Dealing with grief. When people take the ostrich approach.

Today’s medical advances can mean a terminal illness progresses over months and years. That can be cause for optimism, for finding options, seizing opportunities, trying new treatments—and even for taking a no-holds-barred approach to life.  

Yet in some families, that elongated decline may lead to a different response, one in which room for hope leaves room for denial.

The person isn’t dead, after all. The prognosis isn’t absolute. “It could be a year” means it could be something besides a year—say ten? So why even think about it at all. Better to believe that all will be well than to wander around with long faces.

Yes, that’s true. But such denial can, in fact, leave the person you love without the support they need at a time when they are most vulnerable.  That lack of support can have practical consequences—after all, the patient and their nuclear family still need concrete help, from meals to errand-running to transportation to the endless medical appointments that take over daily life. But perhaps far more serious, that lack of emotional support can force the patient to draw on reserves of inner-strength that could be essential to fighting the disease.

Ultimately, the ostrich approach robs both parties—the patient and the people who love them—of a chance to deepen their relationship, to find a place of peace and joy together, while it is still possible. And that loss is the real tragedy.

To learn more about the reasons families react differently—and how they can become more resilient—visit: