Updated: Nov 2, 2020
The only way to make it fully out of depression and to start the path to true healing, is acknowledgment and acceptance. It doesn’t mean that it won’t hurt anymore, or that there will never be dark moments, but it means that I have a healing plan that works for me and that I need to dig into one of my coping mechanisms AFTER I shed the tears that I need to for a refresh.
Last Wednesday I celebrated my mother’s birthday without her for the 7th time. October 28th represents the day that she was born as well as her expiration date. That said, it’s usually a hard month for me across the board. This year however, I found myself more at peace. Maybe it’s something about the number seven representing completion that brought on a calming feeling this year. I will never not miss my mom or think of her every single day, but I’ve found peace in progressing through life, and even our past trials, and that is only by the grace of God.
In years prior I’d usually been full of anxiety and sometimes even depression around this time. The reality of goodbye forever is a bizarre concept for the person that birthed you. However, I’ve been intentional about finding out what makes me happy, and unapologetically doing more of it. I’ve also been giving myself permission to feel whatever I feel in whatever moments it happens and being perfectly ok with that. Don’t think that peace means no more tears or bad days. It just means that I know where my source comes from and in weak moments, after I’ve given myself permission to be vulnerable, I regain my strength and composure from my anchor.
I remember my first cruel encounter with death after losing my father in April of 2004. It was towards the end of my freshman year at A&T, while I was literally having the best time of my life! I was in the process of purchasing tickets to the Aggie Fest fashion show when my sister called me with the news. It felt like I was having an outer body experience and everyone else in the room disappeared. I remember storming out of the bookstore crying and people outside trying to talk to me and having no idea what just happened. I literally remember like it was yesterday.
At that time, I don’t think I really did anything to heal. I didn’t know how. So I went home, attended the funeral, came back to school, and drank and smoked until I couldn’t feel. I didn’t want to bear it and there was nobody around me who could relate at all, which was also tough.
I’ve lost many other loved ones since then, from my Uncle Renny in 2008 who provided me my first paid internship, to a childhood friend who I had fallen out with, but had JUST made amends with a few months prior to her death in 2009, to my great-grandmother in 2015 who was the matriarch and backbone of our entire family, and then my first cousin who was my exact same age in 2016. However, the next catastrophic blow for me after 2004 was October 2013.
It was around 4am and my sister called which automatically indicates emergency! She said that mommy was in the hospital. I responded that I was going back to sleep and I’d be there later. I honestly didn’t think it was anything super serious at first. My mom had been in the hospital so many times. We use to joke that she was a cat with nine lives…..literally. I hung up and attempted to fall back asleep but couldn’t. Something felt off so I hopped up, dropped off my son, and headed to the hospital.
When I got there, I could tell that this time felt different. It was a very somber mood in the room. She had a brain aneurysm and the doctors said that in these instances, if someone doesn’t make improvements within that first 72 hours, they likely never will. So we waited the next 72 hours. Not only did she not make improvements, she started to decline even more, despite being on life support.
Then comes the next conversation where they sit the immediate family in the room and go over options. The options were for her to live in a vegetative state and be moved to a nursing facility, or to pull the plug and let God’s will be done. My grandmother gave the authority to my siblings and I to make the call. It didn’t take long for us to unanimously agree on pulling the plug. We all knew her very well. She was a vibrant, lively being. She would NEVER in a million years want to live as a vegetable. I remember my brother saying “there isn’t any sense of holding on to her shell, she is gone y’all.” I knew in my heart and soul that he was right, no matter how much I hated it.
Then we scheduled the day and time where everyone would gather to pray and pull the plug as a family. Hunny, it was HEAVY! I watched my grandmother suffer as well as my siblings. But what I recall the most is my uncles (her brothers), grown, solid, strong, men who helped raise me, break completely down. THAT was when I lost it.
Since then it’s been a process of digesting, discovering new things, while processing and digesting some more. Depending on your research, you’ll find different stages of grief, but I’m going to focus on the original five:
1. Denial - First, I busied myself as much as humanly possible, as not to have to deal with it. I was in denial because the reality was too unbearable. I cried of course, but I didn’t sit still enough to feel, and I certainly made no progress towards healing in those years.
2. Anger - Once reality really sat in, I became incredibly angry. I was angry mostly at God, but also at my mom, and even every person who still had both of their parents. When the people with their living parents were twice my age, it made me even angrier, at them and then again at God.
