What Acceptance Looks Like

Often there are “stages” of grief spoken about. I don’t believe in that concept. I don’t believe that experience, trauma, emotions, and healing can be boxed in like that. Of course, you’ll see people say things like, “The stages of grief aren’t linear” or “You can go in and out of any stage 10 years after your trauma with a simple trigger”. Ok, I appreciate that outlook on the stages of grief for sure. But I still it’s just so cut and dry like that. Recently I was listening to Cheryl Strayed on a podcast (the woman who wrote Wild which eventually became a film starring Reese Witherspoon) and she was discussing the loss of her mother. It has been some time, maybe almost 20 years, since her mother passed away. She said she still misses her mother every single day. That’s what grief can really look like. Maybe she’s not angry, maybe she’s not sad, but she still misses her. This feels like the way I approach grief as well. I miss our sons and always will. I’m not sure I had an “angry” phase, and maybe I never will. Because I don’t believe there are any stages. But a piece of me will always be sad, always miss them, and always have a little bit of pain around the experience of holding them so briefly and having to say goodbye so quickly.

Recently we went to Yosemite National Park, at one of the worst times of the year, fall. It’s so cold, don’t go there in the fall, there’s no water in the falls and it’s just cold and miserable …. Ok so that’s not true but I tell you that so that it doesn’t get overcrowded there during our favorite time of year! Fall is the most lovely time of year in Yosemite. I’m sure spring is beautiful as well. But fall is just really special there. So do check it out at least once in your life :)

On a walk along the valley floor to a trail head, there was a family with two small boys walking right behind us. The boys sped up, went past us, and proceeded to play around along the trail, balancing on logs on the side and throwing fall leaves around. Then they stopped and I got a good look at them. They were twins, identical. They were probably in their late 3’s or early 4’s, with big brown eyes and the cutest but most mischievous little smiles. I bantered with them for a moment, smiled to the parents, and then we kept walking on. One more time they ran past us and then stalled back, waiting for their parents. After a few moments we were well past them (they stopped a lot to just be curious kids) and I started bawling. I buried my face into Ryan’s arm and we just kept walking, the only sound was a few birds, the leaves in the breeze, and my sniffles from crying. Although we didn’t have identical twin boys, and they wouldn’t be almost 4 years old by now, it just really hit me. Hard.

We’d never go on a family vacation with our sons, travel and explore all the curiosities of the world around us. That is not going to happen in this lifetime. And then I started to wonder if we’d ever have any children to share the world with. The wonder of a child’s eye when they are in nature is the most exciting experience, and I found myself crying over the loss that we may never have a life like that. The tears came hard and fast, and then subsided after a few minutes. We stopped, I had a drink of water and started to breathe. I was probably breathing before, I just don’t remember. I asked Ryan if he was ok, and he said he was. He’s so amazing, I don’t know how he does it. He has told me time and time again, that our boys left when they did, and that stopped his “what if’s” about anything in the future. He knows they are not here, so his mind doesn’t go there. It’s a gift really. I’d give anything to never have a “what if” float through my head and ruin my day!

After a few deeper breaths, the crisp air revitalized me. We kept going on the trail, a very simple nature walk, and I started to look around at all the beauty immediately surrounding me. The grandeur of the sheer, granite cliffs surrounding the valley. The fall leaves covering the forest floor with a blanket of golden softness. The unique and intricate features of the hiking path, winding past massive boulders, under trees, over bridges and alongside a dry creek bed. I took it all in, with such a feeling of presence, reverence, and awe for the incredible world around me that I am so fortunate to be a part of. And all of a sudden, I was ok. I really was. There was a calm that came over me that I can’t explain, and can still feel in this moment as I think of it. Along with that calm, I felt a massive shift took place. I can only describe this shift as acceptance. And as someone who doesn’t believe in the stages of grief, maybe I did get a glimpse of what is possible and maybe there are stages, just in various unique forms that are impossible to identify because they are so individual to each circumstance.

So what does this acceptance feel like? I’m still trying to figure it out. It’s not like our loss has been ignored. It’s not like our feelings and experience have been diminished. But something shifted to deeply in me on that day that I can’t help but feel like it’s something to the effect of accepting a new reality, accepting what cannot be changed, and accepting that there is a new future ahead to hope for and to live for.

Hope. Acceptance feels like hope. Hope for what, I don’t know. Maybe just hope, because does hope need to have an outcome? Does hope need to have something attached to it. I don’t think so.

Acceptance feels like hope. In that moment, with that experience of seeing the twin boys and having such a radical shift in that moment, acceptance feels like hope. I’ll take it, because I’ve had days where I’ve felt much less than something that could even resemble hope. It’s a journey, ever winding and changing. So for now, if a wave of acceptance is showing up, I will definitely ride this one out.