Man, do I hate that word. It suits losing a girlfriend. It feels wildly inappropriate for losing a spouse, and losing the world and the life you knew. How do you get closure on that?
And should you?
But that is a topic for another day. let's talk about grieving.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist, identified five stages of the grieving process, and everyone probably knows them...they're called the DABDA model...
While not everyone goes through all of the stages (and some psychologists have developed other, analogous models that they claim work better) it's likely that you'll experience some of them...and so will your dying mate, though in a different way.
Today let's talk about denial.
As in Cleopatra, get it? Queen of de Nile?
Anyway, denial..."this can't be happening, so it isn't happening..." is almost a sure thing, if a fatal illness is caught early. Randy Pausch, in The Last Lecture, described how he was feeling just a bit down, and had some jaundice...and was told he had pancreatic cancer, which is (as I well know!) a stone-cold killer.
He couldn't believe it. The moment after he got the news was just like the moment before...the sun was still shining, the birds were still singing, and there was only that cloud way down o the horizon, no larger than a man's hand. This can't be real, because it doesn't fit what I feel and see...so it isn't real.
And you, as the caregiver, will feel something similar. Unless it's been perfectly obvious that things are going downhill fast, actually getting the news, as the result of a routine checkup or (as in Dr.Pausch's case) the investigation of a minor complaint is such a shock to life's paradigms that it simply can't be processed all at once.
And, you know what? That's actually OK. Don't process it all at once.
As long as you're not doing something that's preventing treatment or making it harder to alleviate symptoms (like pain and nausea), it's OK to believe...while you can...that things are really going to be OK, that this is some sort of horrible mistake.
It' called giving yourself a soft landing.
The Tough Guys of Psychology will say that "You haff to face ze fects!" (please imagine a corny Prussian accent).
Fine. Let them face them, and they'll be crying in the corner...just as you do, when you really think about it.
Denial, in the beginning, can also be called "being nice to yourself".
Cleopatra had a bad end, but it must be remembered that she had a nice time getting there.
So let yourself have that time of gentle, and intentional ignorance. The facts will come soon enough, and you will find that Cleopatra is fighting on your side.
When the time comes to face them, denial will have been your ally, for you will be ready.
What do you think? Do you think you'd rather take a harder-edged approach? Or is a gentler,more gradual coming-to-terms better for you, and for your spouse?