When my father died many years ago, I received the call while I was at work—in the middle of story time with my precocious preschoolers. My heart literally broke into a million pieces at the realization that I was fatherless. I had to grasp the desk in the office after I hung up the phone.
When my mother passed, several years after my father, that too took my very breath away. Again, I received the call at work; it was somewhat expected because the doctors hadn’t given her much time, but still everything was a blur. I wasn’t prepared. Who ever is?
The death of a loved one is a punch in the gut. My mother’s death solidified the bitter fact I was parentless—without a mother who was selfless and Godly and who tried to instill in me and my sister a sense of living life to serve others. Her passing hit different, even though I was a grown woman.
How could I cope with never being in her presence again? Never listening to her muse about life, love, and her dreams, or taking mental notes—especially on how to deal with those rough patches in my life? I needed her as part of my village. Those sorrowful shoes were several sizes too big, and I didn’t want to wear them, traipsing through each day pretending to the world that they fit fine.
I dreamt about my mother frequently after she passed. Whenever I woke up it took me a moment to realize it was a dream. I could almost smell the scent of the lotion she rubbed into her brown skin, and there was a calm that wrapped around me. She could always calm me whenever I was anxious, often sharing some sagacious wisdom like, “It takes a strong woman to fill that cup” or “This, too, shall pass.”
I knew she would want me to stop grieving and to live my life with joy, strength, and the resolve to be the best possible person I could be. That was the gift she had given me when she was alive. I just had to figure out how. I set out to write about her…a lot. She made appearances in my stories—especially my essays. Writing about her became my therapy, but at times it didn’t eradicate the pain of not having her in my life and the lives of her children and grandchildren.
I was always known for being good at comforting others in their times of need, whether it was the loss of a loved one, a break-up, a health scare, etc. Usually, I wrote a poem or some encouraging words in a letter or on a card in the hopes of anchoring their soul.
They weren’t exactly seamlessly crafted words. At a time when you’re being tested or going through a storm, those words don’t exist. But they were words I hoped would stand the test of time long after the mourners have gone, the divorce papers were signed, or the hardest part of recovery was underway. Those were the words I needed to offer myself as I tried to walk out of sorrow’s too big shoes.
Eventually, I learned to do just that. Slowly and with many relapses—but also learning to give myself grace—I began to relinquish those low-spirited shoes. Instead, I opted to feel the sun shining on my face, literally and figuratively. I had too many blessings to embrace to keep my head bowed in pain.
I also had to release any guilt I had about what I didn’t do or should have done better as my mother’s daughter. Guilt depletes you and keeps you stuck in the blues. Though our tapestry was flawed in some places, our relationship wasbeautiful—and as sticky-glue close as a mother and daughter could get. I was her butterfly; she was my cocoon. As she also was to my sister. We were her girls.
She’d want me to stay joyful, to keep creating, and to leave my mark on this earth—or, rather, to leave a message to all that happiness is our portion, a boundless part of it, no matter what life throws our way.
Now, whenever I feel sorrow’s too big shoes are beckoning me to step into them, to stay longer than I should in a place that will keep me revisiting darkness, I place them back in their shoebox and put them on the high shelf of my life. Then I put my size-nine feet into a pair of shoes that are comfortable, fearlessly step one foot in front of the other and walk towards the light.
Beautiful ones, no matter what kind of loss you may have experienced, the right-sized shoes are out there to continue your joy-filled journey.
How are you stepping out of sorrow’s too big shoes?