During my recent bout with grief, especially through the perceived loss of love, I progressed through the states of denial, bargaining, anger, and depression. In each of those states I could not perceive what acceptance would look like. Recently I had the opportunity to hold a brief conversation with the one lost and this interaction allowed me a glimpse into acceptance.
In the earlier stages of grief there was a certain sense of selfishness attached to the grieving. It was I who lost her. It was I who hurt. It was I who grieved and suffered. It isn’t that I couldn’t intellectualize her suffering. I certainly could. However the feelings and emotions attached were centered on the self versus the other.
After our last conversation I could visibly see her suffering. It was written in her face and her gestures and I wept for her and with her. It was in that moment that I realized that my suffering was her suffering and her suffering was mine. It was a linked suffering and the chain of suffering had to be broken by one of us. Thus I cast aside my suffering, not as a burial but rather as the snake sheds its old skin. In doing so there was a new birth of sorts — a renewal.
I won’t pretend that in that instant I had come suddenly to the state of acceptance. The stages of grief are fluid and we flow from one stage to another and can occasionally ebb backwards. I can say that I glimpsed acceptance even if for a moment. Acceptance means that I recognize where she is at, I recognize where I am at, and I let go of the expectation that my healing is dependent upon her healing. I also recognize that the more I grieve the more I cling to her and, in clinging, I hold her back from doing what she needs to do in order to heal. Furthermore I recognize that the choice that she has made was made independent of her feelings for me and is based upon what she feels is best for healing herself.
Acceptance is not just about her though. Despite my blogs and novella having a certain degree of influence from her acceptance means that I continue forward with my purpose and mission in life. After my recent string of writing I feel as though I have discovered what my purpose is. It is to write and to express my spirit and essence through the Word as much as possible. This must be a purpose that I can do independent of my feelings for her. If I allow myself only to write because of the inspiration from her then my purpose no longer becomes my own. I must write because the Word is within me and a part of me. Anything else binds the purpose to another and is no longer mine to follow.
Acceptance is the opportunity to heal without being bound to attachment. When we attach our feelings to another we become codependent with them. Their moods determine our moods. Their needs determine our needs. Their disappointment leads to our disappointment. Letting go of attachment allows me to evaluate who I am and what my individual purpose is. It does not require that I eliminate connection to others. On the contrary the connection may be stronger and more valuable because I become able to filter out what is not mine, if desired, and integrate what is not mine when needed. Through the letting go of attachment I can say, “I love you and we are part of one another,” without my individuality and purpose being disintegrated. In a way this is the truest form of using a phrase I typically do not like, “It is what it is.”
I have always struggled with acceptance. In many ways I feel like I was closer to giving up than I was to accepting. If friends did not reassure me of their love then I felt unloved. If family did not ask to spend time with me then I felt unworthy of their time. If my children did not call me then I felt that they rejected me. This lack of acceptance encourages depression. This continued need for attachment encourages suicidal ideation and continual disappointment in self and others. While in this state the ability to show gratitude becomes greatly diminished.
Gratitude then becomes the key to unlock our grief and our continued healing. In the case of this relationship that I am grieving the loss of it is important to be grateful for the gifts both given and received. By recognizing that I gave her tremendous gifts I can recognize that I do not need to attach my feelings of fulfillment to her. The same is true on her end. The more that she can recognize the gifts that she has given to her family and those closest to her the less she will need to rely on them for her sense of self. Over the course of writing my current novella I have uncovered many things I had missed in my childhood. I may have remembered specific events, but I did not recognize their impact and thus allowed myself to carry a low sense of self from childhood into adulthood. Why have I continually done this? The answer is that I never showed adequate gratitude to those gifts that were always around me even in the face of emotional trauma. Amidst all of the emotional and physical abuse I had individuality, creativity, an expansive curiosity, male friends who saw more in me than I saw in myself, and female friends who were natural nurturers. Sometimes our trauma takes center stage and our depression and anxiety sets in. The only way out is through gratitude. One may be grateful for what has been given to a spouse, a child, to the church, to God, or to the world. One may also be grateful for what has been received from each of those sources. In this way the gift of gratitude far outweighs the gift of attachment.