There is a heaviness in the air this holiday season for me and so many that I know. Grief is palpable. I know several people who are in my personal care circle who have lost family and loved ones to COVID-19 and other reasons. I have been extremely blessed to not have lost any one this year to death. That doesn’t mean I’m not experiencing my own grief, however.
I am grieving one of my closest most important relationships. My dearest friend in the world, someone who’s more like a brother than a friend suffered two major strokes this year just at the age of 48. I am so deeply grateful he is still here, that I still have him in my life, that he still has a life to fight for. And yet, his struggle every day is so palpable it’s sometimes painful to talk to him. He is changed — physically and mentally. He is the person I have leaned on so many times over the last 17 years for comfort, for unconditional love, for boundless joy and frivolity, for sage advice. He’s still very much that person but the glimpses of him are infrequent and fleeting. I’m learning to be in relationship with this new version of him because that’s what love does but I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that I miss the old version of my friend. I miss him. I worry for him. I’m frustrated I can’t do more for him. Moreover, because of the type of stroke he had, the doctors are baffled about his recovery and his setbacks are frequent. It is a type of ongoing active grief I’ve never experienced before.
I also grieve for all those lives lost due to COVID-19 that I never knew. The sheer number of people in just this country alone staggers me when I think about it. When I think about all the mini-universes that have been blown up and forever altered because of the loss of loved ones, I’m troubled. It hurts. Even if I didn’t know them, the heaviness of the magnitude of loss is in the air. Death by COVID for most has meant entering death alone. How ugly is it to have aloneness paired with the ending of life? No one should die alone. There is a special sort of bitterness attached to these deaths that we must acknowledge and find healing for in a new way for both those lost and those left behind.
I also grieve for all those lives lost this year to sanctioned police violence as an enduring method of institutionalized racism. So many Black lives lost to racism in direct and indirect ways this year. The disparate deaths for so many Black people due to COVID-19 is just another variant of the evil infestation of racism. There is a heaviness in the air this holiday season. So much trauma we as Black people continue to hold. That we continue to stand, thrive, find joy, innovate, and recreate ourselves time and again fills me with ineffable joy and hope.
I also grieve because I want to be home with family this year and cannot because of COVID-19. Honestly, I’m not really a filled-with-the-Christmas-spirit type of person. That doesn’t mean, I don’t enjoy being adjacent to those who are during this time of year though. Those people are my mom, my daughter, and my cousins. I never realized how much comfort being around their joy brought me until I had to face this year without it. Five years ago, I lost one of the most important people in my life growing up, my godmother, Rosa, three days before Christmas. I miss her light, unconditional love, wisdom, steadiness, and joy all year long but especially at this time of year. In the years since her death, it’s been a balm to the grief to be in the presence of my mom, who also loved her dearly, to reminisce about her and share in our ongoing grief of her loss. A little less than a year after my godmother’s passing, my grandmother passed. If you have any experience of or vision for a Southern Black matriarch, that was my granny. Though we don’t speak openly about it, as a family, we have been struggling to find our new way without her. The absence for me is never felt more than during the holiday season. During this time of year, her absence in the kitchen, in the decorations around the house, in the sounds of her television in the background and the constant phone ringing from friends and family to get advice about cooking and Christmas gifts alike is a palpable one. There is a heaviness in the air this holiday season.
I’m also in a time in my life where I’m shifting into a new phase of my womanhood. I’ve not earned my elder stripes as of yet but there is a felt shift. I’m making holiday traditions for my family. I’m passing down stories from our family line to my little one. I’m working to perfect recipes passed down so that my daughter knows home in the way that only smells in the air and flavors on the tongue can teach. The responsibility is not lost on me.
I’m working to carry on with as much radical joy as possible. Not just for my daughter who is worthy of infinite joy and light but for me also. There is a heaviness in the air this holiday season that makes this task even harder. I’m committed to it though. We are listening to soulful Christmas music every day, baking cookies and trying our hand at pecan candy. We are drinking hot cocoa with peppermint creamer and watching all the cheesy Christmas movies. In between, I’m taking my moments to grieve. I am taking my moments to acknowledge the pain I’m experiencing is an inherent part of my aliveness and my humanity. I can be both joyful and mournful. Humans are super dope this way.
I sincerely hope that if you are experiencing loneliness or grief in any measure these next few days, that you give yourself grace. Give yourself grace to be human. Take your moments. Cry tears. Be angry. Acknowledge your exhaustion. Take your rest. But always, always, take a moment to find space for radical joy. Dr. Nikki knows it is imperative for our continued survival. Best wishes for the most joyful holiday season you can have!