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Even Our Grieving Looks Different As Black Folks

As we drove to my brother’s funeral from Richmond, Virginia, to Williamsburg, Virginia, it started to rain. I told everyone in the car, “My grandmothers always said that rain on a funeral is a good thing. It’s the sign that a person had made it into heaven.” Now clearly, the belief isn’t any different on a sunny or cloudy day, but it’s something so perfect about the sky crying. I think the Temptations said it best in the song lyric “Rain drops to hide my teardrops, means no one will ever know.” Water is cleansing. It’s nourishing. It’s freeing. The rain was the sign I needed to know you were at peace.

Losing a sibling is something I’ve never imagined. It’s a different type of grief from losing a friend or even losing my grandmothers. You expect that the older you get, the more frequently your older relatives pass. But to lose my brother at 48 years old was just something I don’t think any of us were ready for. Each day since, I’ve had some random thought about him only to stop and say to myself, “Wow. You are no longer here.” And then moments later I return to what I was doing.

But that’s the thing about grief and capitalism —the expectation is for us to always go “right back into what we were doing” rather than taking the time we need to fully process what we are going through. I remember when my grandmother Mildred passed in 2011. I was given three days of bereavement leave. It was the first time I ever had to use bereavement days, and I had two thoughts. One, I didn’t even know it existed. But two, how on earth does anyone expect someone to grieve in three days and go back to business as usual?

It’s something I’ve long thought about when coping with an immense loss. This notion that we can just mentally move past the grief because “we gotta eat and keep a roof over our heads.” I think as Black folks we become numb to so much that we can compartmentalize our grief to continue to work.

But as Black folks, even our grieving looks different. And I don’t mean that in the sense that grieving is a monolithic process for us all, but that it is something different about grieving while Black. We are constantly in a state of grief. Grieving the loss of our ancestors who were enslaved in this country. Grieving those lost to police violence and battling the constant fear of the police.

I tried to go back into my regular day when my brother passed. But that Monday came, and I didn’t feel like it. I had nothing left in the tank. No place to put the grief while I jumped back into my work. So I did nothing. I watched TV. I washed clothes. I cried. I took care of a few pressing emails. But the one thing I made sure I did was give myself the grace to not be OK and the space to not force myself back into work before I was ready — a luxury I know that many who are grieving aren’t allowed to have.

I also reflected on the funeral which was filled with a lot of tears and some lighthearted moments. It was at the lowering of my brother’s body into the ground that it hit me and my other siblings. I said “I feel like we should play a song. Like Janet Jackson since that was his favorite artist.” My siblings both said, “naw you gotta play the ‘Percolator.’” So I searched until I found it. As the men lowered your casket, “Percolator” came blasting from my phone. Smiles started to rise from sad faces — except for my father who just shook his head but also understood that WE needed this last moment on the dancefloor with our brother.

That’s it though, right? Finding ways to honor the ones we have lost that fit who they are. Even if it falls out of the construct of what we think is the “proper” way to grieve or the “proper” thing to do at a funeral service. Grief is not something you can get rid of in three days. It’s something that sits with you your whole life. It’s how we handle the grief that determines our outcome. We are allowed to sit in the grief. To process the grief. But we also must find ways to cope with it. Whether it’s through tears or blasting music you won’t find in the Hymnal.

It’s been about a week since we buried my brother and not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought of him. Sometimes it brings tears. Sometimes it brings laughter. I think what is most important is that I have no deadline on when I need to “move past this.” I am choosing to live in happier times. And although I may cry from time to time, I also know that’s what comes with this. I live by the understanding that “grief is love with no place to go.” Now, I work toward finding somewhere to place all that love and I have no time limit on how long that may take.

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