Last fall, one of my clients recommended a book to me. My client had suffered a humongous loss, and someone had given her this book entitled “It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture that Doesn’t Understand” by Megan Devine. So I grabbed a copy and read it on a flight, often with tears streaming down my face.
Megan Devine is a therapist, just like me. We both have around a decade of experience. And like Ms. Devine, I thought I understood grief and loss. Until I experienced 2 major back-to-back losses in a span of 10 months.
Ms. Devine lost her partner, Matt, in a drowning accident in 2009. None of her training, experience, or education prepared her for what came next. That is what “It’s OK That You’re Not OK” is all about.
With Ms. Devine’s permission, today’s blog is a book review of “It’s OK That You’re Not OK”. I hope to give you some insight today about why this needs to be your next read.
How the Book is Written
“It’s OK That You’re Not OK” is divided into 4 sections: The reality of the loss, what to do with your grief, how to handle friends and family, and steps forward in grief. You can jump around as you need to—the book does not need to be read from front to back. Each section has a specific purpose, and you can just read the one that is relevant to your own situation.
Who This Book is For
This book is for anyone who has suffered a tremendous loss. Whether it’s a partner, a parent, a child, a sibling, etc. It’s also for those who love someone who has suffered a loss.
Ms. Devine talks a lot about out-of-order losses. This is a loss that occurs before the natural order of what “should” happen. Yes, we all know that eventually as we grow older, we will die. But this book specifically calls out those losses that are not due to aging, but the losses that completely rearrange life as we know it.
I would recommend reading this book before you actually need it. We are all going to experience a traumatic loss at some point in our lives. This book is validating for when that does happen. It also is helpful for anyone who has experienced a large loss and feels crazy and alone in their grief.
Everything We Know about Grief is Wrong
The very first line of Ms. Devine’s book says “The way we deal with grief in our culture is broken”.
Our society has a tendency to want to fix grief and make sense of something that doesn’t make sense. Grief makes people uncomfortable. It changes the status quo. We want to fix our grieving person so that they go back to the normal person they were before the loss. We want them to forget about the pain they are feeling so that it makes us feel better. This couldn’t be more unrealistic.
Society expects a grieving person to be back to normal within a few months of a loss. The truth is, the grieving person will never go back to who they were before the loss.
Ms. Devine highlights the work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who is the grief guru in the therapy world. I, like many others, have always held Kubler-Ross’s Stages of Grief to be the standard of “treatment” for those that are grieving. Ms. Devine points out that although the Stages of Grief do have value, they were never meant to be a checklist. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance are not linear. You don’t move through one and then onto the next one. Just because you may experience things in a different order, doesn’t mean you are grieving wrong. There is no right or wrong way to experience grief.
In order to change society’s perspective of grief, we have to view grief as something that has to be experienced, and a “normal” process, rather than something to be rushed through. We need to stop making the goal of grieving to stop the hurt. The goal of Ms. Devine’s book is to not fix you. It is to help you survive the loss.
What Do Grieving People Actually Need
Ms. Devine hits it square on the head with the platitudes that we often say to grieving people. Things like “They’re in a better place”, “They would want you to be happy”, “I know exactly how you feel”, “This is all part of a plan”, and “You can always have another child/find another partner”. While other’s intentions are good, these words often do not bring comfort, and instead, invalidate the grieving person’s feelings. What you might not understand is the undertone of what the grieving person actually hears. Platitudes infer that the grieving person should stop feeling so bad for this big, giant loss. Platitudes do not eliminate the grieving person’s pain but instead increase it.
Do not compare your own grief to that of someone else who is grieving. Competing with grief is not helpful for anyone. My grief is different from your grief. Just because you lost a pet when you were 8 years old, does not mean you understand what it feels like to lose a spouse or a child.
According to the book, it’s ok to just sit with the grieving person. Ask them what they need. Don’t offer advice. Don’t tell them what they should be doing/not doing. Show compassion. Just love them. Offer to do normal, mundane things that may be hard for them to do right now. “It’s OK That You’re Not OK” uses the analogy of grief being like a herd of elephants. When one elephant is injured or wounded, the others gather around it in a circle. Be an elephant for your grieving person.
If You Are the Grieving Person
It’s ok to avoid people. It’s ok to say no. People are not going to understand. And that’s ok.
Ms. Devine talks about how triggering the grocery store can be. Think about that for a second. Everything reminds you of the person you’ve lost. Their favorite foods, the laundry detergent they used. The people you may run into. The questions they may ask. It’s ok to avoid hard things for a while. Your job is to take care of yourself.
Everything is going to feel crazy because it is crazy. I love how Ms. Devine is refreshingly honest about the insanity that grief and loss brings. In Part 2, Ms. Devine outlines things you can do to take care of yourself while you grieve. She also talks about the confusion, memory loss, and anxiety that comes with a tremendous loss. If you are grieving, Part 2 of the book gives you concrete things (art, writing, coping strategies) to help you as you navigate your grief. There is so much more I’d love to share with you about this, but picking up the book is a great place to start.
“Some things cannot be fixed; they can only be carried. Grief like yours, love like yours, can only be carried.”
A huge thank you to Megan Devine for allowing me the opportunity to review “It’s OK That You’re Not OK”. You can find out more about Ms. Devine at www.refugeingrief.com, including information on her Writing Your Grief classes. There are so many resources available to you from her site, including blogs and grief support.
*Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW is a licensed therapist at Journey to Joy Counseling. Christy enjoys doing marriage/couples counseling, individual counseling, premarital counseling. She also provides family counseling, teen and adolescent counseling.
Journey to Joy Counseling serves the Indianapolis area, including Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville, Zionsville, and Westfield.