A Grief Support Blog

This blog will allow you the opportunity to acquire both support and guidance after experiencing a significant loss.

The Stages of Grief - Acceptance

This is the last of our six part series on “The Stages of Grief”. In this article we will address the Stage of Acceptance.

The Stages of Grief Model, proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, was designed to explain the phases people experience when diagnosed with a terminal illness. It is understandable that these people would find acceptance difficult. Naturally, they would hope for an error in the diagnosis, seek a second or third opinion, explore alternate treatment options and, for those that are religious, pray for a different outcome. Accepting that your life is coming to an end can be an extremely difficult pill to swallow.

When we are dealing with other grief causing events, acceptance can be a term that is misunderstood.

Most people recognize early on that whatever emotional event that they experienced caused a change in the story of their life. It may be a change they were expecting, such as a promotion or move to a new home. Many times they are changes of a less positive nature, such as the death of a loved one (human or pet), a divorce or break up of a relationship, or any other negative event. In either type of situation, these changes can be fraught with elements of grief, since they will include changes from familiar behavior patterns.

For people grieving any of these other changes in their lives, the concept of “acceptance” can have entirely different ramifications. As mentioned in the previous articles, the average person has no concept of the genesis of these so called stages of grief. They have heard about them from other lay people and frequently been convinced that they must go through these stages, in the order listed, to have any chance of recovery.

How does a griever define acceptance?

The problem they face is in defining just what it is that they are accepting. Some may say that they are accepting the loss as having happened. A large share of grievers, however, are likely to feel that they instead must accept that the emotional pain with which they are now dealing is going to be a permanent part of their lives. They are accepting that “their new normal” is to be one with a broken heart. My mother’s mother died just one week after my seventh birthday, long before I was ever involved with Grief Recovery.

My mother was devastated. This was long before HIPPA, and my mother was privy to elements of her mother’s diagnosis that she never shared with my grandma. While her mother needed surgery to survive, the doctors also told her that, due to grandma’s overall condition, she would not live through the operation. In many ways, my mother felt personally responsible for the death, which, though not the case, was obviously emotionally overwhelming.

Needless to say, the resources available to her at the time were limited. This was decades before the internet. Ultimately, she simply accepted that the pain of this loss would be with her the rest of her life. To prevent taking on more such pain in the future, she built an emotional wall around her heart. That pain was so intense, it overwhelmed her ability to enjoy ongoing relationships or to create new ones. By the time that I learned about ways to help her successfully recover from the loss of her mother, this habit of self-protection was so well established that she saw no purpose in looking at alternatives. Sadly, it was not until her Alzheimer’s reached the point that she forgot her mother had died that she seemed to find joy in life again.

How people gather information today has changed!

The availability of information has changed with time, but the griever’s ability to find the best information is still limited. Since most grievers have a reduced sense of concentration, as well as little education on dealing with the emotional pain of loss, they often find themselves lost. Most are looking for simple and logical solutions for their grief. The trouble is that grief is neither simple nor logical. It is emotional.

The model of “the five stages of grief” can look like an easy solution. The problem is that the average griever does not understand that this first developed after interviewing those diagnosed with a terminal illness. They also fail to grasp that, even in this original application, the subjects of study did not always follow these stages in a linear order. For the average griever, their study stops with the listing of the stages, and they try to make those stages work, even if they do not help them successfully move through the emotional pain they are experiencing.

Every change we experience in life can bring with it elements of grief. If, with each change, we simply accept that any emotional pain we experience is something that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives, it is understandable that our pain load will continue to intensify with each new loss. With time, that pain load will become so overwhelming it cannot help but impact ongoing relationships, our ability to form new successful relationships, our ability to function at work, or any other aspect of our lives.

There is an alternative to living with emotional pain

Rather than just accept that pain, a better solution would be to work through it. Grief care professionals fully understand this, but the average griever has no concept that this is possible. Creating a non-threatening mechanism for accomplishing this is the design of the Grief Recovery Method.

