Hey! How ya doing? Good to see ya. Glad to be here. Sorry it’s been so long. And let’s not forget, Happy Friday! I know it’s been a long time. And honestly, I really want to get better at being more consistent. It’s been an interesting journey through life thus far. I keep finding myself in these stages of growth and when that happens, I need to take steps back and process. So that’s what I’ve been doing. But I had to share this video because I got a lot of feedback (unexpected feedback at that) about something I said on Wednesday. Wednesday was the 9th anniversary of the day my dad died and I said something about that day and people really seemed to resonate with it so I felt led to share this. I hope it helps whoever needs to hear it. Enjoy your day and your weekend!
I was looking through my journal from last year. I’ve told you before that last year wasn’t a happy time for me, but seeing my words–reading my anguish and despair–made me feel something that I didn’t expect to feel, gratitude. I was filled with gratitude, not necessarily for the events and reasons for my anguish, but for the growth that has taken place to bring me from those moments to where I am now.
There are many people who upon finding out who my dad is (I told y’all I still say is cause speaking of him in the past tense doesn’t feel right), throw many assumption upon me. If I’m honest, I have relatives who throw those same assumptions–which I find strange as they know of the hurdles my immediate family went through to get to where my dad eventually led us. The assumptions always contain the same theory–my life has been great, easy even. Even today, my life must be great with no real struggles or difficulties. The truth is that my life has been full of difficulties. I will admit that there have been some great moments and times, but those moments don’t by any means negate the strife. When I’ve shared my story with others, they are often left shocked and they usually say the same thing, “I would have never guessed.” That only fuels my belief that there is no way to know a person’s life by looking at the surface. It’s one of the very reasons I’m so fascinated by the other mere mortals and their stories. We all have a story and I believe with everything that I have that we are meant to share those stories to help one another.
In saying that though, I recognize that there is a tendency to tell one’s story so much that one begins to identify with their story. One begins to see themselves as nothing more than the details and events of his or her story. I fell into that trap for a long while. I think a lot of my journey through this last year was about me releasing my identity with my story. I became so wrapped up in the tragic things that happened to me that I felt that that was all there was to me. I repeatedly told the tragic events of my life to the point that they became my identity. My answer to the question, Who are you? was This happened to me and that and this and this then that and some more. I couldn’t see those things as simple external conditions that had no bearing on who I was.
I don’t know when things began to shift for me, but I know they did. I realized recently that I was no longer identifying with my story when I posted a Throwback Thursday photo of my beloved deceased Maltese, Snowball. A friend asked me if he’d died and I told her yes. I then relayed the details of things–how he passed 2 years after my dad and my divorce and a year after the passing of my grandfather. My cousin jokingly referenced the movie Life with me. He referenced the scene where Eddie Murphy’s character Ray reads the letter from his fellow inmate, Pokerface. His mother’s neighbor writes him detailing all of the tragic things that have happened since he became locked up. The letter is full of tragedy. His cousins, sister, parents and even his dog died. It was funny in the movie, but in real life, not so much? Yet I laughed when my cousin went there–and not to mask my pain–but because I genuinely found it funny. That’s when it hit me. I no longer identify with those things. Those things no longer define me. I have moved past needing to anchor myself with those events. To think, for a long time, I would tell people I was a bad country song. I even found some honor in that. I’m truly grateful to be beyond those days and that line of thinking.
I have been speaking at Sarcoidosis events for the past 7 years and last year was the first year that I didn’t enjoy myself. The event itself was lovely. However, I didn’t enjoy myself because I’m required to share my father’s Sarcoidosis “story.” I don’t enjoy telling it any longer because I feel like it doesn’t do my father any justice. It’s not his story. Yes, he had some experiences with the disease. However, I no longer wish to reheat the same soup year after year. His life was so much more than his illness, the hospitalizations, allergic reactions to medication and his ultimate death. The short of it is that he’s not that story. So I have to stop telling it. I have to stop telling it for him and for myself. It no longer serves.
If you’re not already in a space where you recognize that you are not your story, the sum of your parts of your life, I hope you are on your way. My wish for you is that you can see that whatever has happened is already behind you and does not necessarily dictate where you can go. And it’s ok if you’re not. I wasn’t for a long time. But I’m so thankful I am now.
