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Ending Denial and Finding Acceptance
Acceptance is the very first task in your bereavement. Dr. James Worden writes that we must "come full face with the reality that the person is dead, that the person is gone and will not return."
This is where a funeral can be very important. Traditionally, the casketed body of the deceased is at the front of the room and guests are invited to step up to personally say their goodbyes. Part of stepping up means seeing with our own eyes that death has actually occurred and that actualizing is an essential part of coming to accept the death. Yet, the tradition of viewing has eroded over time with many families today choosing cremation and opting to hold a memorial service after the cremation has taken place. The focal point of the ceremony becomes the cremation urn, holding the cremated remains or ashes out-of-sight and making the reality of the death less evident and the road to acceptance less clearly marked.
Acceptance May Seem Out-of-Reach
For many, acceptance means agreeing to reality. Most of us, when we lose someone dear to us, simply don't want to agree to it; we actually have an aversion to agreeing and accepting. So, let's use a different word - try adjustment, or integration. Both words focus on the purposeful release of disbelief. Someone who has integrated the death of a loved one into their life has cleared the path to creating a new life; a pro-active life where a loved one's memory is held dear, perhaps as a motivating force for change.
It does take time. In Coping with the Loss of a Loved One, the American Cancer Society cautions readers that "acceptance does not happen overnight. It’s common for it to take a year or longer to resolve the emotional and life changes that come with the death of a loved one. The pain may become less intense, but it’s normal to feel emotionally involved with the deceased for many years after their death. In time, the person should be able to reclaim the emotional energy that was invested in the relationship with the deceased, and use it in other relationships."
Whatever you call it, this essential part of mourning is what allows us to live fully again. It allows us to step out of the darkness of mere existence and back into the sunshine where life is sweet again. Of course, it's a very different life than the one you had before your loved one died.
Worden, James, Grief Counseling & Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner, 4th Edition, 2009.
American Cancer Society, "Coping with the Loss of a Loved One", 2012