Navigating the Line Between Okay and Allowed to Not Be Okay

So it’s been a while.

I allowed myself to get swallowed into graduate school and neglected a lot of other things (I can’t remember the last time I ran more than twice in a week and after two failed attempts at baking in my new apartment kitchen, I have given up). Probably wasn’t my best plan.

Here we are. Today marks the 14 year anniversary of my brother’s death. Fourteen years since I watched my brother walk past me for the last time. Fourteen years since the day that changed everything. In that 14 years I have graduated 3 times, met the love of my life, got into grad school, ran multiple half marathons, made friends, lost friends, moved lots. A lot has happened and at many of the pivotal moments I have asked myself – what would Troy think? How would he behave? Would I be annoyed at him the way I get annoyed at my other brother? Would I have extra nephews and nieces to buy presents for this Christmas? In short – there are a lot of what if’s, a lot of questions lingering in my mind.

Sitting back today I realized how different these questions have become for me. How much I have come to accept the world as it is. Some days are tough. Some days feel like a knife is still twisting in my chest. Some days I struggle to catch my breath amongst the crushing sense of loss. Key word there was some days. Some days. Some days I cry, some days I am happy and I almost forget for a second that I am the girl whose brother died. I think the days I realize both – that I am happy and that I am the girl whose brother committed suicide – are the hardest because part of me still feels guilty for feeling such pure and simple joy.

I’ve thought about this for a while, last Saturday when we went to Troy, Michigan, I realized, I no longer clung to his memory. I was okay and I had so much more in my life than his presence (or lack thereof). That stung a bit. Like I was betraying his memory in some horrible way. The thing is that the more I thought of it, the more I realized – this is just the new stage of grief – the point you return to living. It is complicated walking the line between being okay, feeling like you’re not allowed to be okay, and feeling like you’re also not allowed to not be okay. No one warned me about this stage of grief.

At this point I feel like I should offer some sagely wisdom, about what I really don’t know.  Maybe I should have some wisdom about navigating this complicated point, but I don’t. All I have is this – accept it. Be okay, or be not okay. Be happy or be sad.

Just be.

There’s this great concept/therapy in psychology called mindfulness I feel is particularly salient in this conversation. Mindfulness is in essence, being. It is being fully aware of your body and your thoughts and accepting  them without changing anything. Beyond grief, I think we often tell ourselves that we shouldn’t be feeling things, that we should be okay, we should manage our stresses better, we should plan better, we should be smarter, faster, cooler, prettier. Truth is any constructions about what we should be are inherently arbitrary; travel to a different to a country or visit another family and you will find different rules.

Mindfulness is beautifully simple – sit with your eyes closed, your feet flat, and your back straight and focus on your breathing; the flow of oxygen into your lungs and blood stream and carbon dioxide out. Accept your thoughts as they come to you, do not judge them or ruminate on them. Recognize them and return to your breath.

Pretty simple eh?

That’s all I have for today – be. If you are grieving, regardless of the stage, accept your feelings as your own. Grief and loss don’t just disappear. There is not some magic day when everything feels okay, and there will probably always be days you are not okay, there may even be days you’re not entirely sure either way if you’re totally okay or not okay at all. All of these days are categorically okay.

Even if you are not grieving, practice being with the moment and accepting you as you are. Accept your feelings, in all their messiness. Lastly, accept others as much as you accept yourself (and the other way around).

Just be. Unless you can be Batman. I would always recommend being Batman.