Mind Matters ó The Denial Defense

I write this on my motherís birthday, remembering when, years ago, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Denial is no stranger to me, but when I heard the news, I was stunned into reality immediately, maybe because I had been having an uneasy feeling about some of her behaviors preceding the diagnosis.

The first red flag was when she had block printed a note and had written the letter E empty of its middle stem. I pondered that, not knowing what to do. Later another red flag popped up when she went to grandparentsí day at my childrenís school and fell asleep in class. For some other eighty-four year-olds this would have been the norm; not for her, the quintessential grandmother actively engaged in all matters of her little loves. These were just a few of the few clues I was witnessing.

However, my family of origin, hadnít been reading her behavior as I had; and so when the diagnosis came, they were in denial, adamant that a second opinion be gotten. This was no easy task given the rate of physical decline that began to appear. Nevertheless, even with the second opinion, it seemed to me that the denial prevailed.

This is all past history, but I thought about it tonight as I was driving home from a Delaware Medical Reserve Corps meeting and listening to the radio where a climate scientist was being interviewed. There is a connection in all this; in fact, there is much that intersects with climate change. For now, suffice it to say that denial of climate change is a psychological defense against fear of the reality it portends, and that such denial will not serve us well in the future.

Since I have some knowledge of volunteerism with the Red Cross and with the Medical Reserve Corps, let me relate my concerns about volunteerism and sheltering operations in an emergency. Examples of such emergencies are tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, fires, earthquakes. Tonightís MRC talk was about serving the needs of people with functional and access needs in such shelters. Thus, people who come to shelters in an evacuation may have mobility impairments, or autism, may be blind or deaf, may have cognitive disabilities, and so on. Also shelter residents can be both elderly and newborn, with every age range in between. Think about it, all these diverse people needing emergency shelter. I am always amazed at the volunteers and others in emergency preparedness who serve those who have been affected by disasters.

However, my abiding concern is that with climate change the intensity and frequency of floods, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and, yes, even earthquakes (which can be precipitated by climate change, as well as by fracking) is on the rise. So reflect with me on this: Will there be cumulative burnout of volunteers who respond to more and more disasters? Will we be willing to pay taxes to pay for relief efforts?

Denial as a defense only works for so long. It takes courage to face our fears.