I had told her about the hustle, about how hard I’d been working to have the life my ancestors died for me to have, and that was her response.
How will I know.
There’s no map for us – especially not today. We know to keep hands locked on steering wheels and eyes straight ahead, but we’re not always sure what we’re looking towards. We know survival. I know survival. I know getting to the next day and just making it by grace. I know paying bills and saving up – only the crack open the bank and watch it all fall out.
So, what’s it mean to build and sustain generational wealth? What’s it mean to maintain a home without fear of being evicted? What will our definition of excellence be when our baseline is whiteness and all the ways we don’t fit in?
Someone once told me that a poor homeless white man still holds more privilege than the richest most successful Black man you’ve ever met. It’s almost as if my definition of greatness can’t be rooted in money and possessions. It can’t be based on degrees on the wall. It has to have more legs than that, more meaning. It has to be God and only God. That’s my benchmark: how much do I trust Him in any given moment and what am I doing to serve others?
It feels good to write that, it feels harder to live it. And still, I don’t have an answer to her question. I won’t know when I’ve arrived. My family will be safe and our bodies clothed, but I’ll still have so far to go.
“I know it doesn’t matter to anyone else, but I’m not happy with it yet. (So, I’ll hold my breath until it’s right).”
Oh, and is this one you: “I can’t let them think I’m incompetent.”
I don’t like letting go.
In fact, I’m holding onto middle school grudges and hurt from lies that stung more than sticks and stones ever could.
I’m hold onto anger and fear and to the idea that something can be perfect. I’ve held my breath through tasks, miniscule tasks that no one else in the world even knows/cares about, because I want it all to be perfect.
If it’s perfect: my world won’t crumble.
If it’s perfect: they won’t leave.
If it’s perfect: I will matter until it is broken again.
When they tell me to take it easy, I become perplexed. These are words with which I am unfamiliar. Today, however, I desire to know them like black knows night.
I need to know them because my life depends on ease. It depends on my comfort with unfinished things. It depends on me leaving the men’s group I found to be so helpful, until several made it plain that my black life didn’t matter. I must “pass on this one, because I don’t have the energy for it.”
I must tread lightly or my blood pressure will spike and I’ll drop.
Most of all, my wife and daughter need me here, so I must let go some. I am breathing now – and now is always of importance.
What are you needing to let slip and fall? Loosen your grip.
🙋🏽♀️Thoughts on this message? Let me know at email@example.com.
It was an almost perfect evening. My wife and I danced, sang and laughed in the parking lot outside our apartment. We were still glowing, even though we’d seen “Black Panther” several times since it opened on February 16, 2018. We’d been following the movie’s star, Chadwick Boseman, since he played Jackie Robinson in the biopic “42” half a decade earlier.
Seeing someone who looked like me, a Black man, do larger than life things on the silver screen, was one of the more empowering moments from my own life’s reel. Chadwick was more than a great actor. He seemed principled to me. Like the older — more poised and regal — brother I never had. In many ways, I felt like I knew him.
I wish I could travel back in time to that night. While life still came with its challenges, the ground beneath my toes felt much stabler. It didn’t erupt the way it has this past year: one devastation after another. Thankfully, I was sitting on our living room couch when my wife told me Chadwick had passed away on Friday. He’d died from stage IV colon cancer. He was only 43. He wasn’t coming back.
There’d be no sequel.
My wife and I both struggled to breathe in our shared shock, as we scrolled through the collective grief that was our Twitter feed.
It wasn’t just celebrities who shared their hurt, it was everyday people sharing the ways in which Chadwick had touched their lives, the lives of their children, how he’d given them hope. Clips of Chadwick’s 2018 Howard University commencement speech auto played. People shared his quotes from interviews, while others shared tears, hurt, and the unbearable burden of grief for which we were never prepared.
All this from people who’ve never actually spent time with Chadwick. Who weren’t with him as he wrote plays in college, or braved the uncertainty that is Hollywood.
So, why do our hearts ache? It’s easy to get caught up on the specifics. We might ask ourselves, “Can I really grieve someone I’ve never met?”
And, the answer would be a resounding yes.
Earlier this year, in the wake of Kobe Bryant’s death, HuffPost interviewed David Kaplan, a former professor of psychology. Kaplan remarked that “we grow up with these people… so when they die, it’s like an extended member of our family dies. It’s somebody we feel like we know.”
