May 3, 2021
I think it was pure emotional and physical exhaustion that led me to that place, coupled with spiritual overwhelm.
See, I’m a gifted fighter. My original coaches, Darnell and Patricia Harris (aka, Daddy & Mama), announced early on in my life that I’d need to work harder than anyone else in the room if I wanted to be successful. My grit resulted in professional accomplishments and acknowledgement from others. And over time, I began to crave the feeling experienced after winning life’s fights.
Fighting thrust me into spaces I’d never imagined — on stages around the world and at tables with ‘very important people.’ Essentially, I learned that on the other side of my fight was success, defined, for me, as life going in fruitful directions.
Whether in my career or personal life, things just always had a way of working out. This proved true until it didn’t in fall 2012.
Listening on the other end of a phone call you never saw coming will humble you like nothing else. I sat, intently listening to the sound of my mom’s voice, hearing her announce a Stage IV pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
Initially ignoring her request to simply ‘live out [her] last days with the people she loved,” fight rose in me. I immediately scrolled through my mental Rolodex in search of specialists I’d worked with over the years. Friends who knew somebody who knew somebody. I did everything except surrender in the moment.
Or myself for that matter, so I thought.
In a short span of 30 days, my mom traveled the peaceful road from acknowledgement of her death sentence to eternal rest. In the wee hours of the morning on December 9, 2012, she took her final breath, nestled snuggly in between my older brother and me.
And the only thing I could think of at the time was how angry I felt that I hadn’t fought. I’d allowed grief to win!
So weeks after my mom’s cremation and memorial service, I fought my way back to LA from Texas to get back to normal. Grief had won the first round, but I wouldn’t let it have its way with me. No, with everything in me, I woke up, ran 5 miles, boarded the train to downtown LA, and stood before my doctoral-level students day after day. In a strange way, I viewed this as paying homage to my mom, a registered nurse and nursing professor who deeply cared for her students.
She’d muscled her way through so much in her career and personal life that I considered it my duty to fight.
In addition, I fell prey to the “strong Black woman” myth. If anyone could endure, it was me, I thought. ‘I just have to keep going.’ ‘Stopping is definitely weak.’ I pressed forward without complaint because that’s what strong Black women do, right?
Maybe. But for this Black woman, all the racing, doing, and fighting were taking a significant toll. I felt myself paying the price in my sleep, in relationships with others, and in my body. Within a space of six months, I visited my doctor for ‘strange headaches’ and ‘my heart feeling heavy.’
Hindsight, my friend is 20/20. OF COURSE, this was grief. My heart WAS heavy, and my brain felt overloaded with every attempt made to do, work, and fix.
No matter how hard I continued to fight, I was losing, myself mainly.
My mom used to always say that in a fight with God, you might as well throw the white flag. And when it came to grief, this proved true as well.
I threw the flag in 2014.
My surrender looked like setting firmer boundaries with people and saying ‘no’ more often. Moreover, it looked like a return to afternoon naps and freedom to sit without expectation of goal-setting or doing. This was in no way easy for a recovering do-er and fixer! But I knew I had no more fight in me.
I’d come to the point where I realized that surrender is not a passive act.
On the contrary, submitting a resignation letter to the things you’ve pursued in order to avoid feeling great pain is one of the most active things you can do as you grieve.
Whether in big or small ways, I don’t need to fight it. Instead, I visualize it like a leaf passing down a stream. While I don’t know when the leaf will appear, I recognize my ability to sit with grief and allow the in-the-moment feelings to pass.
I’ve learned that the bundle of feelings linked to grief, while they may rise frequently, are temporary … to the extent that I allow them to float down the stream.
What about you?
What can you do to let grief have its way?
Take it from me friend … you’re not fighting a battle you can win. Actually, it’s not about winning.
It’s about learning to live in the midst of loss. Re-defining what it means to fight.
It’s about letting grief have its way.
I’d love to hear what you think.
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