Long before I came to experience and better understand grief, I came to this, my personal understanding of how to make major and minor decisions, or confront situations in life: In the end, you have only three choices: Ignore, Change, or Accept. As a father, this was part of what came to be called Dadvice.
Ignore is the most passive option, easy because it requires no action, but the one with the greatest risk over the long term. When we ignore something, it’s the equivalent of putting the weight of the decision into a backpack that we must carry throughout our life. We become heavier every time we avoid a decision when we’re prone to ignoring. The weight of ignored issues grows to the point of discomfort and if we do enough ignoring we eventually collapse. When we collapse, we spill our emotional backpack of all the decisions we have ignored around us. Our immediate reaction will be to be overwhelmed with the magnitude of the decisions we should resolve, which may be depressing to us. Alternatively, some of us will walk away and never deal with those issues that have spilled out. Most of us will re-stuff the backpack and drag ourselves onward. That cycle of loading the emotional backpack, collapsing, reloading and moving on will repeat time and again. If we walk away, as we look back we will see piles of ignored issues left behind in our wake. These abandoned piles will become the basis for regrets as we look back on our lives.
Change is the most productive choice, because if we change something it will likely never be an issue again. Our goal through change is to resolve the problem to a point of understanding where we simply deal with it and similar future problems without worrying or thinking too much. When we learn to change, we can come to the same or similar problem in the future knowing how we want to deal with it, so we have less distraction and worry when problems repeat. Change takes work, change risks failure, and we can’t change some things that we would like to. So, change requires realism and an analysis of whether or not this problem can be changed, and then consideration of the best way to change it. More work, more thought, but you very constructively bring positive change to your life when you resolve problems with change.
Accept is the final choice. What you can’t change, and can’t ignore, you will need to work to accept. Acceptance simplifies things, but acceptance requires the most work. Often we look at acceptance negatively, as failure, as something that was forced on us, something that we tried to change but couldn’t, we worked hard to change and failed. So, acceptance often involves some measure of resignation, some component that life has perhaps beaten you unfairly.
Grief is an unfair opponent in this process, because most of grief can’t be changed, most of grief will force you to accept, and this happens at a time when you are emotionally under duress and very likely in the mood to fight change or acceptance. Spending precious energy on things we can’t possibly change or ignore is exhausting and has disappointing results. We know that logically, but our anger at feeling powerless often drives the process we go through.
I tell everyone new to grief that you must accept that grief will change you, the sooner you accept this the easier your journey will become. You may want your old “normal” life back, but grief will change you and you will need to accept those changes as inevitable so that you can guide them in the best possible direction for the rest of your life. Quite possibly, grief will teach you that some parts of your life before grief were those things bin your backpack, the extra weight that you carry in your life daily.
Once you understand and accept that grief must change you, that changing through grief is inevitable, then you can pick and choose some of the changes that grief brings, and learn to comfortably accept the ones that can’t be changed. We must be very cautious about what we try to ignore in grief, because ignored grief is relentless hunter of the love you carry in your own soul.
We loved a person, they have died. We can’t change that fact, we can’t ignore it because it has happened, so we must simply accept the death of a loved one. The honesty of that acceptance will free you to explore more of the positives of the love that you have shared in life with this person.
So, in the distillation of grief, I ask you to add honesty to the mix, the honesty that the life we have lost is far too important to ignore, the death is real and impossible to change, and so we must accept that we will be changed by this loss and try to make those changes as positive as possible.
Be well, seek peace, and accept that grief will change you.