Grief: Acceptance or Acquiescence?

(Twenty-ninth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)

I have never been one to accept something without question – anyone who knows me well, knows this – and they live with the frustration my incessant questions create. But it’s the way I need to process what is happening to or in or around me in order for me to honestly make the decision to accept or reject whatever the issue is at hand. I don’t think I could live with myself if I pretended I agreed or accepted something when I didn’t – the dishonesty would keep me in turmoil. And many times, it is ultimately for self-preservation that I accept something distasteful or painful when I finally understand there is no other option.

Death leaves us no other option – it is not negotiable. For most of us, our survival instinct brings us to the realization that in order to retain our sanity, we must eventually accept death – even of those we love the most in this world – whether we like it or not.

After the first four stages of loss and grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression – comes acceptance. Acceptance is not an end point but a process that we each, in our own time, use to reintegrate the pieces of our life without our loved one’s presence. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross tells us in On Grief and Grieving that acceptance does not mean we are okay with what has happened but rather it is about accepting the reality of what has happened, that our loved one is gone, and that we have a new reality which is permanent. We slowly transfer our energy from our loss and re-invest it in our life.

For those of us who experience complicated grief, the readjustment to life without a child is understandably harder because it increases the sense of unfairness. Children are supposed to bury their parents, not vice versa. Accepting that it was our son’s time to die while we, and others, live on will never seem fair. But we know we cannot change it and that it is our time to heal. The healing process can actually bring us closer to our son as we begin a new relationship with him, even while we plod ahead in uncharted territory.

Acceptance cannot be rushed, and it cannot come before grief is fully experienced and processed. Regardless of the non-linear moving in and out of the first four stages of grief, acceptance necessarily comes afterwards. In reflecting on my journal entries from the first weeks and months after JL’s death, it seems I felt some pressure at that time to accept, to move on. Was it self-imposed from my own impatience, trying to escape the pain, or was it pressure (either real or imagined) from the world around me? Regardless of the source, I was absolutely not ready to accept what had happened and I knew I would just have to live with the discomfort that accompanied working through my grief. Others would either allow me this time or I would simply not spend time around them.

Many times, acquiescence is what those who are uncomfortable with grief are actually asking of us. But acquiescence is different than acceptance: it is reluctant acceptance, resignation, without protest. Seeming like you accept something while deep inside you don’t want to or you still have nagging questions but for some reason (usually external pressure) you just ‘accept’ and don’t make a fuss. But have you noticed that when we do this, many times resentment takes hold and grows and festers until at some point our true feelings burst out? We should never allow ourselves to be pressured into acquiescing.

After our son’s death, we realized were facing a similar challenge as those who are learning acceptance in recovery: surrendering to what is, not to how we wish things are, and letting go and turning over control. Accepting our place in the scheme of things, in The Big Picture, in The Universe, in order to have sobriety, to have peace, is the same for those in the grief process. How ironic, we thought, that we were again facing a challenge that we and our son had been facing in the years before his death.

As we begin to accept reality, ultimately, we are accepting our mortal-ness, our human-ness, our limitations, our fallibilities. This is where forgiveness and grace come in, towards ourselves and others. Accepting our son’s death as best for some unknowable reason lies in the spiritual sphere, where we can each choose to go or not. What I do know is that when I fully accept, I move myself from the ever-elusive realm of wishful thinking into the domain of reality of life here on earth. What enabled John and I to fully accept the tragedy of our son’s death and experience peace was our hope in a joyful reunion in eternity together, anchored in our faith and trust in God and his promises.

Time & Eternity

(Twenty-seventh in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)

Death naturally brings up thoughts and questions about existence beyond this life, this earthly existence. I love how John Milton said it: “Death is the golden key that opens the palace of eternity.” For us, after a death so intimate as our son’s, one can imagine how often we thought about it, particularly in the subsequent months.

One thought that continues to captivate John and I is the possibility that others can look into our time while they are in eternity, in heaven, like someone looking into a cell under a microscope at us, the human specimens. Or are they frozen in time, like being in a time capsule?

Six weeks after JL’s death, my journal entry highlights these questionings:


Mom here. I’ve been wondering, and wishing I knew the answer for sure, if you and others who are gone can hear us and are conscious of what is happening on earth and in our lives. Can you hear when Dad and I talk to you? If you can, I think you would be crying for us many times as you see and hear our pain. I hope we are not causing you any more pain…

Dad and I went out to dinner and talked about this. What he brought up was that eternity, by definition, is the absence of time as we know it here on earth. So, if those of you who are dead are also in “no time,” even though present with the Lord, you may not experience any consciousness between death and the final resurrection we believe in—it may just be a flash. Hmmm…I don’t like that concept. I want to know you hear me and my apologies and love and thoughts towards you.

Singer-songwriter Phil Keaggy’s song “Time” from his album Love Broke Thru expresses the limits in which Father Time exists:

My friend, David Such (a mechanical engineer, writer, artist) wrote a blog about the Elasticity of Time. Here is a relevant thought from that blog:

Most of us human beings are locked into “earth time” so it can sometimes be difficult to understand, but Einstein taught that “time” is elastic depending on one’s position, perspective, and velocity. I am merely a mechanical engineer and do not fully understand all the physics or all the mathematics, but I do understand the concept as follows. As we increase our velocity, we reduce the difference between our own speed and the speed of light. This is insignificant unless our velocity is extremely high. As we approach the speed of light, “time” slows to a standstill (and apparently, even “matter” takes on different shapes and densities).

In 1676, the Danish astronomer, Olaus Roemer, first successfully measured the speed of light: Lightspeed. For those of us who believe in God and that his intelligence designed the Universe, his words “Let there be light” have much significance. Eternity must at least be full of light, beyond time, beyond darkness and death. In death do we instantaneously exist in lightspeed and the absence of time?

If so, is JL zipping and zooming around the universe at lightspeed now, with all the other souls who have left this earthly constraint of time? I have no clue, but I smile at the thought.

A Lament and A Love Song – for Our Son

Lament for a Son is an intensely personal tribute by Nicholas Wolterstorff to his 25-yr-old son who died in a climbing accident. It is eloquent and unforgettable as he gives voice to a grief that is both unique and universal: the tortured pain of losing an individual, a child, your child.

We lost our 25-yr-old son to a heroin overdose six years ago on August 2, 2014. Lament for a Son has been one of our go-to books since that time. Wolterstorff expresses the incomprehension and sense of unfairness that, I believe, parents worldwide feel when they lose a child – someone who is supposed to bury you, not the other way around. It doesn’t fit with the cycle of life we expect – it is jarring, unsettling, bewildering, frustrating, disquieting.

In the Preface he relates:

A friend told me he gave a copy of Lament to all of his children. “Why?” I asked. “Because it’s a love song,” he said. That took me aback. But, Yes, it is a love-song. Every lament is a love song. Will love-songs one day no longer be laments?

Yet, while the book expresses the common feelings brought on by sudden unexpected death, what he doesn’t share with those of us who have lost a child to drug/alcohol addiction are the previous long years, sometimes decades, of turmoil, anxiety, fear, and depression that we experience on top of all the normal grief.

And shame.

There is no glory in being the parent of someone who is an addict or alcoholic.

Continue reading “A Lament and A Love Song – for Our Son”