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November 23, 2016

Acceptance is not the Final Stage of Grief—This Is.

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“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

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“It feels like someone has died.”

“Apparently I’m in the anger stage of the grief process now.”

“The last time I felt like this was 9/11.”

These are words I’ve either said myself or heard others say countless times in the last week.

For many of us, the results of the U.S. presidential election feels like a death. The death of the values we believed our country held—values such as tolerance and compassion, progress and peace.

I’ve watched myself and many around me cycle through the grief process, whooshing through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief. I’ve felt denial, a slick sheen of disbelief that this could actually be happening. Anger—how could so many people have voted that way? Bargaining—perhaps we could still somehow change the outcome of the election. And depression—the wet, bottomless tug of despair, the sensation of sinking.

And though it’s only been a couple of weeks, I’ve even felt glimpses of acceptance.

I’ve looked at my life and found the same immense beauty that was there before. I’ve felt faith that the world is still a good place. I’ve baked muffins for neighbors and tried to meet the eyes of strangers with a smile. I’ve willed my heart and mind to stretch beyond what’s comfortable, to open to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, there will be hidden blessings as a result of this outcome.

But I don’t believe that acceptance is the final stage of healthy grief.

Action is.

Action in the face of loss is powerful. It’s what seeds organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. It’s what drives people who’ve survived unbearable heartache to devote their lives to the cause. Action is how we knit together a sense of meaning from our most troubling experiences—whether they’re personal or national or global—from what we’ve lost and mourned.

Losing someone hurts deeply. Waking up to a country that no longer seems aligned with our values aches.

But devastation can also serve as a wake-up call. Loss can brighten and deepen our resolve to do good, to recommit to living a life that aligns with our values. In feeling shattered, we have the opportunity to reassemble ourselves in a more authentic way.

Our actions can be small, local and kind: like bringing warm bread to a neighbor or donating to a local cause. Or they can be more immense—we might decide to change careers, dedicating our time to something that truly suits our value system.

The actions we take are personal to us. They might not be immediate, and they don’t necessarily need to conform with what our friends are suggesting on Facebook. It can take time to process the shifts that are unfolding, and to then find the place where the needs of our world meet up with our own gifts and resources.

So we’ll take the time we need. We’ll take care of ourselves and our loves.

And then, when we are ready, let’s accept the offer to wake up, heal up, and suit up.

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Author: Lynn Shattuck

Image: Alex Hockett/Unsplash

Editors: Catherine Monkman; Callie Rushton

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