One of the 5 stages of grief, according to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, is denial. As I think back on the last 14 years, I realize that I was completely in denial for many of those years. It was the only way to protect myself and continue living.
My mother was diagnosed with a rare type of internal melanoma in May of 2007 and given two months to live. We were very close and talked every day. She helped me with my kids by getting them off the bus every day and waiting with them until I got home from my teaching job. After my divorce, she was a lifesaver.
I had remarried in February and was expecting a baby. My husband and my ex-husband had both lost their jobs and I was the only one making money. Oh, and I had just agreed to take a part-time teaching position, because of the new baby and my mother not being able to help me with the older 3 children while she was sick.
Gosh, just typing that out makes me realize just how disastrous that all sounds. Now, let me just add that my closest friends and neighbors were moving away with a job transfer.
I still took the part-time position on faith that my husband and my ex would find jobs (for child support). My husband found a position working from home that was commission only, but this was the beginning of the recession of 2008. His income was sporadic. My ex found a job too, eventually, and lost it shortly after. He went through several jobs during that time and child support was sporadic as well. Finances were extremely tight.
As you can imagine, I was not handling all of the stress well. My baby was born in August and I was exhausted like any new mom. I ran my kids around to their various practices, worked, cooked dinner, helped with homework, etc. There wasn’t a lot of extra time for individual attention and extra hugs.
Luckily, some of my mother’s cancer treatments were working and she had about 6 months of being cancer free and then treatments started back up again. She was doing well for about a year and a half. The last 6 months of her 2 years after diagnoses were really difficult. She was really sick for most of that time. She passed away in October of 2009. Then my grief really started and everything in my life fell apart. I moved to a full-time teaching position, which relieved finances, but everything else was a disaster.
My husband and my children were really struggling with their relationship. My husband is a perfectionist and had been raised by a very strict father. My kids were used to me and my mother’s laid back style of parenting. If I had had my sh&% together a little bit, I maybe would have stepped in and intervened more. I should have set some boundaries. He was wanting them to do chores around the house, which I totally agreed with because I had not been required to do anything growing up and I think kids need to feel responsible for being part of a family dynamic and not go away to college without knowing how to take care of themselves. However, my husband’s perfectionism caused him to be critical of the job they did on certain chores. The kids didn’t really want to do the jobs I assigned them, considering they had never really done chores of any kind. We fought about it a lot. The kids were unhappy, my husband was unhappy, and I was doing everything I could to hold it all together.
Well, in case you didn’t know, this doesn’t work. You can never appease everybody. I continued to go to work, soccer practice, dance lessons, take care of kids, cook dinner and do laundry, and ignore what was going on with my family. I felt helpless. .
I was worried that if I let myself grieve, I would just completely fall apart. So, I stayed in denial a while longer, until my job suffered and my marriage fell apart.
We went to counseling as a couple and as a family. (We had a very awful counselor at one point and the kids refused to return. Be careful about that. Get referrals if possible and switch when you don’t resonate with their ideas.) My oldest son moved in with his grandparents when he turned 17, which was very devastating. I held on to my other kids as tight as possible. I doubled my effort to please everyone and help them get along. I used lots of gaslighting statements (that kills me to admit) like, “It’s not that bad.”, “He didn’t mean it like that.”, “She’s just having a bad day.”.
I’ve worked so hard on personal growth, and now I am finally getting to the grief stage of acceptance. I’m accepting where I am now, accepting the damage that I’ve caused, accepting that I can’t force everyone to love me, and accepting that I am human with human faults. It sounds like I am trying to excuse what I’ve done, but I’m not. I am accepting and forgiving myself. I’m telling myself, I did what I could with what I had at the moment, and that will just have to be the way it is. My family and I are all on our own journeys and I cannot take responsibility for anyone’s behavior but my own. If they don’t want to love me or be around me, that is a part of their own process. It doesn’t make me love them any less or wish they were with me any less, but I have to accept and continue to grow as best I can. I have to love myself unconditionally, faults and all. I have to trust in God and His plan for me.
I would love to hear if you have been in a period of denial? What helped you move forward?