No one likes to receive bad news. We don't want to hear that a friend or relative is incurably ill. Perhaps, we tell ourselves, the doctors are mistaken. Aunt Jess is just overtired and will be better after a few good nights' sleep. We resist the news of catastrophe or death. Surely the reports are in error! We refuse to accept an unpleasant truth that threatens us. Our ability to care about others, which gives our lives meaning, also makes us vulnerable when those we care about either hurt or disappoint us. And when they are in danger, we become vulnerable to the pain of loss. In order not to feel that pain, we respond by denying the feeling. The message we give ourselves is "Don't feel."
The first reaction of family members to the death of a relative, especially a sudden or violent death, is frequently "It can't be!" or some variant of "Say it isn't so!" This reaction occurs even when the deceased had been ill for some time, and in circumstances where death might be a reasonable expectation. It is our constant hope that somehow the sick relative will once more pull through the crisis and stay with us a while longer; therefore we deny the reality of his death.
This instant denial is part of the way we adapt ourselves to ideas and events too horrible to comprehend all at once. By greeting the news of death or disaster with "No, it can't be true!" we are keeping the impact of the event and its implications at arm's length. We're giving our minds