Diamond-Cut Life

How To Be Rich In What Matters

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“You Need To Accept This”

September 8th, 2013 by Alison · 18 Comments · climate change (global warming), relationships, spirituality

I was crying — big, Kleenex-devouring sobs — in the office of a woman I had met two minutes earlier. It was June, 2000, in Orange County California. The woman was a medical social worker.

I had just told her about my mother’s crushing, overwhelming health problems including Parkinson’s disease. Then the tears started gushing.

“You need to accept this situation,” the social worker stated. Her face and tone of voice were neutral, neither warm nor cold.

I was so surprised I stopped crying. I had pictured a few words of comfort from a medical social worker.

I needed to accept that my mother was withering away in a hospital bed with a vast array of medical issues?

I hadn’t thought my mom would suddenly get all better. But it had never occurred to me that I had a problem too, in that I was failing to accept what was happening.

The social worker saw that in my frustrated crying, I was breaking myself over something I couldn’t possibly control.

As it turned out, my mother slowly got better. She had three peaceful years back at home before she moved to assisted living, and then a lovely private home that gave personalized care to a few people.  I was better able to accept her ongoing decline, though of course I was never happy about it.

I was blessed to be at Mom’s side in her final days in March, 2011. The closeness between us as she died made me profoundly rich in what matters —  in this case, closeness to loved ones.

If I had not been able to accept that she was dying, I would never have been able to be so emotionally close to her. I had to surrender to that reality, even though it made me terribly sad.

Being rich in what matters, as opposed to chasing after ever more or better material things, is the crux of the diamond-cut life.

Sometimes we’ve got to grieve and cry before we’re ready to accept a hard thing. That’s true not just of personal situations like me with my mother’s decline, but of larger social issues. Climate change comes to mind here. Our culture isn’t even at the crying stage yet on climate change.

Going back to the personal level, are you able to accept things you cannot control? Do you think that practicing acceptance can make us richer in what matters, like intimate relationships?

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18 Comments so far ↓

  • grnpwrguy

    Great post! This really connects with my heart!

    • Alison

      Thanks, Green Power Guy. I think the mainstream culture either has us living up in our heads in a me-first place, or in a sentimental, Hallmarky place that does not represent our true hearts. I’m glad this post connected with (what sounds like) your true heart.

  • Dana

    So did the social worker’s message help you?Directness is essential in my world (nursing) although there should be a degree of compassion. My guess though, is that the recipient of the direct, difficult to accept, message may not always perceive the speaker’s efforts at empathy. Denial or unrealistic expectations by family/decision makers have often hampered our efforts to respect a patient’s end of life wishes.
    In your case, it sounds like you had the time to grieve and cry but was it enough? Was it getting you to that place of acceptance or did you need that direct observation/push?…was it helpful?

    • Alison

      Good question, Dana. What the social worker said did help me. She was right that I needed to accept what was happening — I hadn’t yet been doing that.

      When you speak of empathy and compassion needing to go hand in hand with directness — no. I didn’t get that from this social worker. I got empathy and compassion from other people in my life at that time, but not from her.

      What’s interesting to me is that two other therapists I’ve seen at various other points in my life did give me compassion — but weren’t necessarily very direct or helpful. But the one that Thor and I have seen periodically to help us with our marriage is compassionate AND direct AND helpful.

      I think you’re right that those things need to all happen together. I picture you working in the ICU giving people the whole package: empathy, compassion, directness and true helpfulness. I think that’s who you are.

      • Dana

        Oops, I better clarify. Compassion and empathy are great gift wrap (which I do try to include) but the “directness” is the gift. Without it, we are in limbo and patients (and ultimately, their loved ones) suffer needlessly.

        • Alison

          Dana, I take your word for it that in the ICU world, directness is the pivotal gift. There is no time to spare in that world.

          I think that outside the ICU, people often literally cannot comprehend things said directly, if empathy is not there.

