Updated: Jun 27, 2019
It's Okay to Not Be Okay
Recently, my family was hit with an unexpected death that took the air from our lungs. While this family member was well of age, the timing of their death was totally unexpected. To make matters worse, no one tells you the efforts that go into preparing for funerals, goodbyes, or even the people who will say things like, “They are in a better place” or “All things happen for a reason.”
Amid the grief, I was not only shocked by the way each one of us grieved but also the societal pressure to “move on.” In the first few weeks, the support was overwhelming. Phone calls, letters, food, you name it. However, as the weeks went by, the well-wishes became less and less. Suddenly, we had to face the absence of our loved one, and interact with a world that was quick to forget that grief is a lengthy sentence.
In American culture, we have a way of wanting to be the champion overcomer. We receive praise if we “rise above” or “continue our dream” despite immense pain. You’ve seen enough American Idol montages to understand exactly what I’m talking about. But what we encourage in this mindset is that those who stay in sorrow are somehow begging for attention or are somehow “weak.”
Y’all, this is not the case. Instead, it prevents true healing.
Let me preface. As someone with diagnosed anxiety and depression, I’m not saying it is ok to be in darkness. Let me be the first to tell you that even if you think you are struggling with mental illness, please seek professional help. What I am saying is we need to be a more-aware society and know that grief comes in many forms with numerous timelines. When we expect someone to power through, we are asking them to cover up and suppress the grieving process. We are asking them to bury their emotions down deep and not express and let go of the tears and sadness that come in and out like crashing waves.
Think of a coke bottle for a minute. From the outside, you may not notice that the bottle has been shaken up, or dropped. Then, when you go to open it, the extreme pressure that has been mounting erupts, and you think, “Well, it didn’t look that bad!”
People are the same way. Our outer shells and facades mask the internal torment we carry. Over time, we need healthy outlets and support systems that allow us to let out the built up steam, little by little. We were created to do life together and to elevate our brother or sister in need.
C.S. Lewis lamented in his book A Grief Observed that “The death of a beloved is an amputation.”
We could all function with the loss of a limb, but it doesn’t mean that the absence is not there. It doesn't mean that it won’t take time for the wound to heal. We have to train how to live life in a new way. All to say, we are so busy making assumptions about the people around us, that we seem to forget about their humanness. You may have been okay to move forward in six months, but we are not all on the same plane.
So, my dear friend, be a little more patient with others. Choose to speak kindness, even when it’s not reciprocated. Know that others are hurting, now, more than ever, love, compassion, empathy, and patience are needed more than ever. And friend, if you are going through old or new pain, know that you are not alone. It’s okay to mourn how you need to—and for however long you need to.
And above all, it’s okay to not be okay.