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It is Ok to Not Be Ok

You might have heard about the stages of grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and at the end, acceptance. Often these stages are presented as happening in a linear order, as if you can’t experience anger without going through denial or after you have experienced the first four, you can move into acceptance. But this is not an accurate reality of grief.

We limp when a leg bone is out of joint to protect us from further damage. In similar manner, losing an important person can cause our being to react because it recognizes that something significant has happened. All the confusing emotions and that ache in your soul are part of grief’s “limp.” The more significant the loss, the more severe your “limp” will be.

No one wants to experience grief, but in grief there is the potential to experience and find joy because grief is a testament to the value and love for the person you lost. And it is here, in understanding that grief and joy can coexist, because grief comes from love, that we can understand that grief does not happen in stages but remain with us and that is a good thing. There is beauty in it, and this is where healing has the most potential. Not the kind of healing of “time heals all wounds,” but the kind that allows you to walk side by side with grief as you move forward, not on from it.

I know because I have and continues to walk this journey. I lost my father, suddenly almost 15 years ago. I can remember every detail of the moment I got the call and the days that followed. I remember being so angry and, in denial, that I found myself depressed and those emotions, along with so many others, just swirled around within me all the time and became a pit that sat in my stomach and overtook my soul.

I believed grief happened in stages, and things I felt were not part of “stages of grief.” I was confused, grieving, and lost. I wish I could say I figured it out and moved into a healthy relationship with grief quickly, but that is not the case. I was stuck. I thought I should get to accepting mt father’s death and move on and be happy again, but I did not understand the reality, complexity, and breadth of what grief really is.

What is grief? The logical answer is what you feel when someone dies. That is the right clinical answer, the one you find in textbooks. But grief is something else entirely. Grief, I have come to understand is what is left when all the love you for someone, has no person to receive it. When I lost my dad I felt, and still feel the love for him, but do not have him here to give that love. So, I had grief and I could not escape that grief so the only solution, I found through therapy, my Stephen Minister, and prayer is to allow love and grief to be carried into the life I have now.

The book It’s Ok to Not Be Ok by Megan Devine changed my thinking about and processing of grief, because finally I had validity in my feeling. This book taught me that it is ok to feel all love and grief and it is absolutely, 100%, ok to not be ok when grief hits. Because the grief will hit because grief is chronic. So, it is never about feeling things and moving on, but accepting that you can and will, when ready, move forward with life and in doing so that grief, and all the emotions that come with grief, will go with you, but so will the love you still have. As you move forward with grief you will find a rhythm and you will find joy and happiness because you are allowing all those emotions that come from loving someone, to experience life with you.

I heard it said that grief is like waves. Sometimes lapping at your feet and their impact is small. Other times those waves hit mid-thigh and their impact hits a little harder and takes longer to recover from. The waves that hit your chest can knock you back and feel you breathless. And then there are the waves that knock you down, overwhelm you, and feel like they are drowning you. That is grief, like the waves of the ocean you feel them differently at different times and maybe some days it is harder, but other days those little laps at our feet are the reminder of the love we have for the person we lost and the assurance that we did not move on from them but moved forward with them. That they are still with us, they might be gone physically, but the love they gave you is still there, walking through life with you.

So it is ok if you are not ok now, that is the reality of grief, but also it’s beauty. Through grief we find ways to love differently and honor those we lost. Through grief we see we are stronger than we ever thought, sometimes because those we lost taught us to be. But most of all through grief we understand that it is ok to not be ok at time and that frees us to move forward into healing.


Rev. Whitney Peper is the Pastor of Congregational Care and Special Needs at St. Peter's UMC in Katy, Texas. In her role she provides care and support to all those within the congregation and works diligently to provide a seat at the table for those of all abilities. Whitney is married to Tim and they have one son who is 10. 


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