American Heritage Dictionary defines “acceptance” as the act of accepting or belief/agreement in something. Acceptance is our agreement to experience a situation or to follow a situation, process or condition (even if negative or uncomfortable) without attempting to change it or walk away from it. Often times, we do this because there is no available option to us.
In the past three years, acceptance has been something that has been thrust on me more times than I can imagine. Acceptance came to me when realized that I was chronically ill. Self-acceptance came to me a few months ago when I realized how important it was to love myself in order to understand that I could truly be happy despite chronic illness and despite events that life thrust upon me in the recent year. The hardest acceptance that I have had to deal with is the loss of my brother.
Acceptance of Chronic Illness
I have been very fortunate since my diagnoses of rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia to get to know so many people including book authors who suffer with chronic disease and spoke up about it, fellow bloggers blogging about similar frustrations and struggles, and members of the health communities I advocate for who are dealing with similar daily struggles. About a year after my diagnoses, I came to the realization that acceptance was about today, the present – not the past and not the future I had to put the past behind me and start to focus on a future that involved living with chronic illness. I learned that struggling with chronic illness was a one day at time process.
I think the most important thing I learned is that acceptance is not about failure. It is about understanding your limitations and coping with those losses because they change on any given day. One day, your pain can be a ten and you can hardly get out of bed and another day, it can between a 2 and 3 and you can get a lot done.
Acceptance doesn’t mean we give up. It means that our plans change and that we welcome these changes. When RA and fibro came into my life, I was a really busy working mom who had planned on attending law school and I would have been done or close to done by now. It took me a long time to accept that my plans had to change and it was only when I accepted that, things started to look up for me. I enrolled in an online university and started working on my master’s degree in legal studies. I also started advocating, first for arthritis and then for fibromyalgia.
Just like anyone faced with a chronic illness diagnosis, I went through all the stages: denial, anger, fear, grief and finally acceptance. Through acceptance, I learned that managing my condition meant finding it in me to be strong again because I had many mountains to climb. I think that once I realized that my life had changed and there was nothing I could do to go back, I moved forward. Three years ago, you could not have convinced me that acceptance of chronic illness was possible. Yes, there have been negative things about living with the disease and even with who I was then and who I am now. However, I learned to be confident enough to truly believe that my life could still be rewarding and meaningful even with chronic illness.
After my brother died, I found myself questioning everything in my life. I had spent two years riding the waves of rocky marriage and trying to figure out who I was in the process. My brother’s death sent me to a screeching halt and into the reality that things had to change. I learned that there was a lot I had to change about myself and that started with self-acceptance through loving me and being happy with who me was. It took me a long time and a lot of soul searching to get there.
For a long time, I just kept going with whatever life threw at me. My brother got sick and I starting making medical decisions that my mother couldn’t make. Then he passed away and I started to deal with the aspects of his funeral, the medical bills, estate documents for the little that he had, and then a lawsuit. Throughout all this, I held my grieving family together. I didn’t allow myself to grieve and if I grieved, I did it all alone. At the same time, I was dealing with a failing marriage and I felt so very alone.
I leaned to God to help me get through this. When all was said and done with my brother’s estate and other issues I was dealing with, I had to give myself permission to heal. Here I was grieving my brother’s death and my failed marriage and I didn’t know which one was priority. I ended up walking away from my marriage and I started to focus on myself and my kids. The hard part was that I knew that I was not the only one grieving my brother and my failed marriage. My kids were also grieving. I knew that something had to change in order for all of us to heal. So, I put a halt on everything in my life and focused on my children. They were my number one priority and nothing else was important.
It took me many months but I learned to accept with who I was now even if meant that I was weak. I had to admit to myself that I was human and I was allowed to hurt. That is when I finally allowed for myself to fall apart and really feel what I had lost. I leaned on my family, my friends and God for guidance. I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t weak just because I was hurting.
This experience taught me that acceptance was there like a default setting in me. I had to learn to remove the layers on top and that meant figuring out all the things I didn’t accept about myself. I started to remove those layers. I also focused on myself and my beliefs. I had to know who I was and what I believed in order to even start accepting myself. Taking an honest look at myself was hard but I knew that I had to be better person and truly accepting myself was the only way. I looked at how harshly I judged myself, my feelings of guilt for the things I couldn’t change, and how I could actually motivate myself to accept who I was. It has been a process but hardest part is trying to make sense of my brother’s death. I do accept that he is gone but I don’t know what it is I am supposed to do with that.
Acceptance of Grief and Death
When it comes to the loss of a loved one, many of us can attest to the feelings of wanting acceptance and only getting resignation. I have been told repeatedly that acceptance doesn’t mean that I forget or that I won’t be sad, but it means that things will get better. It has taken me a long time to get here but I finally understand what happened and that there is nothing I can do to change it. I couldn’t change it then and I can’t change it now.
I know that I am very grateful for having had the opportunity to say goodbye – we all are. However, it doesn’t make the pain of losing him any easier. My brother has been gone almost seven months and I feel grief every day of my life. I have gone on with my life but I don’t feel normal. We were seven siblings and even when we had our moments; we always knew we were seven siblings and the reality that we that we are no longer seven siblings hurts really bad.
All I know is that the death of a loved one changes you forever. Everything about me has changed – mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I question everything about life now and while I understand it is a process of grief, I wish that I didn’t have to go through it. Mentally, it is not something that I really can’t wrap my mind around. Emotionally, I feel like I am stuck in these feelings and there is no way out. Spirituality, I accept my brother’s death but I feel like there has be something more for me religiously and spiritually and I don’t know what that is. It is like I am stuck and I can’t move.
I am trying every day to accept what has happened here and what I am supposed to make out of it. I know that the answers come with acceptance but it is been almost seven months since we lost my brother and I understand that it’s normal to be angry, to feel sad, to cry and even to grieve. I know that this is an emotional and spiritual wave that I have to ride and while some waves are small, others are pretty big. I just have to hold on until the storm has passed.
I keep this serenity prayer nearby so I can look at it when I find myself doubtful about acceptance of my illnesses, myself and my brother’s death. It is reminder to me that there are things that I cannot control and that even when it is hard, I have to accept them.
The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr (1937)
GOD, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.
Living ONE DAY AT A TIME; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, And supremely happy with Him forever in the next.