It’s OKAY not to be OKAY

 
January 11, 1991.  January 7, 2017. These two dates will always be etched into my memory.  My mom and dad passed away on those respective dates.  I lost mom in the middle of my 6th grade year.  Dad just a few short years back.  Both were sudden and unexpected and affected me in very different ways as I grieved them uniquely- with my mom I was 11 years old and then with my dad I was 37, married, a father myself and Pastor of BLC.  All of us will experience some type of loss, bereavement and death of a loved one.  It’s part of life.  And we all will grieve.   
 
What is grief?  There are several ways to define grief:
“Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. The more significant the loss, the more intense your grief will be.”
 
“Grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind. Of itself, grief is neither a pathological condition nor a personality disorder.”
 

“Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.”  

“Grief is the feeling of reaching out for someone who’s always been there, only to discover when I need her [or him] one more time, she’s no longer there.”  
 
“Grief is the feeling of reaching out for someone who had been there for me at one time, only to discover that I can’t go to them for help or comfort anymore.”  
 
There are many ways to define grief and to try and summarize something so intimate, mysterious and surreal is hard to put words around.  We grieve with the loss of many things- graduating, loss of job, physical abilities, moving, transitions in life, etc.  With this blog I am focusing our attention on losing a loved one.  With mom I experienced a mixture of disbelief, anger and profound sadness.  I was like a blender not knowing what emotion would come out on any given day.  In some ways I still can’t believe she is gone.  But she is.  With my dad, I still reach for the phone to call him expecting to hear his voice, hear a goofy joke and share what the kids have been up to.  I continue to discover over and over each day that he’s no longer there.  Grieving is a highly individual experience; there’s no right or wrong way to grieve. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and how significant the loss was to you.
 
Inevitably, the grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually; it can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.
 
I see so many who struggle with grief and losing a loved one.  When our world pressures us to get back to work and get back to “being fine,” perhaps all we want to do is just stay in bed, cry and not face the world.  We really aren’t given the time, the space or even language of being able to grieve.  I recently came across a book entitled “It’s Okay Not to Be Okay: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand” by Megan Devine.  I thought the title alone captures what many of us truly want to feel when it comes to grieving but we feel we just can’t.  We might look weak, unsophisticated and “not together.”   
 
Back in the 1960s a sociologist Elisabeth Kubler Ross developed a series of “stages” one grieving goes through: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  But not everyone goes through or experiences these stages.  I think a much better wholistic way to picture grief is that of a roller coaster. Instead of a series of stages, picture a roller coaster, full of ups and downs, highs and lows.  Like many roller coasters, the ride tends to be rougher in the beginning, the lows may be deeper and longer.  The difficult periods should become less intense and shorter as time goes by, but it takes time to work through a loss.  Even years after a loss, especially at special events such as weddings or the birth of a child, we may still experience a strong sense of grief.
 
After a loss we can feel disoriented, numb and experience almost a sense of disbelief like I did with my mom.  We can ask ourselves, “Is this really happening?” I think it is important to just feel what you feel especially in those first moments/days/weeks after a loved one has passed.  You may feel betrayal, abandonment, anger and deep sorrow.  Grief has many elements to it: cognitive, emotional and even physical.  A good rule of thumb is to accept these feelings and not become anxious about the varieties of responses you may have.  One physical response to loss may be fatigue.  We can feel exhausted for months after someone passes.  When my dad passed away I wanted to sleep and eat.  Being a Pastor and dad got me out of bed but I did gain a large amount of weight seeking comfort in food. Some may feel tired, have insomnia, upset stomach, or aches, weight fluctuations or constant headaches.  This doesn’t mean you’re sick or doing anything wrong but rather your body and mind is grieving.
 
You might be thinking: Well what can you do for someone who is grieving? 
Lots of listening, non-judgmental listening, lots of patience, and knowing when to say “Come on, let’s go get some ice cream,” and knowing when to just let them sit and be.  Steadfast patience with someone who’s in pain is the greatest gift we can give.  Our unconditional empathy or non-anxious listening helps us stay with them and allows us the willingness to go with them where they go. 
 
