In the five stages of grief defined by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, acceptance is the final stage – sort of. You see, the stages of grief don’t necessarily follow any prescribed order, and each phase may be visited more than once. So while acceptance doesn’t necessarily indicate the end of grief, it is a sure indicator that you are on your way to emerging from your grief and enjoying life again.
“But,” you may be wondering, “exactly what is acceptance? And how will I know when I have achieved it?” Good questions. And like other intangibles, sometimes it helps to define acceptance by exploring what it is not.
What Acceptance Is Not
- Acceptance is not approval. Accepting does not mean that you like or approve of the fact that your loved one is no longer with you.
- Acceptance is not forgetting. You will always treasure your memories of your loved one, even when they bring a wave of sadness.
- Acceptance does not mean you won’t feel sad any more, or that your sorrow will suddenly turn to happiness. In the throes of grief, you may wonder when this pain will end, when the sorrow will go away. As you move into acceptance, you will feel lighter and more hopeful, but don’t expect a rush of happiness that will be the end of your grief.
- Acceptance is not resignation. Although resignation is sometimes confused with acceptance, resignation is more like admitting defeat.
Acceptance vs. Resignation
It’s true that in order to reach acceptance you must resign yourself to the fact your loved one is gone; but resignation stops there, while acceptance goes further.
When you reach acceptance, you not only resign yourself to your loss, but also begin to see your life clearly for what it is. You accept the reality of your situation, whether you like it or not, and you begin to shift your focus from your deceased loved one to yourself. You begin to realize that you still have a life to live; you begin to adapt to the changes in your life, and you take responsibility for your own happiness.
Acceptance Is . . .
Acceptance happens gradually, over time, and it takes longer for some people to reach acceptance than others. Acceptance, some say, is the opposite of denial.
Kübler-Ross describes acceptance as a time of “peace and understanding.” One day you’ll notice you’re thinking less about how terrible you feel and how empty your life is. You’ll understand that nothing will bring your loved one back. You’ll begin to understand that you are not responsible for what happened, and that your loved one didn’t leave you intentionally. You’ll begin to believe that you are going to be okay, and that belief will give you comfort and peace.
Acceptance and Faith
For many people, acceptance and faith are closely linked. Acceptance is an important part of many religious traditions, and experts say that people who profess a strong faith may come to acceptance more quickly than those who do not. There is a special prayer for those who grieve and for others who are trying to accept things that are beyond their control:
The Serenity Prayer
God, grant me
Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, and
Wisdom to know the difference.
Share Your Thoughts on Acceptance
If you’re struggling with the concept of acceptance following the death of a loved one, you can use this space to share your thoughts and feelings. Have you experienced peace and release that come with acceptance? Please consider sharing your experience to give comfort and support to those who are hurting.