Anyone who knows anything about grief (and even one who doesn’t) has most likely heard of the five stages of grief.
These stages were realized by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a pioneer in near death studies. She did not develop the stages to describe the stages of loss people go through when someone dies, however, they are more about what terminally ill people experience.
Yet, ever since these stages became known to the world, humans have looked to them when they experience their own significant loss. Finally, there was a guide that would help the human race to understand the wide array of emotions surrounding every aspect of their loss.
My opinion? Meh. I suppose there is some truth here, but just as each person is different, so are their reactions to certain situations, especially grief. I mean, who are we to give someone a timeline about how they will be feeling a month, a year, even many years after the loss of a loved one, a job, a home? Our unique body chemistry is wired for us, an individual in a world made up of over seven billion people. Chances are you will not grieve in the same way as I grieve.
Let’s take a minute to talk about Acceptance, the fifth and final stage of grief. The actual description of this particular stage is as follows:
“Acceptance does not mean that you have to forgive, ignore, go into denial, or excuse what has happened. Acceptance means that you are at a place where you can recognize what has happened, process it without denying what has happened, and are at a stronger place than before. ‘Acceptance’ is a process in and of itself. You are not likely to embrace acceptance until you experience the prior four stages at some point.”
Okay. I get it. This is a pretty hopeful outlook. For those of us dealing with grief, this tells us that there is, indeed, a light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope that, while our lives will never be the same, we will be able to process what has happened and will be stronger for it.
But what happens after we accept? How do we take that newfound strength and apply it to the life we must go on living?
Applying these stages to my own personal grief after the loss of two cherished family members in a matter of months, I can comfortably say that I bounce back and forth between all of these stages all the time. With each sunrise, I never know how my grief will affect me for the coming day.
Let’s rewind to a time before grief, to a time that was simpler. You wake up in the morning and, most likely, have a plan for the day. Maybe it is showering and heading straight out the door to work or school. Maybe it is feeding, bathing and dressing children before you are finally able to partake in that cherished cup of coffee. Perhaps you have the freedom to do whatever you want with your day and each morning holds a new adventure.
We still struggle with emotions surrounding these everyday circumstances, but those emotions are familiar, the norm. Throw grief into the mix and we have begun playing a whole new game.
This is where being a human with our own free will comes in handy, because we have the freedom to choose how we will react to the emotions we feel. We are the writers of our own grief stories. How beautiful is that?
In the end, it is up to us to choose how we will go on from one day to the next after we have accepted what has happened.
We must accept that the sun will go on rising and setting each day.
We must accept that we need to continue to bathe, feed and clothe ourselves (and anyone for whom we are responsible).
We must accept that things happen, whether good or bad, all over the world, all the time.
We must accept that our lives are forever changed, and find someway to be okay with that.
Most importantly, we must accept that we have the freedom to begin writing our new chapter, our own, personal, unique sixth stage of grief.
So, before we close I will leave you with this…
Figure out the person you want to be today. Do something that brings you joy. Tell someone who you are thankful for that you are thankful for them. Perform at least one random act of kindness. Smile at a stranger. Give someone a compliment.
I promise you, when the day is done, you will have a lovely outline for the first chapter in the book of the rest of your life.