Social media has brought us more access than any typical fan has had with celebrities. From cooking alongside Chrissy Teigen while clothes and books line the kitchen floor, to singing along with Lin-Manuel Miranda in his home office, it’s no wonder we feel suffocated and at a loss for words when someone we’ve followed for so long is no longer with us.
Now doesn’t have to be the time to solve anything, to put the pieces together, nor to prepare ourselves for the next inevitable blow. Perhaps it’s an opportunity for us to just feel our feelings and celebrate the life of someone we loved.
It’s the grief you experience when someone you love morphs into something almost unrecognizable. It’s what friends, family, and colleagues felt when I experienced my first manic episode a few years ago. It’s what a son feels when his father is diagnosed with dementia. And in a way, it’s likely what the individuals in this article are living with right now.
We typically think about the finality of death when we talk about grief. Ambiguous loss, however, occurs when someone we care for is still physically present but psychologically absent, or when the inverse is true. We don’t know who this new person will be when they return, if they ever do.
It’s grieving the living.
Dr. Pauline Boss, who’s work on ambiguous loss spans over 40 years, is the pioneer of the term, a clinician, an educator, and a researcher. Dr. Boss says, “ambiguous loss makes us feel incompetent. It erodes our sense of mastery and destroys our belief in the world as a fair, orderly, and manageable place.”
If your world is already on fire, unmanageable, wholly fragile and breakable, how much more does the pain of loss weigh on you? Many of us have found ourselves in a private mode browser, searching the internet for breadcrumbs that will tell us where exes have ended up. Who’ve they married. If they’re happy…happier. Others have opted to forgo family dinners and holidays for the sake of their mental wellness, their lives. Disdain for their salient identities or choice in partners has been made evident from conversations, debates, arguments, and empty rows at weddings.
Loss is loss, though varied and inevitable. Acceptance, they say, is necessary, anger is expected, but we miss the person grieving when we attempt only to fix them. To rid them of their pain. To move them through stages that aren’t even linear in the first place.
Lily, 33, New Jersey, She/Her.
He’s my ex-husband and the father of my two oldest sons. We met when I was 18 and got married six months later. I’ve known him almost 15 years now. He had an unhealthy relationship with substances for many years before it became what I would consider an addiction. His worst addictions were heroin and meth.
The turning point was the arrest. It happened while he was picking up ecstasy to sell. At that point I realized that his family wasn’t his first priority and that we probably never would be. Regardless, it wasn’t worth it to wait around and find out. I couldn’t risk putting our kids in danger anymore.
It was hard at first. He was my safety net, and I didn’t really know how to be on my own. He was a good dad and husband when he was clean, sober and thinking straight. That made it hard to leave. When he went to prison for the ecstasy, it was much easier to distance myself and become independent from him. When I finally knew I was done, for real done, I felt like a weight was lifted. I felt free and relieved and like I could finally breathe again. I didn’t really find myself and grow up until I left that relationship. It was the best decision I ever made. Our relationship wasn’t healthy. I think if I had stayed with him I would be extremely unhappy. I could’ve gotten sucked into that lifestyle and just lost everything.
We still keep in touch because of our children, but he hasn’t really been a father to them since he went to prison when they were three and five. Over the past nine years, he’s been in and out of jail and struggling with addictions. He’s currently in prison again and we communicate maybe once a month. I honestly don’t really ever think about him unless we’re talking. I know some people think you look at your child and think about the other parent or whatever, but it doesn’t even dawn on me that they have a father sometimes because he hasn’t been there.
On the other hand, it’s really sucks for my boys that their father isn’t around. It definitely affects them, and I hate that. It makes me so angry. I don’t understand how someone chooses drugs over their children. I’ll never understand that. I just try to let all that go. And, unfortunately, I kind of just forget he exists most of the time.
Teresa, 31, Missouri, She/Her.
I once saw a Reddit comment that said, “You can finally let someone go when you’re brave enough to face the fact that they didn’t care as much about you as you did them.” This is when I knew I could cut him out of my life, someone I’d been through so much with. He was repeatedly awful to me and dismissive of the boundaries I set. I asked to be treated better but he didn’t care. For my sanity, I finally pulled the plug on the friendship simply by not discontinuing a text conversation. He never reached back out to me either.
