People used to give me the sternest side eye when I said I did not get into the spirit of Christmas. Their eyes filled with judgment, and I felt increasingly invisible and disconnected from the world around me. Little did they know, my entire life was tossed upside down 17 years ago during the holiday season; the gift of joy was taken from me, and the gift of grief was left behind. On December 7, 2005, my older brother Christian was murdered. A best friend and protector that can never be replaced was taken away from me, and my life has not been the same since.
Not only did I lose a part of myself, I quickly learned the racial disparities within our criminal justice system. His death and the sequence of events related to his case that followed have shown me firsthand that the rules to this game of life are different depending on what you look like. Unfortunately for us, the man who murdered my brother and his friend was handed a “get out of jail free” card because killing two Black men was viewed as a badge of honor where he came from. What made matters worse, he was never arrested for what he did, despite his callous and boastful admissions in court and in front of my family. He literally laughed in open court as he described what he did to my brother—he thought it was funny to watch my brother run for his life.
Seventeen years without a piece of your heart makes enjoying life that much more difficult. Imagine being expected to function normally, every day, when one pillar of your foundation crumbles before your eyes. Over time, I learned how to function in a constant state of fear by creating these superficial safety nets that inadvertently reinforced my trauma because they, too, disintegrated, leaving me feeling vulnerable and exposed.
The joyous life I once knew became a distant memory. I found myself constantly warding off the traumatic and intrusive thoughts that filled its place. God truly carried me through my darkest days, no matter how many times I asked Him to put me down. I was exhausted of existing because joy just never really found its way back to me. But trauma, hardship, and heartache seemed to never get lost—they never really wanted to leave, and I was too tired to fight. So, they stayed with me a while.
As time went by, I began to applaud my ability to withstand the storm and neglect the wounds I sustained as a result. The wounds never had an opportunity to heal because something reminiscent would come along and either poke at or reopen them completely. I was stuck on a trauma rollercoaster and dreamt of the days when my feet would be on solid ground again. When I finally got there, I did not realize the ground I stood on was safe because the unfamiliarity was new to me. I was anxiously waiting to be taken under again by the tsunami of trauma and grief. I became so far removed from safety that being in a state of peace made me incredibly anxious. It took time and a conscious effort to heal, but I started to finally find my footing again.
Although the man who murdered Christian and his friend was never arrested or held accountable for what he did, five years later he was sentenced to prison for brutally murdering a young white male. I did not know if him finally being held accountable was an inadvertent form of justice for Christian and his friend, or if it was a strongly wound-up backhand slap across our faces, but knowing where he was finally put my mind at ease…That is, until he paroled last summer after serving a mere 10 years. Despite our tearful plea to the board of parole by way of impact statements, the wound I had worked so hard to heal was ripped open within seconds. I could physically feel myself drifting back into a dissociative state.
My emotions began to freeze, and my brain made its way to autopilot again, but I noticed my prayers to God and my approach to being retraumatized was different. I prayed for God to carry me through this again instead of leaving me behind, and I extended myself more compassion, grace, and understanding. It was in these moments when I realized that healing is a journey that ebbs and flows, it’s not this final destination where we are exempt from experiencing further pain. The truth about healing is there are peaks of joy and depths of sorrow. Things may trigger me today that may not trigger me tomorrow, as there are days when I feel nothing and others when I feel everything.
Whether my grief is ebbing or flowing (and it flowed heavily this year), I do my best to be vulnerable and transparent about how I am feeling and what I need, all while balancing ongoing empathy and self-love. Grief and trauma often take the wind out of our sails, but I have found that loving myself more on the dark days helps me sustain in the storm.Leave a Comment