Updated: Feb 8, 2021
Black History Month has been special to me as long as I can remember. I grew up in Metro Atlanta (Decatur, not the ‘City of’ or The Dec, to be more specific). So I was introduced to Black history & appreciated its importance early on.
On top of that, as a first generation Liberian-American my parents immersed me in my Liberian heritage. Especially my dad, he loved Liberia so much he relocated back to Liberia in 2005. We grew up hearing tales of his childhood village in Nimba County, Zehplay. We loved dreaming of the “one day” we’d make the 21 hour trip there.
Never did I imagine my first trip to Zehplay would be the last day I’d see Dad.
In February 2020 we (my sister, her husband, my husband, uncle, cousin & I) traveled to Liberia to lay my Dad to rest in his birth town of Zehplay.
It was a 4 hour drive from Monrovia. We rented a charter bus to transport ourselves and 25 other relatives. Dad was looking out because he loved family gathering. And the company was a welcomed distraction that provided lots of good laughs along the way.
Arriving in Zehplay was a surreal experience. To get there you literally have to drive off the Dusty Road (about 25 miles of red clay road) into “The Bush,” thick uncut forest with a narrow road and wooden bridges that barely supported the bus we were using. Thank you, Jesus, we made it.
Honestly, I can’t remember many details other than feeling completed and empty at the same time.
We went right into the wake set up in the town square. A big tent made of palm branches with stringed lights.
The tent was surrounded by various housing structures ranging from newer concrete homes to old mud houses. We spent two days there- wake, funeral, repast/ family meeting. Then it was time to leave Zehplay and Dad.
It’s taken me a full year to tell this story. But I wanted to because so many of us are grieving in different ways with everything that has happened in 2020.
Grief is truly a process.
Allow yourself time to E.M.B.R.A.C.E. the process as you progress.
Take time to:
▪️Express yourself based how you genuinely feel at the time. Everyone grieves differently. The traditional stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance may look different for you.
Expressing yourself doesn’t have to be verbal, writing, creating, etc are all forms of expression that can help you in the process.
▪️Make room for people who really care about you. Grief can feel isolating. It may be tempting to shut people out during that time. However it is helpful to have safe, supportive people around. If you do not have family or friends that are safe and supportive look into grief counseling and support groups. Even if you do have supportive people in your life I highly recommend having a therapist or counselor on your journey for the first year. My therapist has been an invaluable resource.
▪️Be patient with yourself. Grief is a process. Medically acute grief lasts 3-6 months. But the residual effects of loss and the process of acceptance is life long. Seek professional help if you are concerned about your grief interfering with your ability to function day to day or leading to harmful behaviors.
▪️Release people who aren’t helpful or supportive on your grief journey. Your time of grief is your time of grief. It is a natural part of healing. Beware of people who want to shift your focus to themselves during your healing time or hurry your process along.
▪️Acknowledge you need help during this time. Grief is stressful. Even if you aren’t aware of how you’re feeling you can have subconscious sadness on trigger dates or events. Especially in the first year, find ways to decrease your stress. Get a housekeeper. Order dinner once a week.
▪️Celebrate your loved one’s life. Make time to celebrate your loved one in special ways daily. For example my Dad was very creative. He loved music, art, reading, crafting and cooking. He also loved exercise and being out in nature. Each time I do any of these things I feel like I’m celebrating Dad and spending time with him. What makes you feel like you’re celebrating you loved one and spending time with them? Do it daily.
▪️Every day do self-care. It can be easy to get so focused on the grief and the practical things that must occur after a loved one passes your self-care takes a backseat. During this time be intentional about the spiritual, physical, and mental wellness activities that replenish you. For me my relationship with God is essential to my well-being. I make time each day to pray, read a Biblical devotional and write in my gratitude journal. Being loved and loving others is also important to me so I’m intentional about making family time. Movement or exercise especially outdoors helps me feel better so I try not to go more than 2 days without at least one minute of movement.
It may be tempting to “comfort eat” during this time but I’ve found eating minimally processed, whole food with less sugar actually makes me feel better as I heal emotionally.
What is most important to your self-care?
How will you fit it into your daily routine?
It’s so easy to neglect our self care. You may need to ask someone you trust to help hold you accountable in this area.
It’s been one year for me on my grief journey. Wherever you are on your grief journey I pray that you find hope and healing along the way.
I’ve included some additional resources I found helpful:
“When you lose a parent” Theresa Jackson
“Grief Bites: Finding Treasure in Hardships” Kim Niles (YouVersion App)
“Rising Strong” Brené Brown, Ph. D, LCSW
“Self Care Prescription” Robyn Gobin, Ph.D.
Here are some resources to help you address emotional eating during this time:
To find a therapist in your area
If you are having any thoughts of harming yourself or severe emotionally distress call
Dedicated to my Dad, Freeman Ransley Gonsahn January 19th, 1954- January 19th 2020- Gone but never forgotten. Love you always Daddy.
Disclaimer: Everyone’s grief journey and needs are different. This information is provided for general use not specific medical advice. Please see your own medical professional for personal recommendations.