Perspectives: Dealing With Grief And Loss

April 15, 2012 Print version       Other articles by this author

Writing about loss and grief is difficult. It's almost as difficult as dealing with or experiencing both. Even for someone such as my self who considers himself pretty "in touch" with his dark side, it's hard. As I sit here finally allowing myself to sit with it, I feel resistance. Part of the dilemma in talking about loss is that doing so makes it REAL. In truth its always a reality for each & every one of us at some point in our lives, but even still to talk about it, write about it, acknowledge it can oftentimes be difficult. It's like applying salve to a wound. It hurts a LOT initially, but hopefully with time, courage, & the willingness to move through the process, healing eventually occurs.

Although this year has been going by at what feels like the speed of lightning, almost four months into 2012 I find myself in a very contemplative place in my life. For me January went by in a flash, since I was knee deep in preparation and rehearsals for what was to be the most successful theatrical performance I've produced to date through my work with Brave Soul Collective, (with "Moments Of Truth"). In hindsight, I really believe now that I was being prepared for what was to come during that time, considering the fact that as the year began things were even more "complicated" than usual in my personal life for several reasons. Without going into too much detail, I can honestly say that some of the complications I experienced were due to the fear of what could possibly happen & the loss I may have been subject to as a result of those potential outcomes. I remember one day in particular, after going through a pretty rough ordeal when I found myself going about the business of life in a zombie like state. I felt numb, I couldn't think clearly, I hadn't eaten in almost 24 hours, & yet I still had to get up, go to work, go to rehearsal, and prepare for the show that was only weeks away by then. As I think back on that day even more I remember it because I recall how much work I got done. It was as if the work & the activity I engaged myself in that day was an elixir I needed just to "get through". [It's funny how I hadn't really recalled that day until just now while putting loss and grief under a microscope for purposes of "examination".]

The beginning of February was equally frantic, as the premiere of the aforementioned production (on Tuesday February 7th, 2012) neared. By the time that day/evening was done, I was experiencing lots of things: accomplishment, pride, joy, excitement, & most of all, surprise at how well everything went. Anyone who has produced a theatrical performance before can tell you that "you can't have theatre without drama" (as the saying goes) but surprisingly, that day and night went by without any extra drama that wasn't intended to be a part of the performance. As I went about the rest of my week, I was on a high because of the response, the feedback, and especially the personal sense of triumph I felt about having pulled off such a huge feat with very little time. Things that I'd found myself in anguish about in my personal life had also cleared up by that time as well so by the end of that week when Saturday February 11th came, I was COMPLETELY blindsided by the news of Whitney Houston's death. That day began on such a high note for both me and my boyfriend, as we experienced a "first" of sorts that afternoon by visiting an art exhibit "30 Americans" along with a friend. By the time we got home that night however, everything came crashing down like a ton of bricks. [Those who know me intimately, (or not necessarily so) know of my UNDYING love for Mary J. Blige. It has to be stated here that this same kind of unconditional love & appreciation is what my dear boyfriend Bobby Brooks Jr., has for the late Whitney Houston. Knowing this, I now thank GOD that we were together when we got the news.] From the minute he turned the television to various stations & the news was all the same, I felt myself praying to GOD for strength. Strength for myself, for him, for all of us who truly love and appreciate her and most of all for her family.

That night, as my boyfriend moved through a range of emotions (that began with denial), I kept telling myself I HAD to keep it together. As hard as it was all hitting me for my own reasons & my own personal love for Whitney I KNEW how hard it all was hitting him & I was determined to do whatever it took to ensure that he was not alone. It wasn't until the next morning when he (surprisingly) left to go to work that it was "my turn". I remember waking up praying that I'd dreamed all of what had unfolded & felt so painfully real. Sadly, the realization came hard & fast that it was all REALLY HAPPENING & I, Bobby, the world was left to deal with it. That morning as I sat alone in bed, I cried for the first time since hearing the news the night before & the tears felt like they'd never stop. I cried thinking back on my first memories of her face, her smile, her voice, and all that she lovingly shared with the world. I also cried because I knew how hard it all was hurting someone I loved so dearly for his own personal reasons. After logging on to a computer & seeing the news all over facebook & twitter, I made a call to my dear friend Alan Sharpe to "process". During that call, I remember replaying in my head what happened the night before while I was present with my other half during this nightmare. It took that call, and Alan's gentle, carefully chosen words to bring me back from what felt like a bottomless pit of despair.

