On grieving in a society that tells you stay busy instead…

I lost my mother 34 days ago, exactly, and it’s as though I lost a limb. I lost apart of myself, the part of me that was my first home. I lost my mother and it’s like she’s out there some where without me and I’m not sure how to find my way to her. My mind can’t even compute her absence. I still awaken daily thinking that today she might call me, or that I might be able to call her or that instead of replaying voice mails I might hear her say “I love you I do…” just one more time.

My Mother

I lost my mother. She disappeared to Cancer although she tried not to. She was still combing her hair and putting on make up in the very end, she never ever ever gave up, but nor did Cancer and eventually she was gone. She passed two hours before I could make it to the hospital, right as the day broke and sent shreds of color across the sky. I believe I felt her take her last breath as I exhaled the night drive, and panic to be with her one more time.

My Mother combing my hair

This is not my first big loss. I had a friend shot in the chest while sitting next to me when I was a teen. The same summer I lost a friend to a motorcycle accident. Three summers laters my sister passed away to an overdose that we never talked about much. I’ve lost a number of close friends, my Grandmother, my closest Aunt, a slew of relatives, and now my Mother. Although we are far from friends, I’ve come to know death quite well.

When I lost my Sister I retreated into myself. I was in New York and the sight and sound and smell of the city became some what over whelming. I spent much of my meditating. I went inward. I could not find self forgiveness for the last time she’d called me and I didn’t pick up the phone. The sound of her voice echoing off the walls of my Hawaii apartment haunt me, to this day. That summer I smoked dirt weed and screwed my downstairs neighbor who was too young for me, but willing to keep me company. I was broke, broken and listless. Unable to be apart of a healthy relationship, or work or dream or feel. It was like that for years actually…

When I lost my Grandmother I went out and bought a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of Jack Daniels, moved in with a Musician on our third date, and a went through what might be known as a self destructive phase. I only took the weekend off for the funeral despite my closeness with my Grandmother, it never occurred to me that my grief was worth acknowledging or setting time aside for.

Shortly after losing my Grandmother I lost my first friend in Los Angeles, also to Cancer. At the time my Boss was experiencing Cancer induced dementia and still insisting on coming to work. She passed, and then another coworker passed from Cancer. Shortly there after, and I cracked but not broke. I found my way to a therapist. I vowed to stop smoking, it would take more two more years to make that a reality. I lost weight, cut my hair, I cried. I kept going to therapy. Left the Musician, grew my hair, stumbled into more inappropriate relationships, bought heavy furniture to ground myself, vowed to make my apartment home.

The years passed and I learned not just to live alone but to thrive. I found a way to have an actual relationship with myself in which I respond to my needs instead of thinking that’s someone else’s job. I quit smoking for good, I started jogging again. Joined Weight Watchers, lost 25 pounds, found better jobs, doubled my salary, had a savings. Most of all I stopped burying my head in the sand when something was awry.

Death for me has come like waves, there have been years and phases of loss like this one currently, in which I’ve literally lost more people than I can name in less than five years. It’s brought on unassailable change. My whole life has changed. At the precipice of losing my Aunt I decided to take a year off when a job ended. Instead of considering therapy an expense that couldn’t be afforded without a job, I doubled down and stayed. I traveled. I wrote. I started a documentary. I started running again. I cooked meals and shared them. I laughed more, I contemplated life more. I mourned loss openly. I allowed myself the space to be…a gift that only I could give.

My Aunt, Cousin, Mother and I

A year after seeing my Aunt for the last time, on my Birthday, I realized my Mother was not well. She told something was wrong. Although she looked great and was thinner than she’d been for years, we feared the worse. It’s been a year next week since that day, and now she’s gone.

I am held captive within a small boat in the vast ocean that is grief. It has not let me go for quite some while. I feel like an African immigrant trying to find my way to friendlier shores, in a boat that may not hold me. I feel like I may drown, like the ocean of grief may swallow me whole. The waters of emotion are so choppy I’m not even sure I’d make a splash. I cry every day, sometimes more than once a day and that’s actually the good part.

Numbing the pain doesn’t work. I’ve tried. Staying busy doesn’t work. I’ve tried. Burying yourself in bad relationships, toxic jobs, none of that actually helps. Healing takes time. Period. Time that society will often tell us we don’t have. Healing requires naps and days of doing nothing, Netflix binges, laughter, tears, companionship and solitude. It requires a reverence for its existence. It demands to be acknowledged and fuck anyone who tells you other wise.

If you think grief can wait until you get your next pay raise, or job, or hairstyle or until your relationship smooths out, you are wrong. Grief requires present moment awareness and acknowledgment. Without it you are fooling yourself and bound to crash…