Monday, September 12, 2011

Grief, acceptance, and understanding

Per the National Institute of Mental Health (NAMI), one of the most common forms of mood disorder is major depressive disorder.  According to one source, depression affects over 18 million Americans every year.  While many of these major depressive disorders are purely chemical, often, they are triggered by trauma, loss, or other significant life events.

Everyone who has lost someone close to them has experienced sadness and depression in some form.  It's unavoidable; grief and sadness is as much a part of life as joy and happiness.  Cliche, but unfortunately true.  Sometimes grief can turn into a major depressive disorder, or sometimes it can run its course and the individual can slowly regain joyous and positive feelings after time has passed.

I've been thinking about grief and loss lately because a friend of mine from high school's mother died suddenly last week.  I haven't really talked to my friend in a while, but I actually had talked with her mom -- not only was she a good friend of the family, but she was a realtor and helped me sell our old house and buy a new one last year.  I actually just got an email from her about a month ago telling me she wanted to come see what we'd done with our house and meet our new baby.

At this point, I need to say a few things about Janie, because, well, it's impossible not to say something about Janie.  She was one of the most joyful, fun, hilarious people I've ever met.  I've known her since I was probably 11 or 12, and I have some of the most wonderful memories of her from grade school and high school.  And, looking for a house with her was so much fun, as hard as that is to believe.  She took a stressful, potentially depression-inducing process and make it a wonderful, enriching experience.  From the time a dead mouse fell out of a ceiling fan onto her head, to the time my insane cat escaped into our garage during an open house (and I know cats definitely weren't her favorite), she took it all in stride, and with grace and humor.

There are few people I'd say this about, but the world is a little less colorful, a little less joyful, and a little sadder now that she's not in it.

During her funeral, I was thinking about the stages of grief and how the final stage is "acceptance."  It is so hard to accept when something so incomprehensible happens, like the sudden death of an otherwise full-of-life person.  Watching her kids grieve so much made it hard to say the prayers of the traditional Catholic funeral, to "lift up to God" and trust in His guidance.

But maybe acceptance isn't really about accepting death, and coming to the understanding that "this is okay."  Because death, whether sudden or slow, whether young or old, is never "okay."  It's not okay to the people left behind -- but maybe not being "okay" is okay in and of itself.  Maybe acceptance isn't being okay with what happened, but accepting that it sucks, and you hurt, and the bad feelings may lessen but life will never, truly be "okay" in the way it was before.

Maybe I just had too many "okays" in that last paragraph.  But that's okay.