At the height of my wedding planning, my best friend asked me, “Why don’t you postpone the wedding until you’re feeling better?” It was about a year and a half after my mom died and I felt so much rage after we hung up the phone. WHEN was I going to feel better? The concept made it seem like grief had an end date. But the truth about grief is that it doesn’t have one. And we should stop treating it like it does – or should.
There are five stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance. We all understand what denial means. On the morning my mother died, I said to the police officer who escorted me to my parents’ house that I wasn’t upset that she died because that meant she was no longer suffering from breast cancer. I was in denial. Six months after she passed, I started my own faux art business. I created abstract paintings and obscure sculptures, all of which garnered little to no respect or applaud from my would-be patrons. I delighted in being an artist, referring to myself as one despite previously having had little interest in the craft. I bargained my pain away. If I just focused on new activities that were outside my comfort zone then I would stop missing my old life and everything that came with it. I bargained my pain and everything that came with it.
My anger was recognizable. I plastered it all across my Facebook feed, didn’t invite my sister-in-law to my bachelorette party, ignored text messages, screamed until my vocal cords hurt, refused invites and told my husband that I wished it was his mother who was dead instead of mine. You could see my anger – feel it – from 100 miles away. I was angry that my mother was stolen from me. I was angry that she left me with no one to shop for wedding gowns with, no one to talk to on my ride home from work, no one to share my good news with. I was angry that she died at 61-years old while her brother, 10 years her senior, was in perfect health despite being a shitty, selfish person. I was angry that I spent Christmas dinners and Easter mornings pretending to be happy because my in-laws wanted their son at dinner. I was angry that at 26-years old, I had to identify myself as a motherless daughter, when there were no two closer people than the two of us.
Then came an overwhelming sense of sadness, an uneasiness and uncertainty about everything: who I was, what I wanted and what my purpose was. I victimized myself (rightfully so), wondering why all of this had to happen to me when I was the least bit deserving. I was a good daughter. I was a good friend, good co-worker, good samaritan. Why couldn’t someone else – someone worse than me – suffer from something so devastating? I ignored calls. I didn’t brush my teeth for an entire weekend. I gained weight. I wore clothes that I didn’t feel good in. I wore clothes that I didn’t look good in. I stopped wearing make-up. I watched the same four shows on Netflix. I avoided having sex with my husband at all costs. I was depressed. I was broken. I was hopeless. And on January 28, 2019, I told my husband I wanted to walk out into oncoming traffic.
The five stages of grief don’t happen in succession. I experienced depression and anger at the same time. When my friend asked me to postpone my wedding until I was feeling better, I was angry and depressed over such a foreign (impossible) concept. Depression told me I would never feel better, while anger reminded me that it was rude to even entertain such a thought.
When people talk about grief, they talk about acceptance as if it this is shining beacon of hope. Once you move past all the emotional, ugly parts of grief, you’ll find your happily ever after. Eventually, the loss won’t hurt as much. Eventually, the pain will stop. Maybe it’s just me but for the longest time, I looked at acceptance as a mile-marker, a goal. Once this storm passes, then eventually, I’ll be happy again. But that’s not what acceptance is. And I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you’re never going to be happy in that way again. BUT THAT’S OKAY.
Acceptance is the realization that a part of you is always going to be missing. It’s the realization that the hole they left behind is never going to be filled and it’s the realization that you’re always going to be a little bit broken. You’re going to have bad days that seem to come out of nowhere. And you’re going to take it out on people who don’t necessarily deserve it. Acceptance is realizing that you’re always going to be triggered on certain dates, special holidays and unfortunately, by certain people. Acceptance is realizing that you’re never going to be the person you were before the grief. Acceptance is all those things. What it’s not is a race or an end-goal or an achievement. It’s not something that comes with time because no matter how logically you think about a situation – whether you rationalize that we all eventually die, or at least he/she is no longer suffering emotionally/physically/mentally – it’s impossible to accept that someone you love is gone (and that they’re never, never coming back). Death is always going to be unfair. It’s never going to be something that was warranted.
Acceptance is realizing that grief has no end date. It’s knowing that you will never get over the sadness and the pain associated with the loss. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed – or will pass – acceptance is not when you’ll suddenly feel that death is in the past and no longer a pressing issue. Acceptance is understanding that you’re never really going to feel better, but that’s just kind of how it is moving forward. Acceptance is not a bad thing. It’s what makes you process your emotions, talk about the one you love, and indulge in the bittersweet memories of their past. Acceptance doesn’t make your heart feel worse or better; it just makes you more cognizant that it’s there and that it’s filled with a love you’re always going to wish you could get back.