Acceptance is something I have thought about a great deal since Hugo died. It’s a concept I have only recently stopped raging against.
Acceptance is often identified as the ‘final stage’ of grief in the well-intentioned Kubler Ross model. I thought ‘acceptance’ meant acknowledging that what happened to me, to Hugo, to my family was ok. That to accept what had happened meant moving on with my life, and forgetting about Hugo. I thought that reaching a stage of acceptance meant I had come to terms with the fact that my life had been turned upside down, forever changed.
I refused to accept acceptance.
Acceptance is defined as:
… a person’s assent to the reality of a situation, recognising a process or condition (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change it, protest.
It’s not that by refusing to accept my situation meant I did not accept the reality of it. I knew Hugo had died, and that I am not going to get him back, ever. I knew there was nothing I could do to change it.
I made up for it by protesting.
A complication was that so much happened within a short space of time: a serious illness (with a cocktail of drugs); major surgery; caring for a seriously ill baby in the NNU; emotional torture; sleep deprivation. The huge gaps in my memory didn’t help, either. I would sometimes wonder whether it had actually happened, or whether it was an awful nightmare.
Sadly, it was all too real.
Trying to navigate my way through this new life while utterly traumatised, heartbroken, guilt-stricken and confused.
Trying to figure out who this new Leigh is – this new Leigh who had brought stubbornness to a new level, far too quick to get angry, and with a single-minded determination to change the world in Hugo’s memory.
All that protesting, fighting against acceptance is absolutely exhausting. My psychologist talked about acceptance during our sessions. During that time, I would work solidly on my writing, and things related to Hugo’s legacy with unrelenting vigour. I thought I could not do things for myself, to relax, activities had to have a purpose. I needed to show my life was worth living, that I was not wasting life my son was so cruelly deprived of, and certainly not squander time crying, and feeling sorry for myself.
I instead agreed with my psychologist things that were acceptable. Things to be tolerated. Giving myself time to grieve. Finding ways of caring for myself, while still feeling assured I was doing Hugo proud.
She would tell me to tell myself that feelings, whatever they were – sad, happy, scared, hopeful – were just that. Feelings. To accept them for what they were. To not fight them, or attempt to override them. To say they are what they are. Easier said than done, though.
It took me a long time to realise that crying and feeling sorry for myself is more than something to be tolerated, it is to be encouraged. It is a natural part of grieving. And that most importantly, it needs to be done. Ignoring it does not make the grief go away, it makes it a lot worse. Grief seeps under your skin and in to the marrow of your bones, tainting everything you do – it is something that has to be dealt with, somehow.
It’s taken me until recently to realise it.
I have spent the past 18 months utterly exhausted. Grief is a heavy burden to carry, as is trauma. Possibly I don’t help myself by working so hard on Hugo’s legacy, but to sit and do nothing is not physically or emotionally possible for me.
So, a couple of weeks ago I found myself during an emotional breakdown admitting between heaving sobs, “I’m beginning to understand what my psychologist meant about acceptance.”
Acceptance means laying off the protests. It does not mean I have to like how my life has changed, or that I think it is fine. It does not mean I will ever stop loving Hugo, or missing him so much it hurts.
Acceptance is about being kinder to myself. It is about accepting that the changes in my life means that I have to change the way I treat myself. I do not have the energy levels that I used to have, and trauma triggers a-plenty means that so many ‘normal’ situations are fraught with emotional landmines.
Accepting that I cannot change the world (well not within the unrealistic timescales I had set for myself, anyway). Realising that not achieving that goal is not a failure, and does not make me a bad person.
Accepting instead that sometimes, just getting through the day relatively unscathed is an achievement to feel proud of.
Accepting that while I can do some things to help myself, I do not always have control over my feelings. Grief and trauma will bite me, often when I least expect it. I need to tell myself they are what they are, to accept those feelings, and do what I need to do to ride it out.
Accepting that my needs, and the needs of my family come first, and that most other things don’t matter all that much, usually.
I found out that acceptance is close in meaning to ‘acquiescence’, which is derived from the Latin ‘acquiēscere’ (to find rest in).
I like the idea of finding rest in something. I accept that in order to keep going, I need to find some peace.
And if that means an acceptance of things I do not like, so be it.
For everyone I love and who loves me.