  • Mike

    Alison, this was a very powerful story. AND very ironic for me. I literally wrote about my final talk with mom just last night. I’m letting it marinate before I post it…or not. She died last year. I do think acceptance is wonderful thing for matters that we can not control. And especially so in intimate relationships. That can be a significant other, a lover or a friendship. Lots of different levels of intimacy if you get what I’m sharing. So for me, accepting things out of my control have helped to enrich not only myself but those around me. Do I fight it tooth and nail sometimes? Absolutely. It’s a work in progress. Wow, this was a tough read for me. But, you post is absolutely AMAZING!!! Thank you for your raw honesty…you know I’m drawn to that as a reader. You are doing fantastic, my friend! :)

    • Alison

      Mike, I have my “Fights” about control too, just like My Inner Chick, who also commented. It’s often confusing just to figure out whether or not we should be retaining some control (i.e., is it really this person’s time to die yet? Should we be getting more medical opinions? How do we know?)

      I’ll be intrigued to see what you wrote about your mom’s passing, if you choose to publish it. I agree about letting something sit and marinate after we write it. I find that especially if I was writing from “raw honesty” (good phrase of yours, thanks) — the piece benefits from later honing/editing, so that it makes sense to others, and not just to me.

      Thanks for the feedback and encouragement, Mike.

  • Michael Fortune

    Alison, I much appreciate your story of your mother’s health crisis, and your crisis of accepting it, in 2000.
    My father died in the same year that your mother did, in 2011. Like you and your mother, he declined in health but ramped up his readiness to have heart-to-heart conversations in the final years and months of our time together. Though he was 2000 miles distant, we had time and emotional space to connect well — finally !!

    • Alison

      Michael, isn’t that a fulfilling experience, to connect heart to heart, including as we say our earthly good-byes? I love hearing your story. Thanks for sharing it.

  • My Inner Chick

    I despise not having control.

    I know intellectually I need to accept certain things- but I definitely would not want somebody to say- ““You need to accept this situation” as the social worker did to you. I mean, even though it’s completely true, it’s still cold and un-empathetic.

    On the other hand, I’m glad you could spend quality time w/ your mother. <3

    • Alison

      It’s hard to let go of control. And, some things we really should keep control of (our bodies, for example). I ended up learning more from this woman, though, in just that brief interaction, than many people in my life who used a whole lot of words.

  • Arleen

    Death is hard for all of us as we have no control over the situation. I am not an alcolohic and I rarely drink, but I have learned more from this serenity prayer and try to bring to everyday life.

    God, give us grace to accept with serenity
    the things that cannot be changed,
    courage to change the things
    which should be changed,
    and the wisdom to distinguish
    the one from the other.

    Living one day at a time,
    Enjoying one moment at a time,
    Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace.

    • Alison

      Arleen, when I was younger I went to a lot of AlAnon meetings, and said the serenity prayer many times. I agree with you that it’s a good one. I’m unfamiliar with this phrase, though: “Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace”. This phrase resonates for me as a principle for accepting and dealing with climate change as we move forward through the years. Everything I have read indicates there will be many hardships. The developed world in particular will have to do a lot of growing up.

  • Debra Yearwood

    I hate the idea that I might tilt at windmills, but I know I’ve done it. I suppose it comes down to that fine line of knowing which way to go in any given situation. There are times that things have seemed pointless and yet perseverance won the day. There are other times when I have given up just in time to save myself a lot of grief. The best we can hope for, as Arleen noted with the serenity prayer, is the wisdom to know the difference.

    • Alison

      I agree Debra. Spiritual discernment is another term for “the wisdom to know the difference”. It’s something I often pray for.

  • Nancy Brandt

    My mom Peggy also passed away around that time. She had lung cancer and went from visiting us here in Illinois in October (first time she seemed like she was getting old) and passing away at the end of February. When she called and told me she had lung cancer, I was able to accept it, even though I had always thought that my mom’s death would be the hardest thing I would ever have to go through. I am so thankful I had such a wonderful, fun, loving, energetic mom. It seemed like everyone who knew her loved her.

    • Alison

      Time after time I have found myself telling people about your mom Peggy and how much she meant to me. The context is usually teenager/adult relations. I say, “You know, when I was a teenager, I really liked my friend’s mom, Peggy. She was the coolest lady. I loved talking with her about books, and life in general. But I never told her how much she meant to me. That just wasn’t something a teenager would think to say. So, all these teenagers in our lives now, who won’t give us the time of day? We possibly mean a lot to them, but as teenagers, it would never occur to them to tell us that.”

      It’s great that you were able to accept her lung cancer and demise. I’m especially glad that she got to go quickly, rather than a long, lingering decline (October to February sounds fairly quick). I’m so glad we are reconnecting, Nancy. I’ve thought of you and your mom hundreds of times over the years.

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