Shock and Denial: The Journey of Grief For Parents and Families Who Have Children With Special and Unique Needs

Shock and Denial:  The Journey of Grief For Parents and Families Who Have Children With Special and Unique Needs

We are continuing with our blog series entitled, “The Journey of Grief For Parents and Families Who Have Children With Special and Unique Needs”.  This week we will focus on the second movement of grief, “Shock and Denial”.

As is the case with all the other movements that we experience in working through our grief, “Shock and Denial” is a normal part of the journey as we move forward.  Lisa and I are very intentional about “normalizing” the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that families who have these children experience.   We believe that one of the most valuable gifts that we can give to those who we work with is to help them avoid feelings of guilt and shame.  We strive to teach, coach and empower parents and caregivers to find ways of learning to love themselves as they seek to care for their children.

The Shock and Denial phase of Grief is complex. Psychological shock as defined by Harley Therapy is “A documented response to a traumatic, painful, or terrifying situation that, despite not leaving any physical damage, has left us feeling emotionally damaged.”   Connected to this response is “denial” which according to John M Grohol, Psy.D. is, “the refusal to accept reality or fact, acting as if a painful event, thought or feeling did not exist. It is considered one of the most primitive of the defense mechanisms because it is characteristic of early childhood development. Many people use denial in their everyday lives to avoid dealing with painful feelings or areas of their life they don’t wish to admit.”

When we encounter a traumatic experience which alters life as we know it, we are plunged into shock and the body responds by protecting us from those painful experiences, helping us to cope with denial.   We often discover that families who are in this particular place in their grief journey will deny that a problem even exists, they will claim that everything is just fine with their children and that everyone who is pointing towards the areas of concern is just plain wrong and misguided.

As a father of a child with special and unique needs, I mastered the art of “shock and denial”.  I vividly recall the numerous signs that indicated that our son was not reaching his developmental milestones.   I was on a quest to prove that my wife, friends, family members and even medical professionals were misguided and wrong and that our son was “fine”.   I recall an appointment with an ENT specialist as we began to seek answers.   We recognized that our son would not respond in any manner when spoken to.  We were called into the examining room, the physician did his brief examination and he then proceeded to look at my wife and say,

“You just need to stop putting the Q-tips into his ears so far.   He will be fine”

To which I responded by saying, “See honey, there is nothing wrong with him!”

I regret those words to this day.   I was in shock and I was protecting myself with denial.   Deep down inside I was afraid of facing the reality of what truly was.   It wasn’t until he was almost 3 years old that I finally got on board with the program and was willing to admit that there was a problem.   But even then, shock and denial would continue to weave itself into my experience with grieving what I had lost.

Once again, the journey of grief is just that, a journey.   It is a journey that is unique to each and every one of us.  There is no right or wrong way to move through grief, it is what it is and it is your journey to take.

Next week we will continue our series as we write about “Pain and Guilt”.    Be sure to check out our website at http://www.celebratehopellc.com. Feel free to contact us by email at lisa.goyette@celebratehopellc.com or john.ball@celebratehopellc.com.  You may also reach us by phone (248) 330-8493.