Coping after a loss is hard. I know first hand. I lost my father, a.k.a my best friend, almost three years ago and I’d be lying if I said the pain got easier to bear over time. It hasn’t, my pain tolerance just gets stronger, I guess.
His birthday just passed a few days ago, and in a year of continued and unexpected loss, I thought it would be beneficial to share what has helped me navigate my grieving journey these last few years. Let me emphasize journey because grieving is a journey and not a destination. It is an ongoing cycle and does not have a time limit or expiration date.
Not only do we grieve lost loved ones, but we also grieve lost friendships and relationships, jobs, opportunities, etc. You can grieve any loss you have experienced in life and it is not limited to the death of someone you loved.
As I share things that are helping me navigate my grieving journey please remember that I am speaking from experience and not from a clinical standpoint. Most of my opinions on grieving will come from the place of experiencing the death of a loved one but you will also find points that can be applied to all aspects of loss you may have experienced throughout this thing called life.
So let’s dive into the Black Girl’s Guide to Grieving.
If you don’t take anything else away from the post please leave with this:
1. TAKE OFF THE STRONG BLACK WOMAN MASK.
TAKE OFF THE STRONG BLACK WOMAN HAT.
LET GO OF THE STRONG BLACK WOMAN IDENTITY.
I am coming from a place of experience and this something I wish I would have done. I want better for you and your grieving journey.
As Black women, we are often doted as being strong women, the backbones of the families and capable of all things. We are seen as superheroines. Effortlessly achieving goals while also making sure our family, friends, and households are taken care of without even losing a wink of sleep.
I am here to tell you today, let this identity and this narrative go when you are grieving. Hey, let go of it altogether if you feel empowered because that narrative keeps us from being heard and taken seriously in moments when we need help (i.e. woman’s healthcare/childbirth).
You don’t have to be strong when you’re grieving. When you choose to be strong after a loss, you are basically suppressing your emotions and denying yourself the opportunity to actually feel anything. Think about it like this, grieving is self-care. Acknowledging and expressing your feelings does your mind and body a lot more good than choosing to be “strong”.
My father passed unexpectedly and I found myself taking on the burden of being strong for my mother. Choosing to “stay strong” for her led me to become angry and grow resentment in the long run because I felt that I was denied the chance to grieve. I had become an emotionless robot.
But here’s the thing, no individual can grant me the space and the opportunity to grieve. I have to make that decision and that’s where I messed up.
I chose to sit in the “strong Black woman” role and suppress my emotions so that my mother was able to cope better. I was even told by several individuals to “be strong for your mother.” And that left me asking at the end of each day, “what about me?”
That’s the thing, with the “strong black woman” narrative, people aren’t thinking about her. They are only concerned with what she can do. And this mindset will not benefit you in your grieving process.
The first step to grieving is choosing to not be strong. Be un-strong. Be weak. Be filled with emotion. Then the grieving process can begin.
If you aren’t aware, there are five stages to grieving. These will not be discussed in this post but if you need to read more on those stages to help you better understand grief check out this helpful link.
2.Feel All The Feels
After you have chosen to remove the strong Black woman mask, you have to actually choose to feel. Incite the emotions you were trying to bury deep inside you, to never be seen again (well until you get in a relationship or begin raising children). Acknowledge the hurt, the loss, the anger. And show up for those emotions too. Don’t pretend to be unphased for friends or family. Let them know you’re hurt. Let yourself know you’re hurt.
This is probably the hardest part and the part that might feel like unfamiliar territory. But you have to sit here and feel these feelings. Try not to get so stuck here to a point where you can’t function due to your emotions. If you find yourself feeling depressed and not capable of moving forward, please seek help as soon as possible. You can find a Black therapist in your area to help you process your emotions here.
3.Process The Feels
What does it mean to process your feelings? It is simply taking the time to understand the emotions that you have acknowledged and finding healthy ways to cope with them. Journaling was helpful for me. Just taking a notebook and writing down every thought that came to mind. My journaling soon turned into praying because I began writing down all of my thoughts and concerns as prayers to God. This truly helped me and continues to help me.