Even though the decision was clear to me, it hurt like hell. I grieved privately and didn’t tell anyone. I hoped that he’d suddenly treat me better, but a week of silence turned into a month. That turned into a year, and now it’s been almost two years. I still have a tiny sliver of hope, but I know that holding a place for someone who wasn’t treating me well isn’t doing me any favors.
It’s so surreal to see the city where he lives pop up on my blog’s Google Analytics. It’s odd when he appears as a friend suggestion on social media. And, it’s unsettling for me to hear mutual friends talk about him. It’s like he became a hologram in my life, an abstract memory of a person, that I can barely picture anymore. I feel grief and anger whenever he shows up on my screen. Those feelings eventually turn into sadness because there truly was nothing I could have done to keep patching things together, especially if he wasn’t going to treat me better.
Samantha, 28, New York, She/Her
I met my best friend in 8th grade. Jordan was the water to my fire, and we always laughed like no one was watching. Sometimes I’d think people were annoyed by how much fun we were having. It was one of the healthiest friendships I had. We ran wild and free. And then Jordan turned to drugs.
I always remember her saying she liked to experiment and she won’t get addicted. I had zero idea of what was happening, and only discovered things in bits and pieces. Over the years, she’d bring me around her boyfriend and his friends: they all struggled with addiction. I stuck out like a sore, uncomfortable, thumb. They were never kind or welcoming, just mean.
One day, one Jordan’s many guy friends got mad at her for going to smoke with another guy. I didn’t understand until he told me she was smoking heroin. I cried my heart out. We tried intervention but she lied to my face to protect her habit. Jordan continued to lie consistently from that point forward, spiraling the entire time. But she was a functional user, and maintained school and a full-time job) so I was always thrown off.
I was 25 when it all came to a head and I actually punched her straight in the face. I’ve never been so furious in my life, and had never punched anyone in the face.
It took three years for me to actually miss Jordan. I’ve come to accept that she will always be my best friend. we had the most fun I’ve ever had growing up. I pray for her sobriety and have even ran into her boyfriend two times and mother once, when I was thinking/worried about her. I think God sends those life jackets when you need to be reassured.
I know I was mad at Jordan theaddict-self, not her. I think you have to hold onto the good to grieve the loss: the good memories, the funny stories, and the person’s best self. I’m still learning though. And I’m still rooting for her.
Elle, 26, California, She/Her
I’ve known Giovanni and Alexa since middle school – 11 years. In college, they stopped wanting to hang out with me even when I would tell them when I’d be home for holidays. They both regularly visited my university’s campus to meet up with another friend and I wouldn’t find out until later. As we grew apart, I started to notice how they treated me and other people. They gossiped about friends and made fun of them behind their backs. They openly skipped my birthday. At there were times that they disrespected me to my face.
The big turning point was during my college graduation. I saw Giovanni and Alexa there and they didn’t even acknowledge my existence. They were only there to cheer on my friend instead. Up until that point, I had assumed and thought we were all friends. I tried reaching out before then, but when their plans didn’t align with my own, they claimed I was too busy.
That’s when I cut ties.
I’ve still felt sad and uneasy throughout this entire process, even though it’s gone on for years. I think about I confronted them once about not treating me poorly and they denied it. In the midst of everything, they got others to end friendships with me too.
My grieving process has been frustrating. Up until last month, I was regularly looking at their social media to see what they were up to because I still cared about them. Plus, there have been multiple times in the past few years where I have felt like I have made a mistake in breaking up with friends in general. Occasionally, I forget the friendship happened. But often, I miss the friendship for what I thought it was.
Sophie, 53, Kansas, She/Her
I was 17 when I got pregnant with Adam, but I had siblings that were five, four, and two, so I had no fantasies about what raising a baby would be like. I had it happening all around me and none of it seemed fun.
His biological dad, Clark, and I were best friends, and had been since we met in 8th grade. We were each other’s biggest fans. I was positive that any child made from bits of him and bits of myself would be the greatest human being ever born, and as arrogant as his father and I might have been, I knew that baby deserved much better parents than we would be. I wanted him (I’d hoped it was a “her” at the time) to have two grown and educated parents whose main goal in life was to have a family, and to raise a human into the best version of itself possible.
