Friday, May 9, 2008

Acceptance..... You Don't Have to Like It, But........

The final stage in the process is acceptance. Don't confuse that with being pleased with the diagnosis and prognosis. Acceptance doesn't mean you like it, it just means you understand you cannot control it. And it means you want to move on and complete the things that you do have control over, like how you spend the rest of the time left.

Do you want to love, leave a legacy, write a memoir, get your papers in order, visit Disney World, fly a kite, roller skate for the first time? If it is the sudden death of a relationship or a loved one, you have less control about the legacy they leave but you can still make a difference for the good. The acceptance stage is where you make that positive decision to make life worthwhile.

I told you I would give you an example from my own career where I observed all stages in one afternoon. It was Mother's Day weekend several years ago when an 11 year old boy got hit by a car. In the emergency room his parents arrived in denial, saying things to each other like, " he'll be ok,"and "this can't be happening, he is strong, he will pull through."

Then came the anger. Dad slammed his fist into the wall when the doctor came out and said it didn't look good. He swore, he cried. He threatened to kill the driver of the other vehicle. Security had to be called. A half hour into the wait, the doctors came back into to see the parents and again, let them know it wasn't good. They were still working on the child trying to get his heart rate back.

Bargaining was next as dad told mom he would get that more expensive bike the patient had wanted as soon as he is better. He also promised to not work as much so he can spend more time at home to help his son recover. He promised.

The doctor came in and said all had been done and the boy was pronounced dead. The parents were told they could go in when they were ready. Depression followed for an hour demonstrated by tears, wails of anguish, and dad lying on the floor of the emergency room next to his son's cart.

As the emergency staff went back to taking care of the other patients, I stayed with the parents and other family members who trickled in to see the boy. Each time a visitor came, I had to assure them that all had been done that was possible, his head injury was severe, accidents like this were tragic, and it was in fact, no one's fault. Acceptance of the present situation came and could be recognized when parents were able to decide on a funeral home, take their son's belongings to the conference room, sign the release papers, and actually leave the hospital for home.

I am sure there were other episodes of depression during their grief, but they were able to go through the stages in what is called a healthy normal manner. They didn't attempt to hurt the driver or themselves. The parents recognized their need to be supportive of the other children. And they were able to lean on the other family and friends for support for now.

And when in a similar situation.... being able to function this minute is all you can do. Take it a moment at a time.

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