Summer of 2021, I was in Chicago, Illinois, for a funeral. Cancer reared its ugly head and took my aunt far too soon. We sat in the church parking lot, waiting for my uncle to arrive before entering the church. We all dressed in black — the silence among us spoke louder than our words ever could. The warmth of summer in July couldn’t take away the chill I felt in my bones and the pain I felt in my body. It’s been six months since she left us, and I find myself longing to hear her voice and crying at odd times.
My aunt had a significant presence in my life. She imparted so much wisdom and advice about adulthood, marriage, children, and friendships. She taught me a lot about myself, and through her guidance, I gained a more profound sense of self-awareness. Her love challenged me and changed me. I miss her, but I carry her words and conversations in my heart. We had one particular phone conversation when I was early into dating my boyfriend (now fiancé) that I’ll never forget. I’ve written down what I can remember from our last few conversations in my journal.
“Faitthie, I am so proud of you for opening your heart to your boyfriend. He sounds like a great guy.”
“Faitthie, I know it’s not easy to open up because of what you’ve experienced in your past relationships, but I am proud of you for jumping back in there and dating him.” (She said this with a tenderness and sincerity that brought tears to my eyes.)
“Oh, baby, one step at a time. You will get there. Just don’t run over him Faitthie, learn to love and trust him. Find new ways to affirm and encourage him and remember to loosen up and HAVE FUN!”
No one could make me laugh and get me together at the same time like my auntie could.
She was the life of the party, the funniest person in the room, and she would pray down heaven each day. I knew if I called her with an issue, we wouldn’t hang up the phone without praying. She was a prayer warrior and encouraged me to pray and keep God first. I still hear her voice and the sound of her laugh in my head. I miss her.
Many of us are entering the new year with a loss of some kind. We’ve felt the pain from job loss, the empty seat over the holidays, the phone calls that didn’t go through. Lately, I feel as if death and loss have been looming in the air for two years, and I’m longing for a minute to exhale. Even when the clock struck 12 and the ball dropped, the pain of 2021 was still there.
The pain is still there for me.
Two years into the pandemic, I feel a little weary from pivoting, cancellations, and expecting the unexpected. I have watched the sun rise and set through each season from my office window. In some ways, everything is changing, and in other ways, everything feels as if it’s standing still. With a new year comes different expectations and hopes for the future. But what happens when the pain of the year before is not easily erased by resolutions, shiny new planners, or vision boards?
None of us can plan for a crisis. We cannot anticipate emergencies and circumstances beyond our control. Because of this, people can feel as if they’ve been rendered helpless without hope or guidance. And as a Black woman, I feel that pressure even more. I find myself bracing for impact, trying to prepare for the next crisis. That pressure to be “strong” and keep it together. That pressure to be there for everyone else and neglect me in the process.
I think it’s during times like this I find myself digging deep for a small, stubborn ounce of hope that I can cling to and believe that things won’t always feel sad. A hope that gives me room to hold space for joy and sorrow. Those two feelings can coexist, almost tethered to one another.
Along the way, I am joyful when there are moments worth celebrating, like my niece turning three, getting a book deal, moving to a new city, getting engaged, or even visiting friends and family. Knowing that sorrow will always be around me — even during moments of joy — helps me to treasure those moments all the more. When I move on too fast, I miss the small everyday miracles. So, I am learning to savor joyful moments and not move on too quickly.
Sis, maybe you are like me and find yourself limping into 2022 with the pain of last year still fresh. This year we can be gentle with ourselves. We can celebrate big and small things because all moments of joy deserve recognition. We will make caring for ourselves a priority because we can’t carry everyone’s burdens and our own. We will make space for rest because healing is a journey that cannot be forced or rushed. We are going to say no and trust our gut. We have lost so much, and yet we are still standing. You are still here.