You know how everyone asks, “Are you OK?” and we all say, “Yeah, I’m OK.”?
Well, I’m not OK.
And I’m OK that I’m not OK.
My husband died 1 year, 2 months and 19 days ago. He was my partner, my lover, the father of my children and my very best friend. So, no… I’m not OK.
I hope you’re OK that I’m not OK.
Several months back, a couple people at church suggested we read the book, “It’s OK you’re not OK,” by Megan Devine. The subtitle is “meeting grief and loss in a culture that doesn’t understand.” Great idea! Let’s read it and talk about. We threw the idea out to the larger community and more than a handful of us gathered with book in hand and grief in our hearts.
The discussion was rich. We slowed down the pace and allowed for lots of silence. We faced our grief and looked at each other in the eyes. We cried. We stumbled as we tried to find the right words. There was even laughter. There was understanding. We were not OK. And in that room we were all OK that we were not OK.
The author of the book, Megan Devine, who lost her husband suddenly, says, “grief is visceral, not reasonable; the howling at the center of grief is raw and real.” As I write these words, my grief is raw and real. And she’s right – the center of grief sounds like a howl.
Two days ago, my grief didn’t sound like a howl. It sounded buoyant and hopeful, while still being melancholy and mindful.
Two days ago a dear friend was “married again.” I’ve chosen my words here carefully. For some reason I prefer it to “re-married.” Her first marriage ended when her husband died from cancer. This friend has been one of my most trusted confidants this past year. She and I have discussed at length the consequences of death. Devine says, “Death doesn’t end a relationship; it changes it.” The consequences of a marriage that ends in death is that the marriage itself doesn’t ever end. The love never ends. It changes. We live with that love for the whole of our lives. Even when married again.
When she told me she was engaged, I wept on the phone as I muttered, “this is a miracle. You know that, right?!” She did know. Her heart has healed in such a way that it is both strong enough and elastic enough to love. Strong and elastic. How did such a miracle happen?
And now two days after her wedding, my howling has come back and I wonder how did her howling stop? When did it stop? Or maybe didn’t. Maybe the howling at the center remains but we move away from center over time. If that’s true, how far away from center do we have to be in order to not hear the howling? And our ability to hear the howling, does that have anything to do when you’re ready to marry again?
Right when I think I’m doing OK, I come up to questions like this and I feel so very close to the howling that I think I’ve barely begun to recover from Pete’s death. But Devine is right that we live in a culture that simply doesn’t understand grief. Although we don’t say it, we really think there is a time stamp on the grief process. We are uncomfortable that visceral emotions continue well into the second (and I’m told third, fourth, fifth year…)
I’m deeply grateful for the faithful friends I have who are OK that I’m not OK. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the day after I’ve cried or shared my howling grief, I wonder if my friends secretly wonder if it’s OK that I’m not OK. I wonder if I’ve made my world uncomfortable by grieving. I wonder if folks wish I would be OK because that would make our relationships easier. But I’m not OK and I just can’t will it into being. I can’t fake this, not this time, not with something this important. I can’t rush the healing of my heart. I won’t do it. And so I’m not OK.
Devine asks, “who knows what kind of world we might create when we turn to fully face all the ways our hearts get broken? What things might change? What kind of world might we create? When the full expression of what it means to love – which includes losing that which we love – is given room to unfold?”
For those in my life right now who have watched my face contort with tears, for those who have encouraged me to share my emotions, for those who have dared to listen for the howling at the center of my grief, and for those who are OK that I’m not OK, I am deeply grateful.