Closure and Acceptance

In a book I read the other day, the character mentioned that he found closure after the death of his wife, which led me to believe that the writer had not himself experienced such a loss because, when it comes to death, especially the death of a spouse or child, there is no closure. There can’t be. The circle of grief never closes because the loved one is always dead. They are always missing from our earthly life, and the void they leave behind is never filled. There is no time when we can say, “Okay, that’s done. Let’s move along.”

At some point we begin to find the road to life again, but we will always miss our loved one and will never forget. As time goes by it gets easier and we learn to cope with the necessary changes, but there will not be closure.

Another word that is often bandied about when it comes to grief is “acceptance.” Finding closure implies an acceptance of what happened, and yet, there is not way to ever “accept” the death of a loved one. It’s not our death to accept but theirs.

Acceptance is supposed to be one of the stages of grief, but I’ve never actually gone through that stage (nor did I experience most of the supposed stages of grief for the simple reason that they do not adequately reflect the reality of grief for a life mate, soul mate, spouse or child). I cannot accept that he is dead for the simple reason that it’s not my place to accept it. Acceptance to me suggests that it is okay, and I will never believe that it is okay for him to be dead (even though I do understand the necessity of it).

If “acceptance” means accepting the reality of our loss and understanding that they are gone, then there can be no acceptance “stage.” The truth is that we “accept” the reality from the beginning, and therein lies the problem. If we didn’t understand that they were gone, we wouldn’t feel so bad. But we do understand they are gone. We feel the loss in our bones, our souls, our very beings. We feel it with every breath we take. We feel it in the emptiness of our hearts and our homes. We have no choice but to face the reality.

The only way “acceptance” works in the grief equation is to accept that we have no control over the situation. Accept that we will always miss them. Accept that we will always grieve to some extent. Accept that we’ll never be the same as we were. Accept, too, that grief is not a negative. Grief is an important adjunct to a profound loss, a way to process the unacceptable and unfathomable, a means of moving from being part of a couple to being alone.

As a friend wrote me, ‘Acceptance needs to be viewed as a continuum. Acceptance does not mean “one and done”.’

Many people who have undergone such a loss have a need for adventure, as I did. I never understood this need, but seen in the light of “acceptance” or “non-acceptance,” it begins to make sense. We feel the changes, know we need to go along with the flow of our new life, but we don’t want to accept the new status quo. We didn’t want this new life, didn’t choose it. Even more, it seems such a betrayal of what we once were, what we once had. And so we are unsettled.

To a great extent I have let Jeff go. Somewhere during the past years, I realized that no matter how connected we were when he was alive, we are two distinct people, each on a special journey. For a while, our paths entwined, but now our roads have swung into two different directions. No matter how much I miss him, miss the me I was when I was with him, miss our shared dreams and goals, there is no turning back. The future beckons, and I must go where it leads me.

Perhaps that’s acceptance of a sort. It might even be considered closure of a sort. All I know is that, like the so-called stages of grief, any jargon that is associated with grief falls short of the reality.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Thirty-Four Months of Grief

desert roadThirty-four months ago today, my life mate/soul mate died of inoperable kidney cancer. For thirty-four months now, I have been posting updates on my progress through grief, and that astounds me. Thirty-four months? How is that possible? Written out, it seems such a short time for him to have been gone, and yet it feels immeasurably vast — so many minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and now years, spent trying to come to grips with what happened to us. For most of our lives we were connected by some mystical bond, a cosmic twinning, that kept us together even when times were rough. And then suddenly, in a single breath, that connection was broken. I am here, alone, and he is . . . well, I don’t know where he is or even if he is.

I never had survivor’s guilt for the simple reason that I wasn’t sure which of us got the worst end of the deal, but I have felt uncomfortable going on without him, as if somehow I were being disloyal. We helped fight each other’s battles, sticking up for each other, caring for each other, waiting for whichever of us happened to be lagging behind, always taking the other into consideration, and it feels as if I should still be doing so. But he is beyond my reach, beyond my care, beyond my consideration.

I have come to see that continuing the disconnect that began with his descent into death is one of the tasks of my grief. (Grief seems to be not so much about passing through stages, but more about completing tasks, such as processing the loss and learning to live again.) Until I understand within my depths that for all practical (earthly) purposes we are not one, I will never be able to embrace fully what life has in store for me. We are separate persons, each with our own experiences, our own journey, and our own destination. For a while, our paths crossed, but now, I have to continue as me, alone. No matter what I do, or think or feel, it cannot change the past. No matter how much I hate that he is dead, no matter how much I rail against the unfairness, no matter how much I miss him or wish desperately for one more word or smile, he is no longer in my life.

For most of those thirty-four months, this disconnect has seemed an impossible task, but there is a bit of light illuminating my path. Last week, when I went to my Yoga class, they asked how I was, and I said, without thinking, “I’m doing great.” It stunned me to hear those words come out of my mouth, because for more than five years, during the last of his dying and these many months of grief, I have had times of feeling okay, and I thought that was the best I could do. But at that moment, I did feel great. It didn’t last long, only about an hour before I began sliding into sadness again, but that hour stands as a beacon for what might be.

Up until that class, this year has been one of increased sorrow and tears, and such grief upsurges often precede or follow a deeper level of acceptance. It’s not so much that I am learning to accept his death — I accepted the truth of it from the beginning, though I hate it and will never be able to comprehend it — but I am learning to accept that I am alive, and that is a much harder thing to accept.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing. Connect with Pat on Google+