I’m a Black woman. That is more than a statement; it’s a whole mood and often it’s a muzzle. We as Black women are placed in boxes; made out to be caricatures of womanhood and not real women. These boxes are so confining that we hardly fit and dare not breathe. They are the stereotypes we know so well: the Angry Black Woman, Welfare Queen, Mamie or Sex Goddess. They are rarely three dimensional leaving us unfamiliar with ourselves. Black women bear the weight of the world, nurture and care for our families, work places and communities yet we hide our grief; our needs; our desires from ourselves in addition to the world.
“Little Black girl who cares about your tears? Dry those eyes, lift your chin and continue to fight.” We have become ashamed of our tears; of our vulnerability. I remember my mother telling me as a child; “tears are a form of weakness”. She knew I could not afford to be seen as weak. I had to be strong and fight for my place in the world. But who fights for us?
Well, I can say that I had a little brother; he was only three years younger than me. However, from the second he could stand, he raised his little fists and he would fight for me. He would advocate for me. He wanted great things for me. The feeling was mutual as I wanted the same for him. My little superhero in tiny chocolate form. I didn’t know how to appreciate it when I was younger. It felt like he was switching roles trying to be the older sibling when it was my responsibility. As we became adults and our lives ventured into independent form; the deep love and appreciation for one another didn’t separate us. We were knit even closer by our shared memories and experiences as the only two children in our family. We didn’t always see eye to eye but we always had each other’s back. My big little brother that ethereal soul, my special gift was returned to his Owner on January 31, 2021. He’s gone to a place where he can rest and be restored from the limitations of his body. He fought a courageous fight against his Limb and Girdle Muscular Dystrophy. It did not best him God just saw fit to allow him rest.
I am not unfamiliar with death. I spent 5 years as a Medical Social worker in hospitals working in the Emergency Room, Intensive Care Units and Inpatient Oncology. I have had the incredible privilege of being in the room when spirit leaves body to enter the next realm. I consider it an honor to provide support to others as they grieve. But what of my own grief? My brother’s leaving creates a void that I don’t know how to fill. I feel the isolation in this world and the stereotypes boxing me in closing tighter. “Little Black girl be strong; dry those tears”.
I have decided in honor of my advocate that I will grieve. I will honor his life with my tears and commemorate his leaving with my sorrow. If that grieving is messy; if it’s uncomfortable for others to see or hear I make no apologies. I will grieve. There is no permission to ask and there is no shame. I’ve settled it within myself and with my Maker I will grieve for as long as I need. Grieving does not make me less strong or less brave it makes me human. It does not run counter to my faith and belief in a Higher Power who knows better than I. However, it makes way for a new chapter for more love to fill the empty spaces and pour out of this vessel compassion for others. I’m learning as I grow older that compassion and grace towards others is more dynamic than great shows of strength and supposed courage.
I don’t know where you are. I don’t know what pains or sadness lurks in the shadows of your heart. I don’t know what you’re stuffing down your mouth to stamp down the fear or anxiety that you’re feeling. However, I say, “little girl shed your tears; I see and I care and they matter”. Grieve! Shout! Bleed even! Allow it to be a celebration of your humanity. Allow it to be a monument to your magic. Allow yourself that legacy of love; the legacy of loving self. Black woman grieve.
Written by Calandra J. Togba-Doya, LCSW and proud sister of Merritt (Jay) Johnson, III of The Journey Counseling Services, LLC.