Acceptance on Stage

Posted on October 27, 2018

Me: “Joel, how come you didn’t act like other babies? How come you didn’t like to be cuddled and held? You were always so antsy.”

Joel: “Mom. I always knew I wasn’t gonna live very long. I knew if I let you hold on to me too tight, you wouldn’t be able to let go of me.”

I sure didn’t see this coming. Just when I was thinking I had reached a tolerable level of acceptance regarding my 18 year old son’s tragic death, and was somewhat moving ahead with my life ~ I wasn’t.

October 1st would have been Joel’s 26th birthday. For the last few years, if anyone asked me if I had children, I would answer that I had twins, but had lost my son in a car accident. With no emotion at all. It was just a factual piece of information. The person would say, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” and I would say, “Thank you.”and the conversation would resume in a different, less awkward direction. I just didn’t talk about Joel unless someone who really cared asked, or I was with someone who had known him. If that were the case, we usually talked about happy memories and the hilarious things he did and said. After all, it had been over 7 years.


I think most people have heard of “The 5 Stages of Grief”~ you know, those neat and tidy little categories some expert of something made up. I think they are something like this:


1. Denial

2. Anger

3. Despair

4. Depression ~ and the shining goal of

5. Acceptance

I’m not sure if I have that quite correct, but I think that’s the main idea. I certainly don’t feel like researching the subject, because being shoved into a category makes me mad. The colors I should wear. The ENFP I supposedly am, according to a popular personality test ~ or worse yet, that other one that claims there are 4 types of people. I think that’s absurd. I believe there are as many types of people as there are people, and that each one of us is unique. But I’ve said that before.

This year, October 1st hit me like a runaway train. After 7 years this seemed kind of odd to me. But I guess you just never know. Those stages of grief may sort of exist, but they certainly are not neat and tidy. In fact, in my experience, grief is messy. Very messy

There were a series of happenings in October that could have triggered my unexpected reactions.

The first thing that happened was a friend request I received on Facebook. It was from a young woman I didn’t know at all. In fact, I had never even heard of her. I looked at her timeline. I didn’t recognize anything about her. But she looked very sweet, and we had 2 mutual friends ~ both were Joel’s friends with whom I am still in touch. So I accepted her friend request. 

The very next day, I received a private message from her. It said she was Joel’s girlfriend at the time of his death. And she wanted to come and talk to me. About what? I didn’t know who she was. Wow. I didn’t know what to do with that. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know anything more about my wayward son than I already did.

So I messaged her back and told her I didn’t know who she was. Then I asked her what she wanted to talk to me about. She replied immediately, saying that she regretted that she hadn’t contacted me sooner. She said she had just gotten married and was moving across the country soon. She said she wanted to bring me some flowers and “pay her respects”, adding that she wanted to get some closure regarding Joel’s death before she moved. Then she added that she wanted to come see me with Ethan, one of Joel’s old friends who I had always been very fond of. I sighed in relief. If Ethan was with her, I felt sure things couldn’t get too weird.

So it sounded awkward, but somewhat okay to me. Actually very sweet. And I could certainly understand where she was coming from emotionally. So I accepted.

The very next day, at a medical appointment, I encountered one of those well meaning, but often very unhelpful “over sympathetics”. I’m sure anyone who has lost someone they love knows what I mean. This woman, who is basically a stranger to me on a personal level, kept going on and on ~ “I can’t imagine the emotional pain you must go through every day. Losing a child is the worst possible thing that a person can go through. You are so brave.” I felt like screaming, “Will you SHUT UP!” at her. Instead, I sat there sobbing uncontrollably. I felt ridiculous and even emotionally violated. She then handed me a box of tissues and asked me “Do you need a moment?” I shook my head with my face buried in my hands. I was thinking, “What I need is to get the hell away from you.”

I left the office and sat in my car for what must have been a full 5 minutes, until I could stop crying.

Please understand, I have no problem with crying. I think it is natural and even healthy. But under the right circumstances. Circumstances that are more the choice of the grieving person than anyone else. I wasn’t angry. In fact, I felt a bit surprised at my strong reaction to her cluelessness. After all this time, I am rather well acquainted with dealing with this sort of situation without batting an eye. But not this time. What was going on with me anyway? I needed to pull myself together and go pick up my kitty, Theo, who was waiting for me at the veterinarian’s office.

I looked at myself in the rear view mirror. I looked horrible and exhausted. After all, I was horribly exhausted. My entire face was swollen, not just my eyes. Anyone would be able to see that I had been crying ~ hard. But I drove to the vet’s office…and the weirdness continued.

After waiting for what seemed forever, and paying the bill that seemed ridiculously high, the sweet girl from behind the counter went back and got my kitty. He was inside a cat carrying box.



This is was the same girl I had seen many times before behind the counter, answering phone calls and checking people’s pets in. Instead of simply handing me the box, she walked me outside with it. As soon as the door closed behind us, she looked at me and said, “Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?” I certainly wasn’t in the mood to  talk to anyone at the moment, but what could  I do with that? So I said, “No, I don’t mind.” She looked at me and said, “Do you know a Joel?” Needless to say, that was the last thing I expected ~ or wanted to hear. I answered, “Yes, he’s my son.”

Then she said, “I’m Cindy.”

I was stunned. This girl I did remember. I just hadn’t recognized her. After all, Joel had dated her in high school, and now she was a grown woman of 25 or 26. But when I looked into her deep brown, soulful eyes, I definitely recognized her. 

What I didn’t tell her was that Joel really did love her. His first steady girlfriend from the time he was 14, I suppose he loved in a childish way. But Cindy was THE ONE in his short life. He had told me the day she broke up with him was the worst day of his life. She was really a nice girl. I’m sure she still is. I didn’t really know what to say. I’m not sure what I did say. I can’t remember.

I cried all the way home. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking, “Joel, why did you have to be such a mess-up? Why couldn’t you have married Cindy and had children and a happy life?”




But things are what they are.

I went home to an empty house, and lay down on the couch in my studio and cried myself to sleep. I knew those “why”  questions are senseless. They will remain unanswered in this life. And they are a recipe for depression.

So I guess my point is, if you have lost someone too soon and your grief doesn’t look like anyone else (even yourself) thinks it should, it doesn’t mean you are going backwards. I think it just means you are an authentic human being.

At the same medical facility where I had a breakdown last week, this week I noticed a poster on the wall. It said,




I liked that. A lot.




everything else seemed to come together... My creativity, my love of helping hurting people, my belief in art as a healing agent and my faith in a God who is filled with love for us all.
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2 Responses to “Acceptance on Stage”

  1. Nancy says:

    I do understand. And I won’t give up if you won’t. There are glorious days ahead.

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