Grief Brief: Denial

By Tracy Lee
Special to the Sun

It is often surprising to me who will recover quickly from the loss of a loved one, and who will not. It seems logical to me that highly functioning survivors, rather than those who are somewhat less functioning, would recover swiftly and efficiently. After all, that is the way of highly functioning people; they attack, analyze, and conquer their battles with vigor.

Interestingly enough, I have noticed over the years that highly functioning people excel in certain areas of life, but not in all. Occasionally, I find that they try very hard to ignore the pain and reality of grief. Perhaps because they realize that the time required will be a set-back. Maybe it is because they lack experience in this area and do not wish to invest precious resources into its exploration. Grief, however, will not be ignored. Sooner or later, just like everyone else, highly functioning people are forced to face the demons they may have set aside.

Consequently, postponing grief sets one up in a somewhat compromised grief scenario. Coworkers, friends, and family members, who have witnessed your amazing ability to handle grief, will most likely expect you to maintain your demonstrated high level of functionality and accomplishment. Doing so, at this point, may prove very difficult, if not impossible.


Denial is normal at the death of a loved one.
It only becomes a problem if one insists on prolonging its experience.
In such a case, denial postpones the pain of realization that will inevitably surface.

If one has extended their denial purposefully, the experience of realization may surface at a time when one no longer has support from others.
One’s friends may have accepted that recovery has occurred and may not be willing to support a survivor beyond what they feel has been ample time for healing. This is a terrible situation for the survivor.

Not only have they prolonged their grief experience, but they have also increased the pain they will experience by effectively nullifying their support system.

If you have found yourself in this situation, do not expect others to be sympathetic. You may find that your peers seem somewhat perplexed and a bit impatient with the exposure of your delayed sorrow. They may be uncomfortable around you, unable to understand your drop in productivity, or bewildered in your inabilities to socialize or lead as you did once before. Delaying one’s grief is a dangerous game to play, not only in your professional and private life but for your health as well.

Deliberate Denial

Denial becomes a problem when survivors deliberately seek out ways to avoid the pain of grief and the reality of death.
In so doing, survivors will begin to experience chronic illnesses, both emotionally and physically.

If one is in a cycle of deliberate denial, professional intervention may be strongly advised and advantageous.

Taking into account the personality of highly functioning people, one wonders why they might delay their grief. Studies show that they practice exactly the proper steps to assist themselves through grief recovery.

Swifter Adaptation

Researchers have found that finding meaning in life after the loss of a loved one can help survivors adapt.

The above statement indicates that survivors who identify, prioritize, and connect to their preferences, priorities, and relationships (including the relationship with their decedent), will experience a swifter and more complete recovery from loss.

Considering the information in Grief Brief 298. It appears that one must apply the skills of efficiency with the more meaningful realization of purpose. Purpose seems to be the key. Perhaps that is why average and lower functioning people recover just as well, if not at times more swiftly, than highly functioning people.