As we grieve and mourn, each day confronting the absence of the one who died, our disbelief dissolves and acceptance of the irrefutable fact of the death and loss grows. Generally, acceptance of the death, with all of its ramifications, does not happen in an instant, such as turning on a light by flipping the switch. It is more like a glass filling up slowly, drop by drop.
It is natural, while going about our daily life, to bump-up against the absence of the deceased. This will occur to a greater or lesser degree depending on the amount of regular contact we had. If we lived together, each day we wake-up, sit down for a meal, and return to the house, the one who died is not there. Even if we did not live together, our desire to see, talk, and share life with him/her goes unfulfilled. Daily life will provide many reminders that the death has occurred. Contrary to the “time heals” adage, we may miss him/her more as the days, weeks, and months pass and it has been that much longer since we have been with him/her.
As we repeatedly confront the reality, disbelief slowly dissipates and acceptance slowly replaces it. We may struggle with accepting the unacceptable. We know, and are often told, we must accept the death. We may not understand what it means to accept the death. Does it mean that we now feel OK about the death, that what has happened is OK with us, that our loss is no longer significant to our daily life, and that we are no longer in pain about it?
It is helpful to think of acceptance as acceptance of what the current reality is. We may not like it, but it is important to align ourself with the truth of being without the person who died. It is helpful to realize acceptance is a gradual process, characterized by incremental shifts toward greater acceptance. Our grief will shift too as our acceptance grows.
With more acceptance, the scope of the loss is fully realized, and sorrow often deepens. We may experience this as feeling worse than earlier in the grief process. If acceptance, more than disbelief, characterizes our mental state, it is understandable and reasonable that we are painfully sorrowful about the undeniable truth.
Being pushed to accept never seems to work very well. Many people feel assaulted by attempts to force acceptance of the death upon them. Though our rational mind knows precisely what the reality is, another part of our mind needs time to absorb and adjust to it. We seem to need the repeated confrontations with the reality that is now a part of our daily life.
Grieving and mourning facilitate coming to acceptance. Experiencing and expressing our pain, creating memorials, and making changes aligned with the reality of the loss, acknowledge the truth, and are means for diminishing the pain.
Though we may always carry pain in our heart, it is important and healthy to progress to a time when we are not dominated by the pain and disruption of grief. Acceptance of the death is necessary for alleviating suffering, and restoring energy for life and the adjustments required because of the death.
Many people ask, “How long does it take?” The common refrain, “There is no time line”, is of limited help. Here is a general guideline. It is common for shock, numbness and disbelief to be a dominant characteristic of grief for 3-6 months. Vestiges of it may last through and beyond the first year after the death. Coming to acceptance is often a gradual process too, and parallels the fading of shock, numbness, and disbelief. Disbelief dissipates over time, while acceptance grows. This information can cause a mixture of relief and anxiety; relief that my experience isn’t out of the norm, anxiety that it can take so long. It is helpful to remember that it is a dynamic process of “ups and downs” with periods of relief from the pain and disruption.
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