The difficulty of being a black woman and grieving
05 Jan 2018
It was 7pm on 20 October 2015 when I called my paternal grandmother. We spoke about her visitors that day, church updates and how she was feeling. I ended the call by saying “I love you nan”. She replied, “I know you do my granddaughter, and I love you”. I never imagined that would be our last phone call. At 10pm that evening, my cousin called to say that our nan was gone. She died from a heart attack and my heart’s still broken. This was a traumatic time – however, I managed to find the strength, which I owe to my faith, and eventually adopted the ‘new normal’: to put my self care first, and encourage others to do the same.
“There was, and still are, times that I am unable to function properly but I always had to show up”
Between October 2015 and October 2016, after losing my grandmother, I went on to lose my friend, my maternal grandmother, my great grandmother, and my cousin. People often ask me how I cope. At times I don’t feel as though I do. There was, and still are, times that I am unable to function properly but I always had to show up. I had people relying on me, especially my family. My employer, the black network group at work – they all wanted something, and they wanted it from me. Whilst I felt like the ground had been lifted from underneath me several times, life continued. I wanted to press a stop button for just one moment, so that I could breathe. So that I could take in what was happening. But the clock kept ticking.
I care a lot about my personal wellbeing, especially after pressure which caused me to become exhausted and stressed without even realising it. I found counselling through my Employer’s Assistance Programme (EAP) and Cruse Bereavement Care as a way to help cope with what was happening in my personal life, and to reduce any impact on my professional career. Counselling was a way to talk about my feelings to someone who was not comparing their grief to mine or trying to sympathise. Speaking to someone completely neutral was a step in the right direction because I could be completely open about how I was feeling.
“I had months of disrupted counselling; I had to stop and start each time another person died. However, each time I saw my therapist, I was moving forward”
I had months of disrupted counselling; I had to stop and start each time another person died. However, each time I saw my therapist, I was moving forward. In between sessions, I did a lot of soul searching. With the help of my therapists, I flipped my thinking from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset and I left my comfort zone. I started socialising, which I had become anxious about; I started going to networking events, which used to make me want to curl up into a ball. I had been wanting to start a blog for a while, but my fixed mindset stopped me because I didn’t have a website. However, my growth mindset found a website that was self-hosted and easy to set up. So, I could get on with producing content, rather than worrying about the technicalities of having a website (which is www.melaninmindsoul.com).
Each time I lost a loved one, I found myself questioning my purpose in life because it felt so short. I told my nan that I would speak to her tomorrow and a few hours later, she was gone. I wasn’t sure if I still wanted a career in local government, or what career I even wanted. I didn’t know why I got up in the mornings.
“The new approach was to eliminate everything that made me unhappy. I quit certain people and their behaviours, I resigned from my job, and I moved to Nevis in the Caribbean”
Many people were still relying on me emotionally and yet I was so confused about my own future. The new approach was to eliminate everything that made me unhappy. I quit certain people and their behaviours, I resigned from my job, and I moved to Nevis in the Caribbean, to give myself the space to really rediscover who I am, and what drives me. I was so busy trying to be everyone else’s anchor, that I didn’t realise I was drowning myself.
Now, when I am feeling overwhelmed with the progression of my blog, the brand I am developing, or the homework club that I have recently started, I can go to the beach for some mindfulness. I’ve always found peace in the open air, and the beach is where I find my inner peace.
“When you love someone, there is never a good time to say goodbye. Grief has many waves of emotions until you learn to manage the pain”
Losing someone you love is one of the hardest things a person can ever go through. When you love someone, there is never a good time to say goodbye. Grief has many waves of emotions until you learn to manage the pain – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Black families are extremely close, and when someone is taken away, there is a big void for those left behind, and relationships change.
Part of the process has been learning how to manage my pain, grief, and relationships. I allow myself to be emotional when I need to release the pain I am feeling at that time. Having therapy allowed me to speak to someone with no filter. I also use my family and friends as a support network or sometimes to distract myself. Now, I am in a position where my career path and mindset has changed. I now have a number of business ideas that I want to develop, and do so from a beach, in the sun with beautiful blue sky.
Bereavement is something that we are conditioned into knowing is a part of life. However, no one tells us how to cope. By learning to manage my emotions and seeking help, I was able to learn how to function properly. I went to therapy because I could speak openly with a stranger and it helped me to find coping mechanisms. Life is for living, so I continue to live my life with purpose and want to inspire others to do the same. After all, this is what my loved ones would have wanted. Your current situation does not have to be the final destination.