Alert* This post talks about Rising through grief and loss.
I am writing this as part of my process in healing from the sudden death of my son. My work and my life are inextricably connected and intertwined. I facilitate the work of racial equity as my way of contributing to the world and creating a safer place for my seven children.
Twelve years ago, I lost my husband, Terry to stage four pancreatic cancer. The initial prognosis was six months or less. He fought for eighteen and defied the medical professions prediction. Six days later I began a new job. It took me three months to cry. I wasn’t used to giving in to tears, let alone experiencing them at all. I didn’t believe I was wired to cry. I was wired to survive; problem solve and thrive. That’s what I thought and then he died. I watched the light leave his eyes and my understanding of life and death was changed forever. I finally understood that I am not the body or even the thoughts that come with physical existence. Somewhere in me is the same light which illuminated his eyes and then went black, not dark, but stark black, empty…soulless.
The light that was Terry went somewhere.
I carried on in silent unrecognizable pain. I believed that I was ok. Until the day when the form that I was reading became blurry and smudged. I was honestly confused, looking around quickly to see where the water could have fallen from. My eyes, the tears came from my eyes! I was shocked. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? It was true though, so sad, real, and true. Crying made me feel embarrassed and weak. Crying in front of others was not a practice I engaged in and certainly not in the workplace. I got myself together, asked for some time off and went home to “grieve and heal”. I did go home, and I was there every day but without the grieving and healing element. I mean, I did engage in prayer, meditation and reading books but nothing touched my insides and the crying had stopped. It had been three months since Terry transitioned and my thought was if I hadn’t cried, and I mean real, snot-filled, hiccupping kind of crying by then, it would never happen. Again, I believed I was wired differently.
There was pain though, seething, bitter, resentful, anguishing pain that I learned to live with. I carefully placed that pain in the chest of internal drawers I carried within my soul and carried on. I had a life to live and six children to care for. I didn’t have time for pain or tears. I sucked up the unresolved, lingering pain within our marriage and focused on building a new life. One of my own making and desire. Sixteen years together had changed me, and I was ready for something different. I did what I always did after experiencing traumatic events, I problem solved how to move forward, then flew into action, moving towards whatever new goal I had set. I was used to approaching every day as a new opportunity for me to Rise.
I didn’t know how to be present for myself or my children. I did the best I could. It wasn’t great. I don’t know how we made it through, suicide attempts, mental breakdowns, emotional outbursts, and generally all of us feeling lost. Terry had been our anchor, my anchor. The support that was there for us in the first month of his dying was gone shortly after. We floated along, trying to find our way with me leading the family but not able to lead. I couldn’t see any of that then. I was blind to it. I was so used to doing things on my own and even in the face of overwhelming barriers finding a way to be successful. Finding a way to Rise.
Today marks 81 days since our son DaNeil transitioned. Suddenly. Without warning, he was gone. No time to say goodbye, just gone. The impact of his passing while we were in my hometown of Philadelphia whilst attending my uncle’s funeral is still something I am reflecting on. My daughter in law called me as the police were entering his home in Texas. He had just recently re-settled his wife and children back on Camano Island in Washington State. Neither she or I wanted him to relocate to Texas ahead of his family, but he was determined to find work, send for them, and settle down. He hadn’t had a seizure in eight years. On June 11, 2022, he had a series of seizures, he was alone. When we heard them pronounce that he had passed we both screamed. I don’t remember much after that except screaming, crying, packing, pacing, repeat. The plane ride home was horrific. My insides kept trying to spill out everywhere. I held on to my wife’s arm for the majority of the five-hour flight just shaking and sobbing with the brief pause to blow my nose. I was engaging in public crying but I neither cared nor did I have any capacity to stop. To be fair, I did attempt to stop the tears many, many times but nothing worked so I gave up and gave in.
I don’t know how to Rise above this pain. When Terry died, I lost the only solid, truly stable relationship I had ever had. I trusted him with everything. Everything. There is nothing about me didn’t know. When DaNeil died, I felt an emptiness in what continues to feel like my literal soul. A deep cavernous space, filled with the whispers of memories no longer connected to a physical being.
I am an overcomer of many things. This thing, this pain, this loss, this emptiness, this is something different. I cannot overcome it. I don’t know if I want to. Part of me wants to remain in the pain to pay homage to the beauty, depth and love my son brought to this world and took with him when he left. The other part of me wants to heal so that I can be present for the six children and multiple grandchildren who remain. I got married again and adopted our youngest daughter.
I am torn between the desire to heal and the desire to give in completely to the emotional pain which sometimes frightens me because of its intensity and unfamiliarity.
I still cannot believe he is gone. Intellectually I know he has transitioned but the message has not been fully accepted by my insides. What I have learned in these 81 days is that to Rise, meaning to engage in some form of upward movement or to increase in some way, shape or form requires an acknowledgement of where you are in relation to where you want to be. These two bookends are nothing without the work being done in between them.
On June 11, 2022, my life called me to go through my pain, not over, under or around it as I have in the pass. Let me just tell you that as an ENTJ (Extraverted, Intuitive, Thinking, and Judging). Processing emotions doesn’t come easily to me. Now life is sending me through what I consider to be a master class in internal pain and agony. Like, what the heck?!
I can’t Rise through this because I can’t even walk through it yet. I am still on my emotional belly lying on the ground looking up and asking myself, What the F@#$?!
RISE stands for Radical, Insightful, Solutions to create Equity. In our context emotional equity means accepting where you and others are, meeting yourself and others in that place and providing yourself and others with the resources necessary to create a balanced and healthy outcome.
Well, I am currently in my own personal radical stage. What’s so radical about it? I am crying in public, people! And learning not to be ashamed, embarrassed, or apologetic for my feelings and emotions. I can honestly say that I absolutely hate this process and yet I have intentionally committed myself to acknowledging, accepting, welcoming, and affirming my pain, tears, and anger at my loss. I may not Rise from this experience any time soon but every day my arms are getting stronger and one day, they will be strong enough for me to push myself up on my knees and see life from a different perspective. For now, I am accepting that I am lying down in the process because that is where I am emotionally. I accept that this process is out of my hands and my only responsibility is to listen closely to what my emotions are telling me and to respond with care, compassion, and kindness as I slowly move through the process.
I want to Rise again. I know I will Rise again. When it’s time.
Be well. Rise! And come along with me as I work towards rebuilding equity in my own life.