“I’m glad their suffering is over. They are at peace”.
These two emojis communicate different expressions. The first emoji seems to be happy – accepting of life. But the emoji that’s bandaged has a very different expression: hurt, fear, and trepidation. I chose to display both emojis because the first one is what we desire for those entering the Acceptance Stage of grief. Unfortunately, families tell me they feel more like the second emoji, the bandaged one, when they get to this Stage of Acceptance.
In this reflection we will look at this 5th and final Stage of Grief; the Stage of Acceptance. The five stages are 1) Shock or Denial, 2) Anger, 3) Bargaining, 4) Depression, and 5) Acceptance. In this stage there too can be a lot of confusion as to what acceptance means. Does it mean we’re finally alright? Or that we’re good to go, you know, “OK”? And does it mean we are ready to go mainstream again, get back on that proverbial horse – back into the saddle – and resume life as usual?
Without question, this stage can look quite differently depending upon one’s perspective. If we are the one going through the grief we would likely be slow to chime in – “life is good – let’s do this!” But as an on-looker (one who is not directly involved with the loss) the perspective and expectations are bound to be different.
I remember a woman at church, 25 plus years ago, who would cry every single Sunday. Yes, every Sunday during worship she would break down and sob – sometimes quite loudly. So why was she crying? Her husband had been killed (5 years previously) in a gas tanker accident that burned 85% of his body. He died shortly after the accident at the hospital due to complications from his burns. But you see, she and her husband were both expert singers and had performed together for nearly 2 decades. So unfortunately, every time she sang or heard singing she was reminded of this terrible loss. This is a tragic story but it gets worse! For I remember when another lady seated a few rows behind the widow, quietly said to me. “Why does she cry every single week? She should just get over it already!!!” This on-looker was in-sensed by her outward, public, and frequent expressions of grief. The on-looker desired for this widow to be put back together in a manner that didn’t make others feel burdened or uncomfortable in their spirit, like the first emoji.
This is not an isolated case. Many on-lookers desire to see others get to the acceptance stage (the smiling emoji) looking as good inwardly and outwardly as they were before their loss. But this just isn’t realistic. And when the grief stricken person presents (as the emoji on the right) bandaged and scared many are quick to suggest that the person needs counseling, needs to see a therapist, and they are often encouraged to go see their doctor for anti-depressant medications.
Accepting the fact that one’s permanent reality is forever changed is difficult – to put it mildly. It takes an arduous amount of effort to live-in and accept this new altered reality. But slowly, step by step, one learns to ‘live’ in a world where their loved one is missing.
The Stage of Acceptance needs to be viewed more as a gentle transition like the ebb and flow of the ocean waves. The waves roll on to the beach and then back out into the deep unceasingly. Slowly, those in grief will begin to make their transition from the ‘deep’ back to the land of the living, wave by gentle wave. Eventually, one will begin to have more good days than bad – but it’s clearly a back and forth motion. One day happy and the next riddled with guilt – for being happy, breaking with an old tradition, and or making a new friend.
Learning to embrace our feelings while seeking to meet our new needs is what this Stage of Acceptance is all about. It is riddled with questions too: Can I trust this world? Do I have a choice? Will I continue to heal? Can I live without them? Can I make new friends? Fear, healing, and trepidation mixed with exploration, moments of joy, and new adventures characterizes this Stage of Acceptance. Although this is classically called the last stage, it is by no means an easy jog to the finish line. Acceptance takes bodacious courage and unyielding effort to live and thrive once again.