It’s okay to be okay, or not

I’m currently enrolled in GriefShare at a nearby church, and we meet every Sunday night. Previously, I had only been involved in weekly 1-on-1 counseling, something which I continue now biweekly. Being in a group setting has been a great step forward for me. My heart breaks for everyone in there with me – people who have lost their parents, their spouses, their children. It’s cathartic to be alongside others who can understand your loss, and to be there for others in their time of need – people who are seeking so earnestly for anything that can help deal with their pain.

One thing that I’ve come to appreciate about GriefShare is how it helps me remember where I was a year ago, as compared to where I feel I am today. Several of the folks in our group are experiencing their first holiday season without their loved ones, while this will be my second.

Recently, someone in our group said “it’s okay to not be okay.” This took me back as I remember hearing the same thing from my counselor early on in my grieving process. I remember how it gave me comfort to know that others weren’t expecting me to be okay all the time, and that it was more than reasonable to not be okay while grieving the loss of my wife, especially during the holiday season.

The other thing that struck me though was the contrast to now talking with my counselor about how “it’s okay to be okay.” Now, unlike then, I actually have some days that seem normal (whatever that is). I’m no longer bawling my eyes out daily, and I’m no longer breaking down at least once a week – and honestly, it’s disconcerting. I need to be affirmed that it’s okay for me to be okay, and no longer just that it’s okay for me not to be okay.

One thing, of many, that I’ve learned from my counselor is how grief in many ways is what helps us keep feeling connected to our loved ones that have passed. When I mourn the death of my wife, when I cry from missing her, I feel close to her – it’s the closest I feel to her now that she’s gone. And so, when I go for a week, or two weeks, without mourning her death, it makes me feel callous. It makes me feel uncaring. It makes me feel like I don’t really miss her, or that I don’t really love her as much as I once did. When I think about it rationally, I know that these are all lies.

The call to grieve our loved ones that have passed, and the desire to feel that emotion and passion of a loved one lost, are real. There will always be that calling to grieve, and yes, sometimes, I will continue to indulge in that grief. But, I also know that I don’t have to stay stuck there. Time marches forward, and it’s okay to be okay – or not.

One song that comes to mind when I think about where I’m at in my grief journey today is a hip-hop song by Mac Miller called ‘2009’. Unfortunately, Mac passed away from an overdose just over a year ago after putting this song on his last album. To me, the song is about grief, rediscovering happiness, moving forward from grief, but also understanding that it is always there if we ever want to revisit it. A fan of his put together a tribute to Mac using this song after he passed (warning: profanity):

Now every day I wake up and breathe
I don’t have it all but that’s alright with me

And sometimes, sometimes I wish I took a simpler route
Instead of havin’ demons that’s as big as my house

I was diggin’ me a hole big enough to bury my soul
Weight of the world, I gotta carry my own

It ain’t 2009 no more
Yeah, I know what’s behind that door

Mac Miller, quotables from ‘2009’

As the grief subsides, there will be days that are almost normal again – and that is okay. Similarly, in the beginning, and even years later, there will be days that we aren’t okay – and that’s okay too. Just focus on doing your best, and trying to enjoy today – I want you to be happier.

Comedian Michael Cruz Kayne shares about the death of his son

A friend of mine sent me the following Twitter thread tweeted out last night by comedian and writer Michael Cruz Kayne. It’s refreshing to see him be so honest about such personal loss, and it’s telling that he is sharing about his grief so vividly even ten years after his family’s loss. Kudos to him for sharing, and for trying to provide insights to others about what experiencing the grief of infant loss is like.

Grief, like time, can be cyclical

I was having dinner with a friend last night, and he commented on how he hated this weather. I thought he literally meant the cold and rainy weather, but he went on to say how it reminded him of where he was at this time last year – the last time it turned cold. He was in the midst of a major life challenge, one that he’s still working through today. I could relate, in fact, I had been thinking the same thing myself recently. It seems like just as time is cyclical, grief can be as well.

Something I saw on my friend’s Facebook page – seemed appropriate.

The holidays tend to be hard in general for those grieving a loss. The GriefShare program offers an annual program entitled Surviving the Holidays. It is something I attended last year, and something I will be starting again in just a few days. It’s crazy to think a year has already passed since attending it last year.

Last year, as part of the program, they broke out the widowers into a small group. There were four of us. I was the youngest of the group, which wasn’t too surprising. What was surprising to me, at least at the time, was an older gentleman who was there. His wife had passed some 15-20 years prior, and the holiday season was a tough time of the year for him too.

The challenge of getting through the holidays each year seems like a somewhat obvious repeating cycle to keep an eye out for, along with other annual events like anniversaries, birthdays, and many holidays, but there are others that might be less obvious.

For some, it’s a day of the month. Thankfully, this one doesn’t apply to me as much anymore, but in the beginning of my grief, it was the 1st and 15th. These were the days I’d have to do the bills, something my wife took care of before she passed, so that would remind me of her absence.

For others, it’s a day of the week. In my case, it’s sometimes Friday nights, mostly when my son has parents-night-out at daycare. I try to plan things for those nights, otherwise it’s too in-my-face that my normal date for ~15 years is no longer here with me.

Finally, for others, it might be a specific time of day. In my case it’s 4:03 am. Thankfully, I’m rarely awake at that time of day, but it does happen from time to time. When I’m awake at this time of the morning I can’t help but remember being in my kitchen with a policeman and a detective, not believing my brand new reality.

If it’s not a date, not a day of the week, or a specific time, it could be a place, or a smell, or a voice you think you hear passing by in an airport. That’s the thing with grief, it’s both predictable, and not. It can be both cyclical with time, and totally random as well.

As the second holiday season since my wife passed approaches, I won’t just be remembering the last holiday with her while she was alive, but now also the last holiday which I was without her as well – a sort of juxtaposition of the two I’m betting. It hit me this week that it will soon be 2020, and that my wife was not alive during any part of 2019 – a whole calendar year of events from start to finish will have now passed – there are no more annual firsts remaining for me.

My wife bought a little piece of art during her second battle with cancer that she loved. It helped her keep time in perspective, and it’s something that I now have hung at the bottom of the stairs, so that I see it every morning:

Don't count the days; make the days count.
Don’t count the days; make the days count.

It’s one thing to have a time of year, or a special date, make us sad or anxious, and then to realize why we are feeling that way. It’s another thing to seek out dates, to try and remember exactly how many days, months, or years it’s been. It’s good to remember, and it’s good to memorialize the past we’ve lost, but let’s not just count the days – let’s also make the days count.

I hope that this holiday season will be a good one for you, even if you’re sad, even if you are still broken. That you will not just remember fond times of a past we cannot return to, but that you’ll make new fond memories that you can cherish going forward as well. I want you to be happier.

Welcome, I’m glad you’re here

Welcome to my new website – I Want You To Be Happier. I know what you’re thinking – a blog? Really? Yes, really.

You can read the blurb on the about page for more information. I’m working on another project with the same name that I hope to share more about here in the coming months.

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