A friend notices over time that his spouse is exhibiting behaviour that could be early signs of dementia. His wife’s friend, a registered nurse, confirms this privately to him.
When his wife is acting strangely, he gets angry, then feels guilty because it could be illness causing her change in behaviour. Then he denies her symptoms. Then he tells me he wouldn’t feel so bad if his wife’s doctor would make a diagnosis that confirms his suspicions, but the doctor says she doesn’t see any signs of the illness.
If I tell my friend he is in the first stages of grief, that his denial, resistance and guilt is connected to the loss of his wife’s faculties, I risk playing the role of doctor – as if I am confirming that his wife is ill, even though she may not be.
He looks outside himself – to medical diagnosis of irreversible illness – to relieve some of his suffering. “If only I knew she was sick… I would know what do.”, he says.
Of course he would know what to do… he would begin grieving the loss of his wife’s faculties by moving from emotional paralysis to thinking and planning for her ongoing care, and the inevitable end.
Without a medical confirmation that he is losing his wife, he spins between denial and bargaining – delaying the onset of grief and the ability to move forward. Therein begins a roundabout of emotional suffering.
As humans, we constantly point to the world outside us for excuses as to why we can’t be at peace right now. When a doctor confirms an illness in my friend’s wife, he will be able to accept it, and become the loving and caring man that he is. But stuck in denial, despite the facts, he begins to bargain with himself; “What if she isn’t ill… maybe she is just acting this way to punish me for something…”
If we feel any negative emotion, we are either resisting this moment, resisting a past moment, or resisting what we think might occur. We are not accepting.
Acceptance means we can at last let go and live our own life, without dependency; no dependency on other people’s words or actions.
Acceptance is a stage of grief – acceptance is the final stage. My friend is grieving the loss of his wife despite her living, breathing body being present every day – dementia has been called “the Long Goodbye”.
He will accept it when he is ready, and stop bargaining for a solution. We can support our friends in time of need by answering the question; “What is the most loving thing I can do?” without judgment or ego. We can accept our friends the way the are in each moment.