(6.4) Acceptance and Joy

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Acceptance: What Happened, Happened

On an intellectual level, it can seem pretty easy to ‘accept’ that what happened, happened. But if you find yourself wondering, “But what if I had done X?” or “What if they had done Y?” then your brain is demonstrating that you haven’t fully accepted that the loss or transition has happened and there’s no going back.

Now, I’m all about doing better next time, running through scenarios that I might encounter again so that I am prepared to make healthier choices in the future. Try to differentiate between that and a. beating yourself up for making mistakes or b. finding ways to cheat fate to make it not happen.

It was kind of fascinating to me that option b above was even possible. On a rational level, I knew that whatever I come up with won’t bring the dog or person back to life, but on some deeper level, I think that’s what my mind was looking for. If I could only find some way to prevent his death, it would be prevented. But unfortunately, that’s not how time seems to work. It’s a one-way street as long as we’re here in human bodies, so me coming up with ideas was just delaying my own healing, via acceptance.

So any time I caught myself creating scenarios in which my husband lived, I’d say something like, “but that didn’t happen. And I can’t fix things. Brice is dead. No matter what I do now, Brice is still dead.” I’d pull out a picture and say goodbye to his human incarnation, yet again, allowing my sadness to come back and be fully felt. Sadness had been held at bay temporarily by my hunt for ideas. I had to feel it in order to dull its sharpness, to integrate the experience instead of shoving it away.

Do this with whatever emotions come up for you. It may be anger (although sadness may still be under that) or fear or something else.


Joy isn’t about always being happy. It’s just the opposite of suffering. It is savoring whatever experience currently happens, including grief and loss. Joy is the opposite of struggling with your fate. Accepting that I am exactly where I am, and looking at what’s possible from here with an open mind, that’s joy.

And mourning also doesn’t mean happiness isn’t possible. Quite the contrary. After savoring sadness until it flowed away, there would also be regular life, cuddling with the dogs, or times when I would have such amazing gratitude for the people who would hold space for me to talk about Brice.

There would also times when I’d relive happy experiences we had had together. Sometimes I’d also be crying, while still feeling grateful to have had time with him. In my reading and other learning, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with savoring a past experience, as long as it’s not a way to avoid the present or accepting the loss.

The more I accepted Brice’s death, the longer of a respite I’d have between “grief bursts.” Grief doesn’t come in stages, like they used to think. It comes in waves, where unprocessed grief is triggered by the environment or something in our own minds.

At the time of writing, I’m about 6 months out from his suicide, and I estimate I get 1-3 grief bursts a week. They’re smaller than before and I’m really grateful when they come, because it ends up releasing tension, like a summer storm. I think about him a lot, many times a day, but now it’s a lot less painful. Less sharp, less frequent.

In some ways, it’s not so different from rehabilitating dog reactivity: finding all the triggers and experiencing them in a different way. Except with dog reactivity, we would work the edges, stay where the dog is pushing the comfort zone but still inside of it, because we are dealing with fear, and we also have no way to help the dog process the experience in words.

But with mourning, I’m working on acceptance, and go as deep into the pain as I can, accepting it and relaxing into it, letting it pour back out of me like water. Similar to the dogs, though, if were to find that I’m ‘over threshold’ and no longer doing healthy behavior (drinking, self-harm, anything like that) then I might not go into the emotion as deeply at the moment.

[P.S. If you’re considering self-harm, please phone a friend, consult a professional, or call a crisis line.]

By processing grief, by letting myself feel all of the pain, anger, sadness, happiness, relief, etc. as it comes, I continue to live a life of joy, even with tears streaming down my face. Experiencing grief builds my compassion, because I see that we are have grief, every one of us.

Allowing others to hear my grief, and listening to theirs, helps me realize yet again that I am not at all alone, even though my individual grief may be unique. Accepting life as it is and leaning toward the possibilities of the future leaves a lot of room for happiness to take root.