Almost a day does not pass that we hear of another terrorist attack. When reporters speak with the victims, it is not unusual to hear the comment that it will take a great deal of time for these victims to “get over their pain and move forward”. This simply reinforces in grievers minds the concept that time can make them somehow better. As a result, many simply just begin to accept that this pain will forever be part of their “new normal”. People never “get over” a loss, but, given the proper tools, they can learn to survive, and thrive, in spite of it.

As grief care professions, we all need to be aware that the concept of “acceptance” is something often misunderstood by the griever and do our best to educate them about alternatives to living with that emotional pain in their heart for the rest of their lives.  Of all of the stages of grief, acceptance is often among the most misunderstood.

 

 

It is our sincerest hope that you have found value in this discussion of “the stages of grief”, and how grievers sometimes use them in an effort to deal with each loss they experience. While these stages have value in understanding what is happening with a person diagnosed with a terminal illness, hopefully this series has reminded you that their application with other losses can be confusing and even damaging to these grievers.

Other articles on this website that relate are listed below.

Does time Heal All Wounds

The Best Definition of Grief You Will Ever Find

 

 

Comments

Do you have information for people dealing with a loved ones suicide ? I lost my soldier son on 8-28-2016. PTSD was too much for him. When he took his own life. My heart is shattered into a million pieces it feels like!
Dear Jean,

I can't begin to imagine how you feel and my heart aches that your son died. That your heart is "shattered into a million pieces" is, I believe, an understatement to how much you miss and love him, every day. I want you to know that your feelings are very normal and natural...the reactions to the loss of your son. As parents, we have so many hopes, dreams and expectations surrounding our children; this is true for any relationship we form in life as well. When our hopes, dreams, and expectations are unmet, unrealized, or shattered by events, it's devastating and life altering. We find ourselves emotionally incomplete with the relationship. I know from personal experience, and working with grievers and veterans grieving, how easy it can be to get stuck around the tragedy or circumstances surrounding how a loved one died. The bottom-line truth is likely this… your heart would be just as broken had your son died in any other way.

Steve reached out to me after your response to his blog and I asked if I could respond to your question. First, thank you for taking this first step, reaching out and for your willingness to be vulnerable! The short answer to your question is YES, we can help you...and I'm offering my help as well. As a retired First Sergeant, my heart breaks every time I hear that another service member, or their loved ones, experience pain and suffering connected to military service. We have such a growing epidemic facing our Veterans and their families today. Our service members and their families (you!) carry a very heavy burden of grief. The unmet hopes, dreams, and expectations conflict with our wanting better, different, or more than is experienced.

The grief experienced by Veterans today is compounded and magnified, in my opinion, by labels such as PTSD placed on our Veterans. I’m not a doctor, but I believe that most of our Veterans are being labeled when they shouldn’t be. A label implies something’s wrong, broken or needs to be fixed. Your son, our Veterans, are not broken…they are experiencing Grief, which is both normal and natural and we define as the conflicting feelings and emotions brought about by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior. I can’t imagine what your son experienced. I believe he was overwhelmed with grief, in conflict with his own human nature, and what he needed was help, tools and actions to take to heal from his experiences …not a label.

The Grief Recovery Method guides and teaches you the tools and action steps to take in order to discover and recover from grief and loss in your life; you get emotionally complete with what is emotionally unfinished. If you take the actions of the Grief Recovery Method, you’ll be able to review your entire relationship with you son and not just his death or events surrounding it; you’ll discover and complete what is incomplete thereby find recovery from the pain, loneliness and sadness surrounding his death.

To wear the uniform, to serve, and to live a life in-service to others is such an honor, an honor shared by the Veteran and their loved ones. I’m grateful to you and your son, who both served with honor. It’s my wish that you continue to honor his memory by taking the steps of the Grief Recovery Method and live life without the pain.

There is a specialist locator function on this website to help you locate a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist nearby who can help. You can also contact me and I’d be honored to help you locate someone near you. My email address is [email protected].

Sending you love,

Ed

Ed Owens
Certified Grief Recovery Specialist - Trainer
Thank you Ed for your caring response!

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