I hoped that Clark and I might become those people some day, together or with other people, but I knew we were not then. We were still seniors in high school. We were both probably considered underprivileged kids, going to a college prep school paid with public funds. We knew the life we’d come from, and we wanted more than that. We were excited to go into the world and discover all there was to know. Clark had just been accepted to Yale with almost a full scholarship. I was hoping to make it into the New School.
There was no way a baby could fit in that world.
Clark asked me to marry him, and recently reminded me that my reply was: “What? And ruin THREE people’s lives?”
Here’s how I imagined it.
I would give up going to college. I really believed Clark was smarter and more talented than I (still do), so of course he should go to school. And I would be the stay-at home-mom. We’d have some really lousy apartment off campus where I’d sit all day trying to take care of a crying baby, while daydreaming about what Clark was off learning as I became bitter about my “wasted opportunities”. Clark would be with fascinating, intelligent people all day and then come home to me: tired, in my pjs covered with throw-up, with nothing to talk about, and cranky with Clark for doing what I wanted him to do in the first place.
I was somehow smart enough to see that the biggest loser in that picture would be our baby, sitting in the high chair and crying while we fought. I didn’t want that for any of us. I knew we could all have better.
My son’s name is Adam. Kansas is an open adoption state, so I knew that legally he could find out who I was when he turned 18. That helped. I don’t know if I could have made my choice if I didn’t know there was a chance that he’d feel connected to me and find me someday. I also went through a private adoption agency. They let me choose his parents and write them a letter they promised to give Adam when they deemed he was old enough. Adam’s parents would send photos and short updates to the adoption agency throughout his childhood. The adoption agency would pass them on to me. Again, I don’t know that I could have made the choice to not keep him if I wouldn’t have had that assurance.
The first few years were very difficult for me, and that’s probably putting it mildly. The first few months were the worst. All I could feel every minute was how much I missed him. Just like with the daughter I later was able to keep and raise, every atom in my body longed to be with him.
Adam was born in the 80s when they let you stay at the hospital for a while after you had a baby. I spent 4 days there with him in my room every minute. Everyone advised me against it, but I was stubborn. I was positive it was what Adam and I both needed. I knew it might be the only time in my life I’d get to be with him. And I wanted him to know in those days that he was so, so loved. I hoped and prayed we’d form a connection that would somehow stay with him. I do not regret that — at all. I sometimes wonder if that’s why he always wanted to know me. If that’s why he eventually found me.
I understood other’s options back then, and still do. It may have been easier in those moments to have just not seen him and gone home as soon as possible. But easier isn’t always best.
During the first few years, I thought of him on the 17th of every month (his birthday). And then, like every loss, it got less painful and less consuming. At some point, when he was still in single digits but getting older, the adoption agency closed and I lost touch with his parents. I always felt like it was totally his choice of whether he’d search and find me. It was perfectly fair if he didn’t. And so at some point, I had to build a little wall around my hurt and tell myself I could think about it again after he was 18. I kind of locked it all away until them.
He was 14 when he sent me an email.
When his parents and I were in contact, they would often tell me how smart he was — which never surprised me because I was expecting that. At 14 he had finished high school and was about to start his first semester at his state university. His mother had taken him on errands that day and they were at the bank, looking at papers in the bank box. She knew the adoption papers were in there, and she knew Adam knew the adoption papers were in there. So she let them be accessible while she tended to other things. Adam read the papers.
This was the late 90s and not many people knew about the internet, but I already had my own web page and domain name by then. I made sure to put my full name and email address in enough places so that anyone who did a web search for it could find me. I was thinking 100% about my son. I wanted it to be easy for him to find me someday. Clearly I didn’t lock the thoughts of him completely out of my mind.
So when he looked, he found me, and wrote me the sweetest email. He wasn’t sure it was me. He was such a little baby when I think of it now, just 14 years old, reaching out to ask if I was his birth mom. To see if I cared.
I answered right away. We talked tons and tons.
Fast forward to today, Adam’s 35 now. He’s been a comedy writer on a major late night TV show, he lives in the middle of Manhattan with a wife I love and my grandson (who is actually and truly the greatest human to ever be born.)
Being back in Adm’s life, and his choice to make me such a part of his wonderful little family…well for me this is the greatest story of my life. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me. It makes me feel happy and complete in a way I could never dream of putting in words. It feels good, and it feels right, and it feels whole. It makes all those tears that teenaged me cried worth it to see the man he is now, and the family he’s creating on his own.
