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Practicing Radical Acceptance Through the Tsunami of Grief Is Harder Than It Should Be

Grief sucks, pure and simple.

I’ve been grieving my father’s death now for 12 years, and over that time, it hasn’t exactly lessened. Grief is a moth that goes through endless cycles of metamorphosis. The first time you emerge from its chrysalis, you believe yourself changed but that’s it, you’re done, your wings will sprout and you’ll have to acclimatize to your new reality. But then, it changes again, and again, into new and nightmarish forms. Its dimensions and volume haven’t changed, only the way its parts fit together.

I’ve gone through grief counseling and other forms of therapy. I’ve questioned whether I could have prolonged grief disorder. I’ve watched my grief change from that initial, all-consuming horror to a quiet sense of emptiness, only to transform again years later into betrayal, and I fought to assimilate new knowledge of the man my father was.

This year, I really thought I was done. I watched the calendar turn and thought, “This is it. This year, it will be easier.” I was wrong. This year came the way “Eat, Pray, Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert once described — like a tsunami:

“When Grief comes to visit me, it’s like being visited by a tsunami. I am given just enough warning to say, ‘Oh my god, this is happening RIGHT NOW,’ and then I drop to the floor on my knees and let it rock me.”

But there’s a kind of magic in Elizabeth Gilbert’s way that she handles her grief: radical acceptance. It’s a concept familiar to anyone who has experienced dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). It teaches us that pain turns to suffering when we are unable to accept it as outside of our control. Elizabeth Gilbert says:

“The only way that I can ‘handle’ Grief, then, is the same way that I ‘handle’ Love — by not ‘handling’ it.

liking parting feelings

Elizabeth Gilbert

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