3. Bargaining - Before you knew it, I found myself bargaining with God. In my prayers I would say things like “Lord if you would just take this burden away from me, I promise I’ll do….”. How many know God doesn’t work as a genie?!
4. Depression - Then it hit me, like a ton of bricks, right at year three, and I had no choice but to deal. It was dark and very lonely, despite many amazing people supporting me. I must state that being lonely and being alone are two different things. I genuinely have the most amazing village. However, no husband, children, or any number of friends could soften the crucial realization that before 30 years old, I was left parentless on this earth. That is abnormal and it is lonely. I worked through this space for two years and it was tough to come out of.
5. Acceptance - The only way to make it fully out of depression and to start the path to true healing, is acknowledgment and acceptance. It doesn’t mean that it won’t hurt anymore, or that there will never be dark moments, but it means that I have a healing plan that works for me and that I need to dig into one of my coping mechanisms AFTER I shed the tears that I need to for a refresh.
Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all for grief and what that looks like. There is also no guarantee that every single person will experience every phase of grief. It also doesn’t mean that you will experience them in the exact order of the textbook process. However, here are some practical things that have helped me to grow along the way.
My Faith – belief in a higher power will sustain you when you can’t sustain yourself. When family can’t fix it, friends can’t fix it, and even you can’t fix, where does your help come from? I can’t answer that for you. That one is personal. I just know it better come from somewhere outside of you!
Journaling – I’m huge on this one. My friend Ashleigh told me years ago to start a prayer journal and she described how she felt going back to read hers a whole year later. That was powerful! Reading back the things you were once begging God for and now you can literally see the manifestation of those things you got on your face to God about…..baaayyybeeee! Whew!
Happy Place – Finding your happy place and learning how to get there is imperative. For instance, the gym is a happy place for me. I’ve never left the gym feeling down and out….no matter how I felt when I walked in the doors. I always walk out refreshed and rejuvenated. I told y’all depression led to me to fitness in the first place. I highly recommend it. However, yours may be shopping, or reading, or spending time with loved ones, or alone time. Whatever it is, use it to refuel as often as you need it. That said, that’s how I found myself in the gym six days a week. Lol
Pouring into Others – This is one thing that just makes me feel good. It’s exactly why I started my blog. I am fully aware that my journey is not all my own and when I can use my experiences to help someone else, it makes it that much more meaningful.
Changing my Mindset – I’ve found that I can make myself feel however I want to pending how I approach and think through any given situation. If I highlight the negative and dwell on it, I can get myself riled up. If I find the positivity in it, I can digest it much better. With grief, there isn’t much you can consider positive about your loved one leaving this earth, BUT you can dwell on the good times, instead of the bad. You can choose to celebrate the life more than you mourn it. You can remember that they are in a much better place than us, and they are ok while we’re left to suffer. You can honor their legacy by doing the things you know would make them proud. I’ve had days where I led myself down very dark paths but once I repositioned myself, and restructured my thoughts, there was always a better outcome on that side of it, and I choose that.
For people who want to support a loved one through their grieving process but may be unsure as to how, again every person is different so there isn’t one answer, but I think the one common thing we can all do for our loved ones in need is to SHOW UP! Stop asking people to tell you what you can do for them and just do it. If this person is your friend or family, you should have some idea of the things that they enjoy. Some will appreciate you sending door dash to their house for dinner. Some will appreciate gift cards. Some love flowers. Some need you to send them a bottle….or five. Some just want your physical presence. Think of the person that you’re looking to support and make the best decision for what you know about this person. Additionally, think of the things that they’ve done for you in the past. That is often an indication of their own love language because that’s the first way we naturally extend love to others, is by how we would want it.
I must say, every person close to me has poured into me tremendously throughout this journey. On my mom’s recent birthday, my phone blew up like it was my own birthday. I often receive flowers, cards, balloons, jewelry, and treats. Before I moved, I could always count on my close friends pulling up on me at the cemetery on her birthday or coming to the house with drinks and laughs.
I love the people around me so much for that. And I credit that for some of my healing and growth as well. Isolating yourself from your loved ones during hard times serves no one, and usually leaves us feeling emptier. While I fully understand that my process is something strictly for me and nobody else can take it on for me, I also fully accept the love, the light, and the time spent with loved ones during difficult moments.
I choose to live my life in honor and celebration of the people who created me, every single day, while continuing to progress with those who love me and are in full support of my process. I give myself permission to lead a vibrant life, even after tragic death. I’d bet the same would benefit you as well.