural that we are sad about that. To say otherwise is denial, and if we don’t deal with those feelings they will find a way to eat away at us physically and emotionally.


LuAnn said...

I agree, Maryann.
In fact, when my grandmother died, I was unable to attend her funeral because I was living 2,500 miles away. This woman was so absolutely dear to me. Yes, I used the same excuses ... "Now, I can remember her as she was," etc., etc.
Months later, I was asking my husband who was going to take grandma to the cemetery to visit grandpa's grave for Memorial Day. He looked at me funny and that's when it dawned on me that grandma was actually gone.
Without attending that funeral, I didn't really have closure. I had to grieve all over again.
As for teenagers, we all know they are very selfish and self-centered. They will balk at anything they don't want to do and we often don't understand their reasoning.
Should we force a teen to attend a funeral?
Definitely! It's called "tough love." They may not understand it at the time, but they will say a big "thank you" sometime in the future.

Maryann Miller said...

Thanks for your comment, Luann. When my grandmother died it was shortly after we had just made a trip to see here - about 1,000 miles - and I had begged for that trip so I could see her once more before she died. I tried to tell myself that that was better than going to her funeral and I would be satisfied to say goodbye to her that way.


I had to go to her funeral to join everyone else in the formal farewell.