November 28, 2014

Learning to Live in the Space Between Hope & Acceptance.


There is a space between where we all must find the ability to live peacefully.

The space is the place that rests directly between hope for what will be, and acceptance of what is. It is not easy to learn how to live peacefully in this space.

I looked at my daughter in the rear view mirror as she stared out the window. She is now six and still not talking much. I tried to analyze my own thoughts as I asked her questions she did not respond to.

My heart broke for a moment. When you have a child with challenges you find solace in the fact that with help they may get better.

But as I looked at her I had to think…what if she never got “better,” what if she never spoke, what if all I ever saw of her was what I saw now? Amazingly, peace came over me as I thought about all the incredible qualities she elicits right now, in this moment. She is kind. She is full of life. She is confident. She is fearless. She is intuitive. She is full of love.

I continued to drive and contemplate. I thought to myself that I can’t continue to live only in the place of hope. Because surprisingly, hope can become a place of agony if the hope is never fulfilled.

Deferred hope can cause you to not live in the moment and place your happiness on a shelf until such a time when the hope is fulfilled. This is a miserable way to live. On the flip side if you live in a place of acceptance of what is, you may feel despair as you accept that the status quo is what always will be.

So how to you live in the space between? How do you live in that tender space that rests between hope and acceptance? A good starting place to do this is to acknowledge the stages of grief. Afterall, we don’t need to strive to have hope, unless we have something we’re grieving.

When something happens in our life that we don’t expect, we must acknowledge that we may have something to grieve. This grief could come in many forms: a woman who cannot have a child, a child who longs for the acceptance of his parents, a spouse that grieves the loss of their loved one…no matter what it is that you are grieving the loss of, you must acknowledge your grief and allow yourself to go through the grief process, so that you can live peacefully in that tender space.

Elisabeth Kubler Ross was an American Psychiatrist who came up with the five stages of grief after working with terminally ill patients and their families. She noted that these stages apply to anyone who has gone through a loss and are not just isolated for those who have lost someone to disease. Here are the five stages of grief:

Denial—As the reality of loss is hard to face, one of the first reactions to follow the loss is Denial. The person is trying to shut out the reality or magnitude of his/her situation, and begins to develop a false, preferable reality.

Anger—Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy. The person in question can be angry with himself, or with others, or at a higher power, and especially those who are close to them.

Certain psychological responses of a person undergoing this phase would be: “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; ‘”Who is to blame?”; “Why would God let this happen?”

Bargaining—The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow undo or avoid a cause of grief. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Other times, they will use anything valuable as a bargaining chip against another human agency to extend or prolong the life they live.

In essence, the individual cannot totally move into acceptance yet acknowledges the fact that what has happened cannot be undone. People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. For example, one may say “Can we still be friends?” when facing a break-up. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially if it is a matter of life or death.

Depression—”I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “I’m going to die soon so what’s the point?”; “I miss my loved one, why go on?” During the fourth stage, the grieving person begins to understand the certainty of death. Much like the existential concept of The Void, the idea of living becomes pointless. Things begin to lose meaning to the griever. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and sullen. This process allows the grieving person to disconnect from things of love and affection, possibly in an attempt to avoid further trauma.

Depression could be referred to as the dress rehearsal for the “aftermath.” It is a kind of acceptance with emotional attachment. It is natural to feel sadness, regret, fear and uncertainty when going through this stage. Feeling those emotions shows that the person has begun to accept the situation. Oftentimes, this is the ideal path to take, to find closure and make their ways to the fifth step, Acceptance.

Acceptance—”It’s going to be okay.”; “I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.” In this last stage, individuals begin to come to terms with their mortality or inevitable future, or that of a loved one, or other tragic event. This stage varies according to the person’s situation. People dying can enter this stage a long time before the people they leave behind, who must pass through their own individual stages of dealing with the grief. This typically comes with a calm, retrospective view for the individual, and a stable mindset.

We all start out life with dreams of what our life will look like, and it is important to pursue these dreams, but in the meantime….as we wait for dreams to be fulfilled, and work hard to fulfill them, we need to find an ability to live peacefully in the space between hope and acceptance. When we acknowledge that we have something to grieve and allow ourselves to slide through the five stages of grief, we can live peacefully in the acceptance of what is. When we can live peacefully in that tenuous place…it is a beautiful thing. The creator of the five stages of grief, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, says it best when she wrote:

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

I’m sure most of us would chose to have a predictable, safe life, but unfortunately, that is rarely what happens. If we allow ourselves to cruise through the five stages of grief, we can become “the most beautiful people,” as we accept what has been brought into our lives and make the best of every hand we have been dealt…living beautifully in the space between.


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Author: Wendy Haley

Editor:  Travis May

Photo: Doomstead Diner

Source for Five Stages: Wikipedia

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