What else can we do?  It can be very healing to get together with other people whose lives have been touched by the deceased.  Telling stories about them and what they meant to you does help to heal.  I know our “Rooted with Purpose” women’s group at a recent meeting shared stories of Katie Barrios which helped those present to experience a form of healing in their grief.  You consolidate memories, writing down what’s important so that you can name the person’s legacy.  In other words, you answer the question what still bears fruit from the deceased person’s life, and your life and other people’s lives.   
 
So what are tangible things one can do who is grieving?  Journaling, praying, going for a walk and just seeing what comes to mind.  Finding a trusted friend who may not get it but will let you just talk, and talk and talk.  Some find comfort in a support groups like “GriefShare” offered at BLC, a funeral home or hospice.  
 
When our foundations have been shaken it’s vitally important to remember the basics: eat and sleep well.Have regular routines that are pillars around which you can organize your time and feelings.  Trying to have a disciplined time of devotion, exercise, and Bible reading can give us a sense of grounding. Routine” can really help recreate a sense of normalcy when it feels totally disorienting.
 
Sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to not think about our grief and do something as simple as watch tv, read a book, do a crossword, do laundry, etc. It’s been said God gives minimum protection but maximum support.  Tragedies, disease and death occur in our world.  God doesn’t prevent these things from happening but we get maximum support when they do occur.  God draws near the suffering, the weak, the downtrodden and those who just don’t know if they’re going to get up again.  There is no timeline for our grieving and for each of us it will look different.  Be mindful of your grieving.  Keep an eye on those grieving around you.
 

Here might be some things to do when grieving:

  1. Face your feelings.
  2. Express your feelings in a creative or tangible way.
  3. Try to maintain hobbies and interests.
  4. Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either.
  5. Plan ahead for grief “triggers.”
  6. Look after your health. See a doctor.
  7. Find a faith community that will help with the highs and lows of the roller coaster grief ride.

 

If you’re experiencing symptoms of complicated grief or clinical depression, talk to a mental health professional right away. Left untreated, complicated grief and depression can lead to significant emotional damage, life-threatening health problems, and even suicide. But treatment can help you get better.
 
There is help.  Jesus is our way, truth and life.  One’s faith in the Risen Lord is always the first place to start spiritually.  Praying and meditating opens our heart to God’s incredible love and strength.  Talking to myself, another pastor or friend also can help. 
 
Below are a few of the many resources available for those needing help:

https://www.uwhealth.org/organ-donation/resources-for-grieving-adults/26169 https://www.griefshare.org/ http://www.hellogrief.org/resources/wisconsin/ https://childrengrieve.org/about-us https://www.agrace.org/grief-support/

 

As I reflect on my grief, which I see as a gift from God, I really am grateful for the love and support of Amy, Anna, Peter, my family, friends and church family.  It was dad who helped become a bedrock for me when my mom died.  We had each other.  I thank Amy who helped carry me giving a listening ear and shoulder to lean on when my dad died.  It is OK to grieve, talk, cry, be happy, and live a full life, even with our grief. Our loved ones want us to live.  Don’t shy away or run from your grief; rather, lean into your grief.  It’s okay not to be okay.

For all of us grieving, I want to conclude with this poem written by Jan Richardson:
Let us agree for now that we will not say the breaking makes us stronger, or that it is better to have this pain than to have done without this love. Let us promise, we will not tell ourselves, time will heal the wound, when every day our waking opens it anew. Perhaps for now, it can be enough to simply marvel at the mystery of how a heart so broken can go on beating, as if it were made for precisely this, as if it knows the only cure for love is more of it, as if it sees the heart’s sole remedy for breaking is to love still, as if it trusts that its own persistent pulse is the rhythm of a blessing we cannot begin to fathom, but will save us nonetheless.”  
 
Walking the journey with you,
PJ  
 

Leave a Reply