I also had a few counseling sessions. Counseling is a healthy and beneficial way to gain tools and insight that can help you better understand your emotions. It helped me realize that my feelings were valid and I was not weak for grieving. It’s always helpful when you talk about things out loud.
Hearing the words come out of your mouth can place things into perspective and help to clear your mind so that you’re able to better process your thoughts. I found it helpful to have some dialogue with friends and family that allowed me to be vulnerable and truly express how I felt.
Grieving takes vulnerability– remember that one too.
Another way to process your grief can be by picking up a hobby. Sometimes we just need an outlet and a way to take our minds off of the circumstances. I chose a hobby and that hobby ultimately led me to creating this platform. I began playing in makeup. Interestingly enough, my initial intentions weren’t because I wanted a hobby to help me cope.
After I was well into practicing my levels of makeup application, it was then that I realized how soothing and relaxing this activity was for me. It kept me soothed and calm and also allowed me to use my creativity for my father’s remembrance. Hobbies are beneficial for everyday life, so of course, they are beneficial when you need a release or a coping mechanism.
4. Be Still
You don’t have to make any quick life-changing decisions immediately after loss. It’s okay to be still. People may tell you it’s time to move on and it’s time for a change or to “let that hurt go.” But if you quickly decide to move forward without making sure you’re able to effectively manage your grief, you will only end up causing yourself more pain. And that’s not self-care is it? My unacknowledged grief spoke volumes from its suppressed location when I tried to find people to replace what I lost.
Story time: I was single when my dad passed and he was my favorite male person so I didn’t truly care that I was single. I knew if I ever needed anything I had him. Well, once he passed, i was scrambling to fill the male void in my life. So any time I felt like divine intervention introduced me to a guy, he had to possibly be the one. And by divine intervention I mean this. I met two guys, one who had the same birthday as my dad (and same football team) and one who’s birthday was the day before his. Yea, it wasn’t divine intervention, it was only unaddressed grief speakin.
So be still. Don’t make any quick decisions because it can be hard to know which voice is speaking.
5. It’s Okay To Be Selfish With Your Grief
We live in a world where people feel entitled to have access to all parts of you. And your grief is one part that you can feel okay about keeping to yourself. If we revisit the “strong black woman” narrative and its negative impacts, then it makes sense why some Black women may not want to explain why they are grieving. It’s enough to show emotions in front of other people, but to also have to explain why you’ve been struck with emotions is an even more daunting task.
For me, it was like having to admit that I was weak, that I was actually normal. For my dad’s birthday last year, my boyfriend and I had only been together for a few months. I had been pretty chill and quiet much of the weekend and he had taken me to get some ice cream.
After getting the ice cream, and heading back home, I became overwhelmed with emotions and just cried and ate my ice cream in silence the entire ride. He kept asking me if I was okay and what was wrong but I didn’t really know what to say. He felt excluded because I didn’t share what I was thinking or what made me cry at that moment. I heard where he was coming from, but ladies, you don’t have to explain your grieving process if you don’t want to.
Please don’t allow anyone to guilt-trip you into sharing because that will not create a foundation for comfortable and open sharing in the future. (not that I felt this way after the situation with my boyfriend).
The thing about grief that we have to remember is that it is PERSONAL. You may not have the words to explain your feelings and you may not want to share or spend time undergoing a grieving process with someone who is grieving the same person. And that’s okay.
In the last two years, I have chosen to grieve and honor my father in my own ways, separate from my mother. She’s grieving a husband. Her relationship and experiences with him were not the same as mine. I am grieving a father so I have to find my own ways to go through that process.
I want you to remember some things.
Grieving is a continuous cycle. It’s been three years and I get randomly smacked in the face with grief all the time.
There is no timeline for grieving. It’s a journey to manageability.
No one can tell you how to grieve.
No one needs access to your grief and no one can give you permission to grieve
Surround yourself with people who support you and understand that grieving is a cycle
When you feel like it’s too much to bear, seek professional counseling to get some better tools.
Prioritize you and your grieving process on anniversary dates, or days that remind you of what you’ve lost. Take the day off sis. I sure did.
Remember that grieving is personal, grieving is self-care, and in order to give yourself the best care, you have to remove the strong Black woman mask first.
Much love to you on your grieving journey.