Grief Acceptance: The Final Stage Is Different than You Think


I remember thinking that if our lives are like novels, a series of chapters with characters coming and going. If my life were a novel, the chapters that had my father living in them are over.

I remember thinking, naively, that perhaps, now ten years out from losing him, I had reached that final stage of grief: grief acceptance. I had accepted my new reality and was ready to move forward. 

But if that’s really true, why do I find myself on random shopping days wanting to hug strangers that physically resemble him?

Ten years ago, and it shocks me that I am writing these years in double digits, my father passed away. He was working late setting up lights in the theater of the school where he taught when the ladder he was standing on buckled and he fell. These were the last moments of my father and best friend’s life. 

That morning, after he was found in the theater, my life and that of my family and the community who loved him changed, and was never again the same. 

I remember the first Father’s Day after he passed, walking down the aisle of cards in the grocery store and finding one that made me instantly think of him. I laughed and began to put it in the cart. Then it hit me. He was gone and this was a joke, like many others now, that he and I would never get to share together. I put the card back and left the store, grocery cart still full in the card aisle. But even then, I remember thinking, this is is still new and at some point, I’ll be done with leaving full carts of groceries in stores. 

child touches condensation on window pane
Photo by Katie Miller Photography

It’s been over a decade since losing him. I’m no longer crying in the middle of card isles, but I still miss him and I still find myself sifting through our relationship. I have had kids since losing him and when you have kids, I think you sift through the relationships you had with your parents a lot. What do I take in? What do I leave behind? How can I do this job without his sage advice to call on?

And the grief you feel, it never seems to fully go away. 

I read about these so-called “stages” of grief and magically there’s supposed to be this one right at the end where the hurt is gone and you have come to accept your reality. Truth is, I don’t know if any of us can fully accept the reality that this beam of light that shone so bright in our lives has been extinguished. But I have learned that acceptance is not simply accepting that they are physically gone, but understanding that that light you feel has been extinguished can be relit.

The real acceptance is that that relit light can come in many forms.

Sometimes I drive by the church I attended as a kid. I spent so many hours in those halls, I still remember the smell of the building and the way the carpet looked. I haven’t been to church in years and recently I drove by and there was a For Sale sign out front. This place where I spent so much of my youth and my youthful beliefs that would always be a part of my life, now stands empty, getting ready to transform into something else. A place where new memories are created and more people walk through the halls, but the building structure remains the same. 

We are like this church. We are built with our guardians surrounding us. If we’re lucky, we last a long time like that. We get used to the people that come and go in our hearts. We get used to being supported by them and as young children, we believe that this reality, like the walls of the building will never change. And then they do. Suddenly, for a brief moment or for a long moment, we are empty and the darkness of those hallways can be terrifying. What will become of me? Will there ever again be anyone to fill those hallways with light? After a long time, we put the For Sale sign out front. We are ready to accept a new reality for ourselves.

For me, my children bought this property. They were born and filled the empty hallways and crowded the bathrooms and there was so much noise that sometimes I had to open windows to breathe. Even though the outside of the structure hadn’t changed, or maybe it gained a few saggy eaves that weren’t there before, it was full and it was illuminated. 

And you know? Something funny happened. As my children began to grow and their true personalities began to come out, I was able to smell and feel small familiar traces of that old comfortable building. I felt it through the wonders of heredity and the familiarity of raising my children near the same things that had brought me so much happiness as a child. Just like all of the things from that old building I saved from the rummage sale. It was then that I realized that the illumination that I had felt was that light I had thought was extinguished.

I began to see that the grief acceptance was happening, the true final step of grief, understanding that my father lives on in his legacy with my children and me.

father with daughter and daughter with son
My father holds me at one and I hold my beautiful son, at one.

Grief is a process. There are moments and days that I wish I could still smell those old musty odors of that building. There was comfort in them and strength. But this building is getting stronger for my children. They are redecorating it as my siblings and I did to my father. 

family traits for comedy
Three generations of hamming it up for the camera

Those of you with empty buildings holding dark hallways, be patient. Love yourself. Give yourself the time you need to be ready to renovate. I can promise that if you do, the lights that you thought were gone forever will shine out of your windows and doors again.

And you will find the grief acceptance that you have longed for by recognizing the light as a rebirth of your loved one’s spirit. 

Grief Acceptance: The Final Stage Is Different than You Think


  1. Meredith,

    I clicked to read this having lost my mom 20 years ago – and now raising my daughter (4). I feel both my mother’s absence and her presence.

    Like Dorothea, I got pulled in by another connection. I did not know your father, but I taught in the same district at the time and knew many people who did to varying degrees. In addition to students, his effect on colleagues through interaction and story was strong and full of possibility. I am sure you already know this.

    I wish you well on your journey as a daughter, mom and self.


  2. Meredith,
    Thank you so much for this! I am so glad I came across the article in Seven Day’s about the Dad mailbox, which then lead me to this beautifully written piece about grief and acceptance.

    I came across the “Dad” mailbox during a hike with my dog George back in April. I didn’t know what to think of it, except it made me think of my Dad, and miss him even more. I lost my Dad 29 years ago, just a few months after I got married. You are so correct about how children relight the flame that you thought would stay extinguished. I had a similar experience as you in the grocery store after my father died. It was also wonderful to be able to pick out and buy a Father’s Day card for my husband on Father’s Day after our first son was born.

    We have three boys Meredith, and your father taught our two older ones. Both Kevin and Michael were in your father’s core class when he died. Kevin in 8th grade and Michael in 6th. Our family dearly loved your father, and we will hold him in our hearts forever. He was an amazing human being!

    I just forwarded the Seven Day’s article and this article to Kevin. He so admired and appreciated your father’s wisdom. This year I will once again share my birthday with Father’s Day. Reading your peice really touched me. I think I’m going to have to write my Dad a letter.
    You take care and enjoy your children, and know that your Dad is so very proud of you!

    Big Hugs!

  3. Thank you Meredith, this was a wonderful piece. Grief has been an experience I have lived and worked with for years. It’s good to bring it to the light of day. Our culture puts the expectation on us that we should “get over it” and “move on.” But I don’t believe either of those statements are true. Grief sculpts is into the people we become after a loss. I think it accompanies us On our journeys of ever growing and transforming as people. The trauma of loss eventually does not take our breath away or make us incapable of finishing the laundry, but rather becomes a nuance in our days and a softening in our hearts. I teach a class, Good Grief, Exploring the Art If Grieving at Expressive Arts Burlington. It’s for anyone who has experienced big changes in their lives like kiss of a loved one, ancestral or cultural loss, and even relocation or loss of former identity when we become mom’s with these little beings dependent on us. There is is 3 session series coming up Jan 12,19 & 26. For info please check out Expressive Arts Burlington’s website.

  4. I lost my father 30 years ago on Christmas. Reading your beautiful essay made me tear up. Yes, my children helped me through. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  5. Thank you for this! I lost my Dad just 6 months ago . So suddenly and without any warning . I’m now starting the holidays without him but I find comfort in my silly and goofy twin daughters that have so much of him . I find comfort in reading back through old messages we sent back and forth with humor only we could understand. On a daily basis I think my brain is in protection mode , sort of a denial just to get through . Then there are times where it really hits you and in those moments , I just let myself feel . I’ll never accept that he is gone I don’t think I am built to do that , but it’s not in a way that will be bad for me , I think just as a way of protection and love


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