As someone who grew up as a child during the 80's and has such adoration & appreciation for music (particularly soul/r&b music), I can say that Whitney's death, (like that of Michael Jackson) hit me like a ton of bricks. Although I have no familial connection to either except through the gift that is music & art, I can honestly say I don't think I'll ever bounce back from the death of these two talented, beloved, musical icons. I could go ON & ON here at great length about the songs, memories, and feelings all of Whitney's music (and movies) evokes but rather than do so, I'm working hard to stay focused on the purpose of this writing, which is about "dealing with/facing" loss and grief.

Grief is tricky. Just when you think you've bottomed out & gotten a hold on things, any number of triggers could occur which can oftentimes pull you even deeper into despair. It can also have a numbing effect What I mean by that is, sometimes the extent of the pain can be so heavy that the only safe thing to do is to try not to feel it. When I allow myself to really become vulnerable enough to think about it, there are are a wealth of things I'm still grieving and feeling deep loss about.

I'm no expert, so all I can do here is share what my experience has been. I've learned a great deal about how to cope with grief & loss primarily through reading books about spirituality such as: Conversations With God, any & EVERYTHING written by Iyanla Vanzant, & A Course In Miracles, (which I'm currently reading) to name a select few. My daily practice(s) of prayer & meditation also help to even me out & keep me from succumbing to any number of "dark forces".

Additionally when I feel compelled to do so, writing my thoughts down is extremely helpful because what comes out is honest & unfiltered. Before I have the chance to think about whether it's "right" or "wrong", getting it down on paper or electronically serves as a mirror which helps me process things that I may otherwise be unable or unwilling to express or talk about with others.

I've also been in therapy for the past 5 years. Although I've lapsed periodically, the time I've spent "in treatment" has been invaluable. It's there that I've been able to identify and locate where a lot of my issues and challenges stem from. One thing that's been ongoing during my sessions are discussion(s) about my feelings. So many times (and for countless reasons), I've tried to bury my feelings. Thus whenever something remotely similar comes up in my life, I go through the "motions" all over again. A very dear and wise person in my life always says to me "The issue is never THE ISSUE". Being in therapy & talking about all the things that have happened to me (most of which are all very OLD) has helped me truly understand the truth of that aforementioned quote. Through therapy, I've realized that those things which I never grieved over or allowed myself to feel a healthy sense of loss about are the same things that continue to plague me and cause me so much upset, discomfort, and confusion in the present. This is the main way I've been able to "connect the dots" and really move through experiences of grief and loss in a much different (& healthier) manner.

Lastly, art - (whether it's been music, theater, literature, television, etc) has always been my DIRECT LINE to making sense of things. To that end, grief and loss are no small exceptions. Anytime I witness something artistic that unearths feelings of loss, sadness, anger, or confusion within me, I always give myself over to it eventually knowing that it's never by mistake. Even when I'm resistant to it initially, I'm always healed by it in the end.

I know we all have different ways and methods of coping with grief and loss. Some of them are dangerous and self destructive and conversely, some can be our saving grace. All of them are equally important, but most important of all in my opinion is time. Although it very rarely goes away completely, it usually does get easier and better with time. More living, more growing, and a deeper understanding of all of its meaning is all we can really hope for. That being said...all things considered, I'm choosing to be grateful for all of my yesterdays and to remember them with love. As for the present, I'm paying attention to what's in front of me while being mindful of the trappings of what has already happened. The biggest challenge for me is to look forward to the future & what lies ahead without fear and without obsessing about how it will all play out. This is the work of life, which thankfully is to be continued.