At a very young age, I was aware of death, not because someone close to me had died but because I would lay awake at night, in my bed, terrified that something would happen to my dad and take him away from me forever. I saw death as this final separation, a marauder that breaks in and takes the things that mean the most. I was young, anxious, and forming fears that I kept secret; living in my own world. Somehow, I knew that one day my dad would walk out the door and never return to me. Spoiler alert, what I feared happened years later.
Last night as I again lay awake in bed, the still hours of the night when thoughts flow uninhibited, my thoughts returned to death and a revelation sprung up. I realized that I have never been alone with grief. Despite my keen awareness and possible fixation on death, my life wasn’t touched by death until my granddad passed away in 1984, this was my inaugural introduction to grief. I didn’t attend his funeral because I had to stay home to take care of my baby cousin(Kechia) and help get the food deliveries set up before my family returned home from saying their goodbyes, I was a busy 9-year-old. Little did I know that this event was the beginning of a pattern that would teach me to ignore my grief to take care of others. Death didn’t visit me again until May 2000 when my secret keeper, my protector, and my grandmother passed away. The passing of my grandmother hurt me deeply and for the first time I felt the despair of grief but there was no time to truly feel, I had to take care of my mama and follow the instructions that my grandma had been teaching me for years. So, I pushed my grief away again and the pattern of denying my feelings became my way of coping.
Remember how I feared to lose my dad, well it happened. I was left with too many questions and my quest to get answers superseded any need I had to grieve. When Cancer invaded my life and eventually contributed to the cause of my mom’s death, I was heartbroken but I had to take care of my sister and protect her from the family fools. I didn’t have time to yield to grief with so much to do, in true fashion, I wiped my tears and pushed my grief away. It wasn’t until death quietly slipped in during the motionless hours of the night and ushered my sister into the heavens, when I was face to face with a force that was a foreign to me as life without my sister that I became truly acquainted with grief. By pushing grief away all of those years, I didn’t understand that unprocessed grief would someday have to be acknowledged. I never imagined a day, a leap year day would change my life forever. February 29, 2016, will always be a significant day in my history. It’s the day of my sister’s passing and the day I was left alone with grief. There wasn’t anyone who needed my support, there was no one to protect from opportunistic family members, and there wasn’t a planned left in my charge to execute, or so I thought. There I stood, alone with an entity that I had evaded for many years, confused, utterly devastated, and being consumed.
As my sister’s birthday approaches, my dreams of her become more vivid, and the ebb and flow of grief intensify; I am comforted in knowing that this is healing. I am now in a space where pushing grief away isn’t necessary nor desirable and I am allowing it to teach me transformative life lessons about death, life, loss, and love. Please understand that while it’s painful and at times heavy, this is progress. I’ve never had the opportunity to own my grief in its totality, there was always something or someone more important, now I am that someone. I am untangling the patterns that taught me to disregard my feelings and building behaviors that put me and my healing at the forefront of everything that I do, funny how something that I once feared tremendously as a child is now my teacher as an adult. If I could go back and tell my younger self anything about death, I would tell her to sit with it and learn, don’t push your grief away because within it is a gift, and also, you aren’t weird, you are an Empath. As I continue to go and grow through my journey of healing and recovery, I understand why mourning the loss of sister was so consuming and why I spiraled so deeply into grief and depression. I now know that what I am experiencing is not only the pains of the sudden loss of my sister, I am also feeling all the grief that I pushed away, its a beautiful nightmare that I embrace. If there is one thing that I can teach you from what I’ve been through with death, it is to feel what you feel, don’t buy into the notion that having feelings makes you weak or proves that you lack faith. I urge you to never disregard your emotional experiences and when death should visit you, allow it to come in, feel it, learn from it, and on those days when the darkness is blinding have faith and know that there is life after loss and it is beautiful.