The stages of grief include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. When facing one’s own death, or that of a loved one, each stage has tasks and must be worked through. And it’s hard work. They will not happen in any particular order. You can go back to one after you think you’re past it.
The final phase, Acceptance, is the subject of this article.
The ancient Greeks considered sleep and death to be brothers. Death was not considered and end of anything, but a transition into a new facet of being. The Jewish Bible gives us a wonderful lesson on acceptance in the passages on the death of Moses.
Somehow, this got lost in The American Spirit. We’re individualists who thrive on mastering our surroundings, taking control, and influencing final outcomes. We spend millions of dollars on ways to look younger. We support medical research that has done away with many maladies, and is working on an ever growing list. If we can stop diseases and the early deaths they brought, can a final control over death itself be far behind? Some are so convinced of this they have had themselves frozen until such time comes, and they can be revived. We consider Death to be the ultimate frontier, and welcome the challenge.
Modern medicine is dedicated to health and longevity. Even here, the Final Answer is delayed as long as possible. Many doctors take heroic measures up to the last minute, encouraged by families unprepared for the inevitable outcome. Even when ‘everything we could’ has been done, there is still hesitation to inform the patient and family of what is next. We give hints, use euphemistic terms, hoping the patient catches on to what we’re trying to say.
This results in shortening the time one has to prepare. If one has not worked through all the stages of grief before death comes, there is unfinished business. Anyone who has kept a death bed vigil can tell you the power of this issue.
Dr. Kubler Ross defines Acceptance as a positive time in the process. There is a return to stability. The person feels ready, and gets actively involved in preparations. Affairs are put in order, people spoken to, wishes expressed. Priorities change. They are happy and content, often helping others come to grips with what will happen. They are not ‘giving up, not fighting’, as sometimes accused by those still in denial. But they are optimizing what promises to be a sacred, marvelous experience. People who have shared Near Death Experiences report that they had no fear, and felt they were moving toward something wonderful.
Do not mistake Spirituality as some magic that will allow you control. It is not a cure. Spirituality is a way of life. It is living connected to a Supreme Being, your self and others. It is a striving towards universal peace.
Death simply means that a life is complete, whether at 8 weeks or 80 years.
The greatest final gift we can give then is to listen, encourage, support and be present. The price of this gift is very dear, but none other compares to it.
One’s acceptance of impending death is rather greatly influenced by how one’s life was lived. A close relationship with God is certainly an advantage. A life spent striving for good, and being the best person we can be, removes a lot of stress. To have been loving and kind, generous and helpful, definitely comes into play. Adhere closely to the tenets of a spiritual, faith filled life, and the end isn’t very scary at all. The Christian Bible tells us to “Be ready, because you don’t know when the Bridegroom will come”, and that death “Comes like a thief in the night.”
In other words, live each day as though it is your last. One day, you’ll be right. And you’ll be prepared.