I’m Not Okay (And That’s Okay)

graveyard-1417871_640Yesterday, my doctor asked me if I’m “getting past” my brother’s death.

It’s only been eight weeks, I said.

And he was my brother. In some ways, I’ll never ‘get past’ it.

Yes, she said, looking away. We keep them in our hearts.

Well, duh.

I don’t really need the platitude, thank you very much.

A couple of weeks ago, though, I might have just nodded and smiled.

When I got back to The Pas, for a little while I entered this strange place of feeling fine, moving ahead, making lists of all the shit I had to do, taking on too much. Same old, same old.

Last week, when I went to see a counsellor and numbly told her about Tim, plus the upcoming two-year anniversary (tomorrow) of my step-dad’s sudden death, she looked at me with a big question mark hanging over her head when I claimed to be doing okay.

That’s a lot of loss, she said.

Oh, I told her, and my cat died. Then I laughed.

It was the laugh, in part, that made me realize something: Um, I’m actually not doing okay.

Despite the fact that my Facebook feed has mostly moved on this isn’t old news yet. I’ve got a lot of tears still to shed.

So, I’ve been shedding them.

Before I write, while I write, usually when I make my morning smoothie (who knew I’d need a trigger alert before pulling out a handful of spinach?)

Yesterday was awful. Today, I feel a bit better, but my heart has filled my throat a couple times. Partly because Tim came to visit me in a dream last night and he was happy and boisterous, the best of my big brother (see, here come the tears again).

So it was a good dream but it also made me ache for missing him, and so sad that I have to live the rest of my life without his sense of humour and with the decision he made to end his life.

But this is what it is, I’m coming to realize, to experience grief.

It’s not about ‘getting past’: absorb, process, move along.

It’s more about integration, about painfully carving out a place in your soul where your beloved can live.

But, sadly, we don’t see it like that, do we?

Lately I’ve noticed this trend: how so many of us express bad feelings on Facebook in mini-essays that inevitably end with “and here’s what I’ve learned and that’s why I’m now so, so happy and grateful.”

Cue ascending musical score.

What we’re really saying? There’s this bad thing in my life, but don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t worry, I’m okay.

When did it become wrong to say, Life sucks right now. End of story.

I’ve overwhelmed myself a little bit with this thought process (I was a Cultural Studies major, after all), but I think this is why it’s so dangerous to commodify ourselves, to turn ourselves into online “media” for our social network’s consumption.

Because the pressure is there then to draw a nice, neat narrative, to reach towards the easy answers, the happy endings, or, at least, the endings. When life is not fiction: things often don’t get tied up in a nice bow.

I feel it myself: how I’m drifting away from Facebook because day-after-day what I want to post is MY BROTHER DIED AND I FEEL LIKE CRAP.

How boring, I think, and instead, post a funny picture of a dog with Christmas cookie crumbs on his nose (okay, that one was pretty cute…), when really, there it is: death, fitting itself into my smoothie every morning.

Perhaps this is why I’m finding the most comfort in the novel I’m working on right now: a complicated story about how we deal with death and bad choices and troubling family. A story without happy endings but with growth and striving and hope (I hope).

It’s asking the questions I need to ask right now, it’s accompanying me – and I it – in a process that cannot be compressed into platitudes or easy outcomes.

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of death on my Facebook feed: a lot of cats and dogs, a friend whose father died, and an acquaintance who heart-breakingly lost her new baby at birth.

I wonder about these people – especially my acquaintance and her partner.

I wonder what their experience will be, and how they’ll navigate the holidays.

I honour the chaos they might have entered, the fact that they will stay there for awhile and that when they emerge, they will be different. And that’s okay, because this is life, a hair’s-breadth away from death, and something we can’t “get past.”

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5 Responses to I’m Not Okay (And That’s Okay)

  1. Avatar
    angileengallop December 19, 2016 at 10:51 am #

    I loved this post — the honesty and the humour.
    I wish I could be there to heat up that smoothie for you. It sucks enough to cry into your smoothie — when it’s winter and that smoothie is cold… well… yuck.
    (Following a recipe in the morning not real — but the idea of adding chai tea looks good…)
    Hugs and shoulder for your tears.

  2. Avatar
    Bernadette December 15, 2016 at 7:54 pm #

    Oh, Lauren, my heart aches with yours. We are not taught to grieve well, not at all. When my sister-in-law, one of my best friends, died, I ignored my grief and feelings of loss to take care of my kids and husband and their grief. But I had the good sense to sign up for a healing through meditation class that had me writing and crying through my pain.

    That was almost 15 years ago. Just yesterday, I had a huge sobbing ugly messy cry because I was missing her. She’s the one I needed help from to deal with a delicate family issue. And she wasn’t there. And I felt that pain again, more deeply than ever, I think. And I cried.

    Anyway, I am writing this to encourage you to feel your feelings and to surround yourself with people who get you, who have compassion for you and your experience, who will allow you your unique loss.

    Grieve well.

    • Lauren
      Lauren December 15, 2016 at 8:16 pm #

      Thank you so much for this, Bernadette. It is so good to hear these stories, and to not feel alone, since I’ve never known grief like this before… Hugs and love to you.

  3. Avatar
    C. Gunn December 15, 2016 at 4:42 pm #

    Wonderfully put, Lauren. I remember going into a therapist’s office several years ago and the simple question of, “How are you doing?” turned me into a puddle of gasping tears for a solid 10 minutes. It is a hard lesson to learn, and one that I wish we never had to learn, to sit with grief and pain and sadness. To be not okay. Thank you for sharing your heart.

    • Lauren
      Lauren December 15, 2016 at 5:12 pm #

      Thanks, my P.P. Hope you’re enjoying the sunshine 🙂

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