On late Sunday night and into early Monday morning, a dream awakened me. In that dream, I could see a crew of siblings I’d grown up with in my neighborhood as clear as day; a sister and her two brothers.
We played kickball, dodgeball, and many other outside games, and raced to our respective homes before the streetlights came on.
We attended the same elementary, junior high, and high school. I have not seen them since I was in my late 20s, or early 30s, maybe? Why was I dreaming about them?
In the dream, the focus had been on the two brothers. Although the sister was present, she did not have a strong role — it’s like she made a cameo appearance only and moved along without a word.
I jumped up from my bed, not too sure why I had this reaction, and began searching for them online. What the search led me to was the death of one brother back in October 2011. He was 35 years old. I was 31.
He’d also been the sibling I communicated with the most. Although he was older, we had a lot in common. Not only that, we simply gelled well. We had our fair share of quips and subtle arguments from time to time, but we were always right back outside a few days later, enjoying what young life and innocence offered.
The obituary stated he’d died when his “health had failed.” 35 years old … I’d spent many of my childhood years dodging dodgeballs, kicking kickballs, running home before the glimmer of the streetlights with him, and having not seen him in over 15 years, I just sat with myself and this news.
I cannot describe how it made me feel. Initially, pain struck me as well as curiosity. It hurt to know he was no longer alive, even though the last time we saw each other was over a decade ago.
I had also been hit with the incessantly annoying want to know what happened. Why him? What started the path down to the reality of his health failing?
My therapist encourages me to study the why but not to overthink what could be simple
Naturally, I discussed this dream with my therapist this past Thursday, August 18, 2022. I love watching my therapist as she sits back in her chair, cups one of her hands on her chin, tilts her head, and says, “Okay. Where is the why in this? Why do you think you had this dream after not having seen them in so long?”
The question stumped me when she first asked it. I had trouble connecting the dots. My mind had been moving so fast, trying to wrap itself around it. I was dealing with the “how” so much more than I was dealing with the “why” of it all. I could pull nothing from within me.
She allowed me several moments to sit with the question and it finally hit me. “I thought I had gotten to a happier place with my grief — that I could say it does not hurt as much as it first did — I am doing better. But this … now this.”
And we talked through it. Her next question really drew the emotion out of me. “What do you feel in you right now, knowing that a childhood friend is gone?”
How does one even address this question? Especially if one has had multiple childhood friends die. Some before we’d even made it to our 30s.
I don’t want to say I am numb to it because surely I am not — I still feel each loss completely and wholly and the pain isn’t any different. My response … “I am saddened by it. I am hurt. I wish I would not have found out this way, or that it did not happen. Why did I have this dream? Am I supposed to reach out to his brother … his sister? He died so long ago.”
And the tears fell.
It all hit me like a Mack truck a few moments later. I didn’t give my therapist time to respond. My old friend died in October 2011. My cousin’s birthday is coming up in October. I had already not dealt with the month of October well because my maternal grandmother died In October when I was 23 years old.
Plainly put, October is a struggle month for me. There are days in that month when my focus is completely and utterly off, and I cannot move through them as I can months before it.
My maternal grandmother’s death had broken me in places I did not know breaking was possible. October brings darkness for me — so much darkness, and my cousin … she had been the light. Every single year — she was beautiful, unfathomable, undeniable, uplifting, and consistent light.
So, what will this October lend me this year? In all honesty, I am afraid to greet it but I also cannot worry about something over which I have no control. And I will try not to have any predestined wallowing moments piling up, either. I have to press forward. I have to move through it as best as I can when it approaches.
I will continue to give myself the grace and understanding I need.
I am aware that you worry about many things that you can’t control. There’s so much we would like to have but we cannot really hold. You have to be kind to yourself. You have to be kind to yourself. — Zooey Deschanel
How I got through the week embraced by some entertainment
I have made it a point to watch more television. For years, I had immersed myself in reading, writing, editing, and viewing a couple of hours of television per night and a few more during the weekends, but of late, this form of entertainment is keeping me above water.
And with the roller coaster week I have had, each of them has been a welcome reprieve.
I have learned to allow myself moments of joy regardless of how they are introduced to me.
I may not know the “why” but I will probably find out soon
Finding out about the loss of a childhood friend the way I did has definitely bruised something within me. I won’t lie — it was crushing waking up to learn of the death of someone I had been close to while growing up. I am still struggling with thoughts of, “why didn’t we keep in touch?” “What prevented us from spending more time together as we aged?” “What would it look like for me to make attempts at reconnecting with his surviving brother and sister?”
I do not have the answers. But I will tell you I am sitting with this loss. I am honoring it with the time I believe it needs. I am looking to the spirit of my cousin to cradle me as she has been doing over the last six months. And that is all I can do for now.
Music, family, release during a monthly check-in, and pushing forward
I typically share The Grieving Room newsletter every Saturday, but yesterday had been an exception to this rule. Saturday morning, I drove to Greensboro, North Carolina, to pick up my mother and bring her to my place. The drive wasn’t an intense or long one, but it had been busy on the highway, given it is currently a holiday weekend. Jernee and I made the journey with no accidents and arrived safely in front of my mom’s building. She greeted us with a smile and open arms, ready for a hug.
