When grief came upon me. I searched, and I searched for an exit. My way out, had to be just around the bend. The more I searched, the more I yearned for this closure, the more anxious I became. I wanted to know when I could put it to bed? Through walking this path, I’ve learned the final stage of grief is acceptance. Because I am a very curious person, I wondered, what does that mean, anyway? I love dissecting problems, so let’s start with some definitions. Here are three…
- To receive something offered willingly. (Merriam Webster)
- To give admittance or approval to. (Merriam Webster)
- To endure without protest or reaction. (Merriam Webster)
To me, acceptance when it’s applied to grief is rather perplexing. Because, I guess, per definition #1 and #2 I received it willingly, and there is not a time I can remember I didn’t admit or approve that she was dead. Sweet, cue hands brushing together, I’ve just completed the fifth stage of grief. I am an overachiever! I did this the day she died, hell, I probably had accepted she was dead before she even took her last breath. But, that is a different story, for and different time.
This leads us to the definition of death. Just one will do.
- A permanent cessation of all vitals. The end of life. (Merriam Webster)
Now, let’s apply what we know of death and acceptance to something bigger than us. If someone is religious or spiritual, the two terms, acceptance and death, by definition contradict each other. Right?! Someone, of like mind, would argue there is supposed to be life after death, Heaven or Hell, reincarnation, the circle of life per Mufasa, etc. This leads me to ask, how does anyone accept death?! Perplexing!
Wait a second, you say! You skipped over Definition #3 of acceptance! This is exactly where I got caught up, not being able to endure without protest or reaction. Maybe, I’m not alone? I think, for me, this might be the key definition to acceptance when it relates to death. I never accepted her death in these terms. Let’s focus there. My angst with acceptance, as it pertains to my mother’s death, is not believing she’s dead and gone forever. I got that part. It is, learning to endure her death without protest or reaction. Coming to terms that the pain and the memories are never going to fully disappear, and trying to live with that peacefully. That is the part of death that goes no where. It just is, and will always be. It likes to linger, even when you push it so far away, you’ve become a stranger to its call.
She is dead, I accept that. I will have to live every moment without her for the rest of my life. She is no longer anywhere I can physically be. I’m left with having to figure out how to embrace her death without judgement on a daily basis. Then, I will have conquered definition #3.
I’m inserting a side story now, because I think it is relative to understanding this debacle I’m sorting through. Recently, my loving husband was trying to make it better. Like they always do. It was a late night discussion, okay maybe it was an argument with tears, and yelling, and stomping off, and maybe one cup of water was thrown. He brought up baggage. The stuff one carries with them through life. He claimed he didn’t have any baggage, and that was my entire problem, that I couldn’t let go of my baggage. That got my head spinning. How is that humanly possible to have no baggage? Isn’t baggage what makes us all unique? I know some people let go of things easier than others, but then I thought for a moment longer, I get it. He doesn’t have baggage because he has nothing he needs to hold on to. Everything he deeply cares about in his life is still present. Yes, I believe there is unhealthy baggage, but I’m specifically referring to when a close loved one dies, in order to carry them forward in memory or into your present world you must accept their baggage. This baggage is heavy and beautiful. It is their last offering to you. After my mom died, I dropped her baggage for twenty-seven years. Somehow, she found me at year twenty-seven and took me for a ride. I did not ask for her to pull over, it felt more like a kidnapping. But, boy did I need to take that ride with her. She sat me down and gave it to me straight. She let me know she was no longer anybody else’s bag to carry. She was mine. I am not sure there was a conclusion to the conversation about baggage with my husband, but hopefully he’s more at peace with why I will always continue to carry my baggage with me. I understand, how hard that must be for him.
QUICKLY SUMMING IT UP…
Like pieces in a puzzle, here is how I see everything fitting together. Acceptance of death is never final. It’s a living breathing piece of luggage, that you should proudly carry alongside you. Open it up, when you need it. Or, it will when it needs you. I am learning there is peace in knowing it is by your side at all times. I willingly admit, that she will never fully be lost, and I will strive everyday to endure without protest or reaction, her absence.
It is not within our human capacity to truly accept death’s finality, however, we can try to learn and accept everything we now carry because we’ve experienced death.
DID YOU KNOW?
The five stages of grief were not originally meant for the survivors?”(Elisabeth) Kübler-Ross originally saw these stages as reflecting how people cope with illness and dying,” observed grief researcher Kenneth J. Doka, “not as reflections of how people grieve.”[Doka, Kenneth J., Grief Is a Journey: Finding Your Path Through Loss (Simon and Schuster, 2016): 6.
The interconnectedness of these stages amongst the dying and grieving, is in and of itself, a testament to the similarities we all share as human beings. I’ve always loved this song, it feels like now is a good time to listen, Let’s connect with Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide…