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I don’t usually send out a story during American holidays but I’m switching it up for fun today. Happy Monday!
We’re continuing from last week’s story theme and continuing to talk about grief—in all of its different forms. I take submissions on a rolling basis, and honestly, how to deal with grief and loss is a commonly pitched topic I receive. This is genuinely how Black women are feeling lately, and we’re here to tell our unashamed stories. What I love about this week’s essay by Makeda Ray is that it highlights how music, something simple and easily accessible that we all love, can have such healing powers in that we feel seen and understood within the lyrics of our favorite songs.
I hope you enjoy this week’s essay and if you relate to using music as a way to heal—hit the comments section and share your favorite song to listen to when you’re sad. I’ll go first, mine is this one by the one and only, Amy Winehouse:
EIC of Carefree Mag
by Makeda Ray
September 26th, 2009
It was the year 2009, and no one could tell me anything. I was on cloud nine in the beginning: I had just graduated from high school with honors, I was accepted into every college I applied to, and was going off to college with most of my best friends. Life was perfect.
I was beginning to adjust to college life: enjoying the dorms, meeting new people, going to a few socials and parties and getting used to my professors and classes. When one morning I got a call from one of my friends who told me something that changed my life forever. I was told that my first love was killed. I was so shocked after receiving this news, all I could do was take my shower caddy and go cry in the communal shower. September 26, 2009 changed my life forever.
It’s the hardest for me at night, because I actually have time to think and sit with my thoughts. I literally think about him all day. I cry in the middle of the day. I cry every morning once I open my eyes, barely getting a glimpse of the sunshine that’s illuminating through my blinds. I cry myself to sleep every night. I cried while writing this. Crying became like second nature to me. What I found strange was that I wouldn’t only cry when I thought about him, but I would also think of myself. Like, is this really happening to me? Am I really this girl who has to live with the fact that I will never see my boyfriend again? As if this hasn’t happened before. I don’t mean losing someone, as in another person, but I mean we lose things every day, right?
I’ve lost a million material things, from bobby pins to hair scrunchies. I’ve lost under garments from leaving clothes in my laundry room all of the time. Hell, I’ve even lost money, and we all know how valuable money is. It’s almost admirable, now that I think about it, how quickly I’m able to brush those things off, as if losing them means absolutely nothing. “I’ll just replace them eventually”, is what I normally tell myself, and I’d wake up the next day as if it’s just a regular day; no effect on me at all. Now I wonder if I’ll ever have another regular day. Ever since I lost him, none of my days have been normal.
I didn’t know that grieving would be a repeating cycle, but that’s what it ended up being for me. It’s questioning the truth every day. Sometimes, it feels like you’re alone in it, especially when you realize others are continuing on with their everyday lives. They wake up, eat breakfast, watch the news, smile, and laugh with their families and friends as if it’s just another day I began to think something was wrong with me. How was it that everyone else could act so normal? Was I the only one experiencing an array of sadness, confusion, and anger all at once? In psychology, it’s called complicated grief, which turns into bereavement, which is basically an extended form of mourning. I wasn’t ready to lose my boyfriend, and I definitely wasn’t prepared for all of the secondary losses that followed along after. The loss of intimacy and friendship. The shattering of all of the dreams and plans we made for our future. The heartache. I think that’s what’s most important here, dealing with the secondary losses. There’s no worse pain than heartache, and losing him literally broke my heart.
“So, what’s next?”
It seemed like everyone kept asking and expecting me to answer this question.. “He’s gone now KeKe, you gotta keep loving, gotta keep living, you’ll meet other people, time to go out”. But that didn’t help me. I ended up suppressing all of these feelings of hurt, anger, and sadness until I couldn’t hide them anymore. There’s five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, and I was avoiding all 5. Until one day at work, I started to feel really sad, and I couldn’t hold back my tears any longer. I was working in a call center at the time, and I remember just running to the bathroom and balling my eyes out. It felt as if I couldn’t breathe for a minute. I had been fighting back those tears and emotions for so long, it almost felt like a weight was being lifted off of my shoulders. Crying seemed to be the release that I needed in the moment. When the tears finally ceased, I decided that I didn’t want to continue feeling this way. Having these random emotional breakdowns and mood swings. I decided that I needed to heal. It was time.
Healing Woes, Part 1
How do you heal from a significant loss? Well, there isn’t really a blueprint, but finding an outlet is extremely imperative. An outlet that allows you to feel and express yourself genuinely. Music was my outlet. As a woman, especially as a Black woman, we’re expected to be warm, nurturing, supportive, and strong all at one time. Hold it down. Lift others up. It’s frowned upon to be too emotional, unless it’s to help someone else. So then I started to think, who helps the helpers?
I started to change the way I felt about myself. I didn’t have to be strong all of the time to appease others expectations of me. It was okay to feel sad, and it’s okay to express that. I allowed myself to feel. I cried. I took days off from work. I cried some more. I traveled. I went shopping, a lot. I danced. I ran by the lake, and I started writing more. I was literally living Solange’s ‘Cranes in the Sky’ before it even became a song (s/o to the good sis!). But it wasn’t until one night when I found myself thinking about him, and I couldn’t sleep because my mind was wondering. I remember wondering what he must’ve felt and what really happened to him. Was he alone? Was it an accident? Was he afraid? I had all of these unanswered questions.
I was watching old R&B videos on YouTube one day, and Alicia Keys ‘Like You’ll Never See Me Again” video came on. I remember watching the video and thinking, ‘Wow, maybe I need to start thinking about life and losing him in that way”. The song basically reminds us that our time on this earth is very precious, and is not to be wasted. Did I want to waste it on ‘what ifs?’, and any other questions that I’ll probably never have the answers too. Or, would I rather spend it on appreciating the people, places, and things that I do still have in my life. I decided on the latter.
Healing Woes, Part 2
There’s a part of the bridge of that song when Alicia Keys says, “See we don’t really know…see everyday we never know” which essentially told my anxiety to ‘shut up’! I’ve held so much guilt and blame toward myself, as if I was responsible for his death. No one knows when something bad is going to happen for certain. No one really knows when it’s going to be our last time talking to someone, but I’ve always held on to the fact that I didn’t talk to him after graduation, and blamed myself for not getting to talk to him before he past. Alicia says, “I don’t wanna forget the present is a gift, and I don’t wanna take for granted the time you may have here with me, cuz Lord only knows another day is not really guaranteed.” I felt empowered. Empowered to keep loving, keep living. Keep going.
Fast forward to 2022, and I still find myself crying. Not as much as before, but the anniversaries (birthday, day of death) are still hard. I really still miss him. It feels like a constant longing for his touch, his presence.
“I’ve been missing you for 10,000 hours” – Jhene Aiko.
I immediately started crying when I first heard this song. I finally felt understood. It feels good to know that I’m not the only one struggling with really missing someone. Someone who I’ll never be able to see again in this life time, that I can’t just pick up the phone and talk too. I sometimes imagine us still laughing together and cracking jokes. It’s been 13 years now since he’s passed, and that song still heavily resonates with me (it was released in 2020) which is how I know I’m still grieving. That’s what complicated grief is. It’s complicated because, according to psychology, the symptoms of grief normally subside after 6 months; any longer duration is considered prolonged grief.
Healing Woes, Part 3
Those two songs: Alicia Keys, “Like You’ll Never See Me Again”, and Jhene Aiko’s, “10k Hours” helped me to not only accept the loss, but to accept my grief as well. Grief is not a sickness, and it’s something I can handle. I feel less alone now. Less misunderstood. Acceptance is the first step in healing things that you cannot change. I’ve accepted what my grief looks like. That I can, and will, always miss him. That there will be days when I wake up feeling like a million bucks, and they’ll be days when I wake up feeling like my heart is constantly breaking. In addition to this, I’ve also accepted that life must go on, and that there’s a million and one things that I should be proud of myself for. I will be happy again, even if I never experience that type of love again.
More than often I find myself cherishing all of the good memories we’ve had. I realized, gradually, that a smile was starting to replace my sadness. It became easier to talk about him, easier to hear his name. Tears of pain eventually became tears of joy. I was becoming overjoyed with the love we shared, and grateful for the time we had together. I ended up finding solace in the fact that no matter how much time passes, he’ll always have a special place in my heart, and that place could never be taken away from me.
Just call me Kee; I am a psychotherapist, writer, and overall lover of the arts. A multi-faceted human being: “I listen to more than hip-hop, and you can catch me in the mix of beauty to thrift-shops”. I believe in the creative arts; that they can be used to support healing, and that is my mission – to help each other heal.