The pandemic has impacted our routines, social lives, school, work, and more. It has caused the loss of lives around the globe, as well as the loss of normalcy. There are many losses to grieve amidst the intensity of the pandemic, on top of more typical stressors like taking finals and looking for a job.
When you combine experiences of stress and trauma to grief, it is overwhelming. It takes a toll on our mental and physical health. Our minds and bodies are consistently being impacted by the stress response, a nervous system reaction to feeling threatened. It triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol, impacting sleep, appetite, making it difficult to function at your best.
The process of grieving is often described as having stages or cycles. While the stages are fluid rather than static, they have characteristics that many people go through as they process loss and adjustment. The person usually passes from denial to anger and to bargaining. Then they are likely to fall from bargaining into depression before eventually turning the corner to a more positive state. Some people move through the stages in a different order; others do not experience every stage.
The final stage of grief is acceptance. In this last phase, people begin to come to grips with their own mortality, that of a loved one, or the circumstances surrounding a tragic loss. Of all the stages, this one seems to have the most fluctuating nature, dependent so much on the individual. The person dying may reach this phase much earlier than the loved ones that will be left behind. That disconnect can make for very troubling and uneasy times for the loved ones as they walk through this shadow of death at very different paces. Because of this, it’s important to understand what acceptance means which leads to achieving it.
Acceptance does not mean that the person feels good or right about the loss. Most people never feel OK about the loss of a loved one or their own impending death. This stage is about accepting the fact that a new reality cannot be changed. It is about seeing how the new reality will impact life and relationships.
Acceptance also does not mean forgetfulness. Acceptance does not mean that we slip back into denial – pretending that it has not or will not happen. Acceptance means embracing the present – both good and bad – in order to shape the future. It does not mean that we no longer can think about the loved one. Out of sight does not have to mean out of mind. Our current “present” has been gloriously touched by the loved one’s life. Reflect upon those good times. Cherish the real ways the loved one has softened your present and swayed your future.
Acceptance can usually be seen by an individual taking ownership for themselves and their actions. These individuals begin to accept responsibility. They work toward accomplishing tasks and then are proud of the results. They are willing to change their behavior in response to the needs of others. They appear to be more content as they journey toward a more normalized life.
Make no mistake: life has forever changed. In the acceptance stage, roles and responsibilities begin to be altered. New priorities may be shaped. New relationships will need to be formed. Some duties and tasks may need to be given up for someone else to handle.
At first, acceptance may simply mean more good days than bad ones. Soon efforts may start to reach out to a select handful of trusted people. Involvement with friends begins to follow. Knowing what acceptance looks like is the biggest way to achieve acceptance. Life continues – never the same, always enriched by the loved one’s presence, ever pressing toward hope.
Resources: ”Fifth Stage of Grief: Acceptance” by eCondolence and “The Stages of Grief: Accepting the Unacceptable” by University of Washington