Originally published January 17, 2017 on Blavity.
A friend said to me, “When everything dies down, it will be different. I promise it gets better.”
I interpreted “everything” as the funeral, the calls, the cards, the outcry or the offers of service. Two months after his death, I realize “everything” was in reference to my feelings of grief once the adrenaline rush diminished. I didn’t believe it would get better. I didn’t think I could cope.
Before New Year’s Eve, I attempted to clean out my closet. While dragging out a bag of shoes, I hit my head on the closet doorknob. I didn’t react. I barely felt it. The following week, I sat at my desk, laid my forehead in my hands, and felt a painful knot. I was no longer running on adrenaline. The shock was gone. The hurt arrived. While I haven’t fully accepted his death, I understand he’s not alive. The realization implied that it was time for me to be functional. I can’t stay in my apartment forever.
Thanks to a combination of prayer, self-sufficiency, and family support, I am 50% back in the swing of things. When reconnecting with friends and colleagues the first question I get is, “How are you?” A standard yet loaded question.
How am I?
Honestly, I am lonely. I don’t want to bombard others with my problems. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. I am sorry enough. No one really wants to hear that every day feels like Groundhog Day. Seriously, every morning when the alarm sounds, I am reminded that a new day has begun without him. By the way, he loved that movie.
At times I am totally absent. On New Year’s Day, I aimlessly stood in the baked goods section of the grocery store for 20 minutes. I thought about how 2017 was supposed to be our year. We had plans! Instead, it’s the first year without him. Everything is ending: my relationship, my twenties, and President Obama’s term. The new normal seemed so bleak that I found myself in tears. I threw a box of Krispy Kreme donuts in my cart. I perused the flowers and checked out Tupperware containers as if I was looking for work dresses at Macy’s. I wandered the frozen foods aisle for an hour until someone moved their hand in front of my face, it was one of my friends. “Girl, did you get your New Year’s Day foods? What’s all this in your cart?” Donuts, grapes, seltzer water, eggs, an avocado, and tortilla chips (not guacamole, just an avocado). I got home from the store at 4:00 PM. I spent two hours being a drifter in Safeway, that’s how I am.
Sometimes I feel invisible. No one stares at me with loving eyes and says, “Rion, you are radiant.” The intoxicated guy on the corner catcalling doesn’t cut it. Will anyone make me feel that special? Well, no one is him so I guess the answer is no. Someone can make me feel special, but not in the same way he did. One time I was running so late for work, I showered, grabbed my bags and left. On the bus, I got a text. “Did you eat your breakfast?” Confused, I opened my bag and found a beef patty in aluminum foil. There is no greater love.
I am scattered. Last weekend, I found two identical bags from the 2015 Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference. I knew which one was his bag immediately. It was still intact with a neatly folded copy of the Washington Informer, a yellow legal pad with notes in cursive, and some swag items. My bag was the complete opposite. Inside, I found gym shoes I’d been searching for since April 2015. It’s proof that he’s an angel and I am a mess. I remember him asking me, “Did you really look?” I was sure the sneakers disappeared. I still told him I finally found them.
Grief is so easily disguised. Like most people, I don’t wear it on my sleeve. I look better than I feel. It’s a mind game. Internalizing the heartache while trying to engage others, be professional or concentrate is tortuous. In order to be functional, I had to help myself. Self-care is my saving grace. Although, I am still getting acclimated, professional therapy is helpful. Self-care isn’t limited to counseling; getting massages, walking or taking in art, are all integral to my healing. I’ve made it a priority. On payday, I set aside funds to go towards activities or experiences that are guaranteed to make me feel better.
Understanding and talking through my pain has forced me to change my demeanor and interactions with others. For example, a young woman lost her balance on the metro the other day. She frantically held onto my arm for stability. Once the train came to a full stop she thanked me and apologized. No apology was necessary, helping her was no skin off my back. I wondered how I would have reacted if she held onto me a month ago. It may have been similar to the guy in the Soulja Boy video. “Get off me!” All jokes aside, maybe the lady never rides the metro, maybe she suffered a loss or maybe she’s human and needed someone to hold on to in that moment.
As time transports me further away from our last earthly interaction, my outlook is guarded but pleasant. My motivation is visceral. Instead of giving up on my dreams, I am chasing them. He would want it that way. Public service and helping others are important to us. I continuously honor him through acts of gratitude and kindness. Celebrating him in that way makes me feel his love. In turn, I hope he feels mine. I know he is proud of me.
The self-pity, absent-mindedness, and loneliness will be there for a while. I trust that his wisdom will perpetually light my path. Following the light allows me to practice compassion, even in the depths of my desolation. If I stay on course, life will definitely get better.