It’s very hard for me to give advice to young people in that situation. I know that it has worked out beautifully for me, but it doesn’t for everyone. I had a lot of things going for me at the time I got pregnant that made it easy for me. I was able to finish high school. My parents didn’t kick me out; my mother was my biggest support. And it was a different world in the 80s. However, I would always, and still advocate that adoption should be considered as a valid option in an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy. It is not for everyone, but it can turn out wonderfully.
I just finished dicing strawberries for my daughter as my wife grabs a bib and wipes down the high chair. This could be a typical morning, but it’s not. News of George Floyd’s murder is streaming from my iPhone atop our cherry oak wood table. Since the COVID-19 quarantine began, we’ve sat and listened to a five-minute summary of current events during meals.
Still, it’s unsettling to hear: “and the officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds.”
We don’t stop eating. We’re used to this. Used to making decisions that help us survive, while the ache of grief coils around our chest and makes it difficult to breathe.
I tell my wife: “Listening to his story, and the story of every single other Black person brutalized by police never feels old.” We’ve never had much time in between these omniscient and filmed killings. I’m convinced they won’t end in my lifetime.
It’s no different when I scroll on social media. The most draining and angering content these days is seeing friends and influencers share their support for #AllLivesMatter. Not only does it miss the point of the Black Lives Matter movement, but seeing these sentiments causes distrust to bubble up within me. If they can’t take a moment to center a group of people who’ve been marginalized, enslaved and disenfranchised since they were brought to this country, how can they truly care about me?
At some point I stop holding silent debates in my head and log off.
I never speak for all Black people, no one does, but it’s evident that many of us are tired, upset and angry. Taking care of ourselves feels like a paradox. How do we seek refuge and restoration in the very system we’re working to dismantle? How do we seek rest when there’s unrest everywhere we look? And why is it up to us to make others feel comfortable enough to fight for us? Using words like racism seems to push away the very same people we need as allies — the kind that stand with us, fight with us and use their privilege to affect change on all levels.
Let’s call it what it is: racism. It’s systemic, it’s here, and it’s taken its toll on my physical and mental health.
I’m no longer living for myself. I have a wife and child who need me to show up as healthy as I can. Alas, this is my charge. As a Black man, I’m called to discover a way to beat the statistics. To manage diabetes passed down to me from my grandmother’s grandma. To continue to utilize mental health services like therapy and psychiatry so that I can process the trauma and heartache. I refuse to quit. Not now when I recognize how much of a hole I’d leave in the lives of those who love me.
And so, that’s my why. That’s what prompts me to remove myself from the conversation and from the activism for long enough to breathe, heal what I can and sleep.
If you’re looking for ways to practice better self-care in a time when everything is burning down, here’s are a few tips:
Be purposeful on social media.
This means asking yourself: “How can I be intentional with the next 20 minutes I spend online?” It’s helped me to set restraints for myself. For example, I’ve muted words like “shooting” and “murdered” on Twitter. I’ve shut off video auto-play on Facebook. And I quickly mute or block accounts that are just out to upset or be blatantly hateful. I’ll admit, I’ve taken time to report users who’ve violated community standards, but even this has been a drain on my resources. So, now when I’m online, I’m more intentional about being informed, laughing at the hilarity that is Black Twitter and connecting with friends who are standing with me.
Designate news hours.
We only listen to news during meals, and typically in five minute to 20 minute chunks. We have narrowed our subscription down to one media source so that we’re not induated. Taking in news as a family allows it to be a conversational tool. This way we’re not hit with something heavy and then going on with the rest of our day without processing it.
Lean on your affinity group.
I’m a member of a few Facebook groups for Black people (one’s for education professionals and the other is for lovers of Black film). We need time to rest, because racial battle fatigue can exhaust us. It’s easy to get caught up in constantly performing, or defending one’s Blackness. We get to put ourselves in places where we’re nurtured, where we can breathe easy and where we can be ourselves without having to constantly explain ourselves.
Each of us has the personal responsibility of choosing to do what’s healthy, but this isn’t always the most evident or even attractive option. So if you’re drowning right now, if you don’t know which way is up, I want you to know that you’re not alone, and that asking for help doesn’t make you weak or less than. Taking care of yourself isn’t an easy thing, but it’s a necessary thing.
Writer, womanist and civil rights activist Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
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