It has been “a long time coming” for me and my mom. We are at a point in our lives where our bond is much stronger than it had been as I was growing up, and we have found spaces in our past that can be discussed, debated, and laughed about instead of argued, swept under a rug, and filled with crying.
I appreciate this so much more now as I get older. I can remember thinking, “I can do bad all by myself” in my early 20s, assuming I would suffer more with her presence than the opposite.
There is an incredible gift called “forgiveness”, and for me to grow into this phase of my life, I had to allow it into my world. It had to wash over me and lift me up from a dark place I centered on — lathering myself up with past instances did nothing for my heart. It only increased the pain.
Once I pulled away from the hold of the things that hurt me, understand why they took place, and invite conversations with my mom for both of us to heal, we landed here. And let me tell you, I’ll take where we are now over where we were fifteen or even twenty years ago any day.
Forgiveness says you are given another chance to make a new beginning. — Desmond Tutu
After we touched down in my city, we stopped by a spot to pick up lunch, and we headed back to my place where we consumed what made us happy and talked about my mom getting out of her space for a short time.
I touched on this subject a few weeks ago when I mentioned what a difference a few hours or even a day trip away from your home can make during these “unprecedented times.” She had been happy to leave home to come and spend some time with me.
At this moment, she’s resting, and soon, I will make us a hearty and healthy breakfast before I take her to the store. I am shooting for early afternoon to hit the road again to take her back to her place.
We visited my cousins and spent some time with the little one. Lately, I’ve been catching only one of them at home and not the other. But seeing Caison sparked new joy in my mom’s eyes. She completely lit up in his presence, having not seen him in about three years. Children can shift the energy of a room — a mood — an entire experience. They truly can.
Since she’s never seen either film, we watched Gemini Man and Hustle last night. She enjoyed them both, and I took delight because we could share something we both enjoy.
Having her here is what I needed to end my week and go into the next one with a few more sunshiny rays hovering over me.
A monthly check-in with my supervisor led to a reasonable breakthrough
Monthly, at my job, we have our check-ins with our supervisors. I appreciate these twenty to thirty-five-minute sessions with my direct higher-up to let me know how I am doing, where I should be, and discuss my goals for myself as it pertains to our organization.
I will preface this by saying I love my supervisor. She goes to bat for us and wants to know — truly wants to know how we’re doing and where she can help us if she needs to.
We have a job that can easily open the doors to increased stress, but knowing she is around to reach out to and help lighten the load makes things much better on most days. I have the utmost respect for her because not only does she do all of this; she gets down in the trenches with us and takes patient phone calls throughout the day, every single day, to ensure we are scheduling our patients effectively and efficiently and maintaining shorter hold times.
I did not have the best start to the week. Not only did I have to put out a few fires with some irate patients, but I also had some other issues attacking me outside of work, so when my supervisor began our call just as she normally does every month with, “So, how are you doing?” I hesitated.
I must have said something like, “I’m making it. I’ll be all right.” And just hearing her voice on the other end, trying to get to the root of it and listen to me intently, I broke down. The tears flowed before I could stop them.
She took the time to listen — to hear me — to allow me that space during that time. It was an incredible release for me during a part of my day when I felt like I was climbing out of a deep hole. She always closes each session with three questions she has thought of to engage me and make me think.
One of them was, “If you could go back to your high school days, would you?” Thinking about high school put a huge smile on my face. I absolutely loved high school and instantly I missed it. But I am grateful to have moved through it.
I needed this month’s check-in more than I ever needed any other. It made me aware that there is still work to do to get through the grieving process. It comes and goes and there will always be phrases, songs, movies, and food that remind me of my cousin and the bond we had.
There isn’t a switch that will allow me to turn that part of my brain off to move through life. I can only acknowledge the times that occur to shake me momentarily, grow from them, and appreciate the love she gave me.
I am so glad I had the love of an amazing human being. It is a testimony that stands powerfully on its own. I am also elated to know my supervisor doesn’t just talk the talk; she walks it and has done so since I started this position.
Music will always be my inspiration
This past week sent me to spaces where I needed various genres of music to both inspire and revive me. I had my “listening ears” connected to J. Cole, Common, Busta Rhymes, Kendrick Lamar, Doja Cat, Jill Scott, Moonchild, Shuggie Otis, and so many more.
If I never experience heaven in the afterlife, I have done so here while on earth. With so many talented artists at our disposal, there is a gift in music we can carve out if we will do so. To say that I can lean into these musical geniuses and lose myself is an understatement — they assist me with inspiration, and of late, it is necessary.
I will share a favorite song of mine with you. Sweetback (Helen Folasade “Sade” Adu’s band) collaborated with Amel Larrieux to create this masterpiece with a powerful message, You Will Rise. It is exceptionally appropriate for this week, and I hope you enjoy it too.
“I gotta burnin’ in my heart to keep it real and do my part. I gotta burnin’ in my soul to recognize where I’m from. Ah, yeah.”
Welcome to The Grieving Room. I am here. You are here. We are not alone in this.