I was in denial from the first moment. And for a while thereafter.
On a sunny Saturday in June, I had just finished a mud run with my son, and we were walking back to our car in late morning, covered with mud and laughing. My husband called my cell, from our home phone, I assumed, since as far as I knew, he was home with our other two children. I answered, and he said, “Where are you?” When I told him I was heading to the car, he said no, he needed to know exactly where I was located at that moment. Confused, I gave him a description of where I was on the sidewalk.
The next thing I knew, he was running across the street to me. He told my son and his friend to walk ahead. He grabbed me by the shoulders and looked me in the eyes and somehow choked out the words: There was a car accident, he told me, and my sister-in-law and niece were in critical condition, and my brother did not make it.
I don’t recall all the details of how I reacted. What I do remember is crying, screaming, “No, NO, NO, not Frank, NO, NOT FRANK…” The only thought in my mind was that this had not happened. It was not possible. I denied it totally, utterly, completely. Denial was not something I chose; it was something that instantaneously ignited inside me and radiated out like a force.
I soon found that my experience had little to do with what I understood as the “stages” of grieving, because for whatever reason, perhaps due to the particular set of circumstances of my loss, denial dominated my every thought. I hadn’t been given a chance to bargain. I had no time to be angry, not then anyway, occupied as I was with a flood of tasks.
But amazingly, in my heart I could continue to deny that this had happened, even as I sat at a funeral home, handled auto insurance claims, received condolences, wrote an obituary, gave a eulogy at a funeral service, and was basically deluged with every possible proof that my brother was no longer physically present on this earth.
Then several weeks ago, about six months after the accident, I realized that denial had changed into something different. As I listened to myself in various conversations with friends and family, I noticed I was saying over and over again: “I don’t believe it, still.” “I still can’t believe it.” “It doesn’t make sense.”Somehow the roaring fire of denial had transformed into the embers of disbelief, which to me feels quite different. I understand what happened in a way that I could not when in denial, and yet I am baffled by it. In denial, I rejected the truth. In disbelief, the truth is accessible to me, but I can find no logic to support it.
With their more tolerable yet still insistent heat, the embers of disbelief stay close. It is as if I carry them in my hand. I set them down just before I fall asleep. Then when I wake up each morning, wondering for a moment why something doesn’t feel quite right, I notice them by my bedside and remember. I pick them up and go about my day. I’m not sure how long they will burn.
Sarah Lyman Kravits
I am a 31 year old widow. My husband passed away at the age of 31. He was my best friend. My everything. It took several weeks for me to understand that he wasn’t coming back. I would find myself asking family, if he had really died. At times, I felt that they were hiding from me where he really was. It will be a year since he passed away this March. His death still doesn’t make sense to me and I don’t know if it ever will. This website has helped me out tremendously when I’ve felt that no one truly and fully understands how I feel. From the bottom of my heart I thank you for the work you do
Annalicia, my heart goes out to you. Your comment makes all the sense in the world to me. I am always feeling like a phone call or a visit from my brother is just around the corner, just a day away. The confusion seems endless. I am glad that this website and this article have given you some comfort and some sense that you are not alone. Keep coming back and reading and connecting with others who understand something of what you are experiencing. We are all in this together and there is nothing more important than being there to support one another.
This is simply brilliant, Sarah, and well worth sharing! Thank you so much!
Many thanks, Marty! Writing helps me so much and nothing gives me more peace than to share my thoughts with the hope that they help others as well. There will be more here as well as on my site at http://www.lifewithoutjudgment.com. So appreciate the essential work you do.
Sarah, I am continually amazed at how denial works to protect sanity during times of crisis. Just as our white blood cells automatically protect us from severe infections, denial kicks in without conscious thought or will. Without it, too often it would be impossible to cope.
I am so sorry for your loss.
Judy, thank you so much. It is amazing, isn’t it? There are mechanisms that work without our understanding. I don’t know what we would do without them. Thank you for being there.
my 18yr old son died in feb 2012, 3 yrs this Friday. he lost his life to suicide (hanging) myslf and my 14yr old found him I am in constant denial so much so its affected every espect of my life I just cant fuction now on top of this my 9yr old is self harming and talking of suicide he also seen his brother which I only found out recently I always said his brother died with his heart because at the time he was 6 yrs old and ive not spoke since he is now under camhs mental health so I now I have no option but to come out of this denial and help my son but my body just shakes everytime I have got to face this I have toooo godbless u all xx
Linda, my heart goes out to you and your children. Facing every day, every hour, every moment can be tremendously hard when you have so much of a burden to bear. I can tell that you are doing everything you can to hold up your children in the wake of this tragedy even as you have to bear the loss of your son. Prayers and love and hugs are coming your way. Reach out for help anywhere you can get it, there are people in the world who will do whatever they can for you. We are all in this together.
Sarah – thank you, this puts into words my very feelings. My reaction to the loss of my brother in a single car accident was much the same. Not him, not my baby brother… now, almost five months later it hits me… takes my breath away… the disbelief. How is this us? How is this possible? There is no understanding and no one to answer why. I question whether my grief, which I feel in every moment of my life, is ‘normal’. All I know is that I cannot believe my brother is gone, that I wake each day remembering all over again, that I look for ways to communicate with him and feel his presence and that I still think he’s going to come walking through my door any moment.
I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your story.
Sara, I wish it were only the name that you and I had in common. I am so sorry for your loss of your dear brother. I know all too well the landscape you are traveling. I believe that everything you describe is “normal,” at least I hope it is, because I experience it as well. Each day I have to remind myself, re-tell myself, that Frank is not physically on the earth. It has been eleven months for me and I can’t imagine ever accepting it, although I’m trying to cope with it and function every day. Yesterday I went running and in front of me was a man who looked so, so much like my brother from behind. He ran in front of me for a while and then turned down a side street, and right after that a car went by that is exactly the same as the car my brother was driving when he was killed. Maybe it’s random, but I felt Frank’s presence somehow. I am always wanting to feel it more often than I do. At least it gives me something to hope for. If you are inclined, I write about coping with grief and crisis at http://www.lifewithoutjudgment.com, and because our stories are so similar you may find things to relate to in my blog posts there. Wishing you peace and strength.
My caring good and lovely brother passed on 10/29/2015 and when my
daughter gave me that horrible new I saw my head falling out my neck.
I still don’t believe that he’s gone. We grew up together and he was the
strongest funny the go getter brother. We had a very difficult childhood
but my brother never ever complaint about anything in this world. He was
A good beautiful young man he loved his children to death. He was the best brother a father friend son that anybody could ever asked. Fernandito manito
Until Imeet up with you I love you manito.
Xiomara, I am so terribly sorry to hear of your loss. Your brother sounds like an amazing person who lit up the world. I am sending strength and love to you, and to your whole family and your brother’s family. I know we will both keep our brothers in our hearts and our lives in any way that we can — but it’s so hard to not have them in the way we want most — right here on earth with us. I’ll be thinking of you.
I know it happened. How can I not? It was all over the news. She was stabbed to death by a NOW third time murderer. I know its true. But most days I think she is still over there living her life, her torrid life, her sad life but still there living. I feel most days she will call me in a few days , like she always does when she needs something. Im okay with this actually. I honestly hope it lasts, this version of denial. I am terrified of what will happen if I ever really KNOW that she is gone. Gone in a way I never could have fathomed.