Book Chapters, Chapter 1: It's OK That You're Not Ok

My apologies for the delay, what I had intended to be two weeks to follow-up on the last post turned into some months. Human things come before digital things, and sometimes it's hard to get ahead of the wave. But I can say to myself the same thing I say to my clients who are late to sessions -- "you're here now, and that's what matters."

Hopefully you've had a chance to check out the book - It's Okay That You're Not Okay, and if not, maybe this will give you a sample of what it has to offer and how it, or Megan Devine's ideas, might be helpful.

As I mentioned last time, the central idea is that we, as a culture and as individuals, could definitely to be aware of and probably adjust how we think about grief, suggesting that it is not a problem to be solved but "an experience to be tended." As a culture and as individuals, we're pretty terrible at tolerating, respecting, and knowing how to respond to negative emotion in others, and grief in particular.  In reality, it is a normal, painful, important, and very individualized process that happens a lot slower than we want it to. 

Months after finishing the book, there are a few things that still stick with me... 

One thing I love is that where other people gloss over the initial shattering experience of grief and loss, she takes it on, all the pain and shock and things there just aren't good words for, she has some good words. You have permission to fall apart or do whatever you need, in whatever way, at whatever pace. She even offers some concrete things that might be helpful for people in this place with grief, check those out for sure. 

For those experiencing grief, time is different. After a loss, no matter how long it has been, it can feel just like yesterday. This is normal. Respect it and let it be. It doesn't mean you're broken or "doing grief wrong" if years later it is still incredibly hard.  

One of the most helpful things in the book and that I also address in my work with clients is what can happen if you don't let yourself grieve. If you are told explicitly or implicitly that you need to be strong (for your kids, mom, partner, etc) and can't have times where you fall apart the pain doesn't just go away. Over time, if ignored or minimized, grief can turn into anger, depression, insomnia, etc. The grief just changes shape. So word to the wise, let yourself feel the grief and sadness before it turns into another issue entirely.

Throughout the book there is a heavy sense that nothing others can do to help, which is frustrating for everyone involved. And she is right, there is nothing that can fix it, but later on in the book she does offer some thoughts one how to offer support and comfort, how to scoot up close to the person grieving and let them know they are safe and you are their to hold their hand even if you can't walk the path of grief they have to walk on their own. How? In short - Be there. But not too much. Listen, even to the silence. And bring food. 

One thing I wasn't a huge fan of was her hard stance on well intentioned, cliched things people say, like "everything happens for a reason" or "they're in a better place." I completely agree that we need to be more thoughtful about what we say and that we say these things often because we don't know what else to say and don't know how else to be helpful. Still, I think for some people they can be helpful, or appreciated for their kind intentions, when said at an appropriate time, when said in a way that is true for what you know about the person's beliefs, and when said by those who are closer and able to have a deeper conversation about it rather than just saying it in passing.

Overall, this book is a gem. I definitely dog-eared more pages than any book I've read in a while. I hope you got something out of it for yourself, or for a loved one. If it doesn't resonate with an experience you've already been through, it is good to have it in your pocket for when that time does come. 

If you liked this book, you might also like the podcast by Kate Bowler titled "Everything Happens." Kate is a professor at Duke seminary, a mother of a young child, and she also has stage four cancer. She has great gritty talks with some wonderful people. If you need a good cry, check out her episode with pediatric oncologist Ray Barfield. 

Feel free to leave a comment and share what you liked or didn't like about the book. 

The next book for Book Chapters will be announced soon, stay tuned.