When I first experienced deaths of a classmate and one of my relatives in a matter of months during my senior year at USC, I told one of my mentors that I don’t know how I feel. In the MBTI test, I’ve always scored the highest score possible for “F”, every single time, and I’ve taken the test at least 7 times. I’m a Feeler through and through. It was frustrating not to be able to pinpoint exactly how I was feeling. Perhaps I felt so much sadness that it was almost stifling and numbing after awhile. I describe that as: your heart is playing chubby bunny.
2015 and my 23rd year was no different. It was filled with seemingly sudden and ongoing losses of close family and friends (as well as those whose lives were taken away unjustly, particularly by way of police brutality) — my Grandfather, two of my relatives from both sides of my parents, my mentor (Kim West), my mentorly friend (Blaise Baldonado), my high school teacher, friends/parents/parental figures of my friends — all rest in power.
Although my heart was playing chubby bunny, yet again, I took the time to reflect upon the power of communities that served as each other’s support system through this incredibly difficult time after each loss. How they are built, celebrated, sustained, and broken. And sustained love was the core of it all that kept communities together. To me, sustained love is being present and engaged with people, experiences, places that I encounter. This means, being able to unconditionally walk alongside other folks’ journeys as my own during difficult times — not ahead of them or behind, but next to them, being in touch with myself and with others, and actively listening to myself and others — not only during difficult times, but always.
It was such a visceral moment to witness communities mobilize within days to celebrate someone’s life. These folks lived across countries, continents, and worlds, yet they dropped everything they had — partners, jobs, life — and gathered to celebrate. For my grandfather, we had nearly 5 days of prayer, provided endless food for the 70 or so visitors who came through, and celebrated his life with karaoke and All-You-Can-Eat/Drink Korean BBQ two days in a row (as he would have :). For Blaise, through two gatherings in NYC and one in Hawaii, it was so evident that he impacted countless lives in encouraging others to be the best selves they can be.
As a natural helper and by the way of my career field, after each loss, I immediately resorted to actively creating space for people to grieve without even fully comprehending or processing the death myself. However, I will be the first to admit that I utterly failed at it and it was unhealthy even for my own mental health. (Intent vs. Impact, amiright?) I held space, instead of holding space. For example, whenever I realized that others weren’t being receptive towards my “advice” or “support”, I felt as if I was in a cycle of helplessness. Folks don’t have to be helped. They just need to be.
When there is loss, there need not be a next step. There need not be a “moving forward”. There can be holding, listening, respecting, loving. It’s okay to feel like your heart is playing chubby bunny. When you’re in a position to have to create space for others, it is okay to ask for help and co-hold the space.
The losses were so profound to the extent where I would lie awake at night thinking, what if this person dies, or the next, and I would frantically call those folks the very next morning to check. There were just not enough hugs, I’m sorry’s, stay strong’s to help you cope with grieving. Maybe a bag of hot Cheetos and sour patch kids, just maybe.
But I’ve learned to unapologetically grieve and lean on the communities that I have. If I had to create a resolution for 2016 and my 24th year, it is that I vow to practice sustained love — wherever I go, whomever I’m spending time, and whatever I’m engaged in.