So can we talk about last night’s episode of This Is Us? I have long since become a huge fan of the show and I am not ashamed to admit that I cry at every single episode. Every. Single. One. Each episode touches me in a way that makes me think they can’t possibly make me cry any harder than I did on the previous one. Yet, they prove me wrong each time. They did not fail to up the ante yet again with last night’s episode titled, Memphis.
In this episode, we found our beloved Randall taking a cross-country trip (even though he’d told his wife it wasn’t a cross-country trip) to take his ailing biological father William to his old stomping ground of Memphis. It was significant for both of them because William was dying of Stage 4 stomach cancer and this is on the heels of Randall’s nervous breakdown from the previous week. If you follow the show, you know that Randall was adopted by Jack and Rebecca because William and Randall’s mother were drug addicts, so William left baby Randall at a fire station. They reunited in the first episode when adult Randall showed up unannounced on William’s door step. Since then, we’ve watched their relationship evolve from strangers to a more intimate father/son relationship.
Last night’s episode was so moving for many different reasons but for me, it was a beautiful vision of what I wish I could have had to experience with my father. Death is an interesting part of life. We all know it’s going to happen, yet we are ill prepared when it does occur. I loved that Randall was able to spend his father’s dying days with him, learning about him, growing with him, and even usher him into his dying breath. It was so beautiful. And it brought me to tears. I was a blubbering mess in my bed. I cried sad tears for Randall because he was losing another dad, and right when the getting was getting good. I cried for William because he got to end his life on a happy note. At the end, he told Randall that he didn’t have a happy life, yet the two things that were good to him were the person at the beginning and the person at the end.
And through all of my tears, I couldn’t miss that there was a part of me crying for myself. Entertainment can provide us with such a gift, and that is the ability to shine a light on some of the realest, most intimate parts of life. I can think of no more intimate part of life than death and dealing with the death of a loved one–particularly a parent. The writer of This Is Us gave us all (well let me speak for myself) me such a gift because it provided a glimpse into a real moment of a relationship. We got to see a father and a son have honest, yet difficult dialogue about life and death. It can be so difficult to have those conversations, but I truly believe that they are so worthwhile.
While watching, I recalled the moment my father died and I wished I could have had those moments with my dad. For a long time, I felt that I was robbed of that moment. My dad was feeling under the weather one day, went to the doctor and next thing I know I was getting a call that he was on a ventilator after going through sepsis. He remained on that ventilator for three weeks. He was sedated for the duration of those three weeks as well. We never got a chance to talk. I didn’t get to ask him questions or tell him how I felt. The closest we came to that was during week 3 when he awoke for a moment. He was still on the ventilator, so he couldn’t speak, but he mouthed the words to me, “I’m dead.” I didn’t take him seriously because he would speak like that when he was sick. I brushed it off, but he shook his head No and mouthed the words again. He even went limp to show me what it would look like. I laughed because I didn’t want it to be true. While I always say I didn’t realize he was warning me, if I’m honest, I’ll admit that I knew he was telling the truth. But I wasn’t ready then to admit that so I dismissed him and hoped he was wrong. He died two days later. He didn’t get to die surrounded by mom and me. No, instead he died alone in a room with doctors. He didn’t get the peaceful transition that William received. He crashed several times, was revived each time, until that final one where he just would not return. That haunted me for years. I wanted closure. I wanted to have been able to hold his hand, kiss his cheek, and tell him it’s ok. Since I never got the chance, I have envisioned how our final conversation would have gone if we’d been given the chance. I feel like it would have gone something like this . . .
Dad: Well Boops, it’s been real. But I gotta go.
Me: Wait, don’t go yet! There’s still so much more I want to talk to you about.
Dad: Now what did I tell you? Be strong. I’ll always be with you. You’re going to be fine. Take care of my granddaughter. Watch your back and be strong for your mama. I’m counting on you.
Me: Wait, you’re dying and THIS is what you have to say to me? Not I love you. Not I’m proud, but be strong?
Dad: I just can’t do right by you. Can I, Je’Niece? I’m dying and I still just can’t do right by you. I told you before, I’m a hard man and I don’t make no bones about that. Now I said I gotta go.
Me: Well dang, fine! But don’t be a stranger. And since you won’t say it, I will. I love you, Man.
Dad: I love you more.
But I never got that moment. So I’ll have to live vicariously through Randall and William. It was a beautiful moment so I can live with that. Thank you to the writers of This Is Us. I cried some of the ugliest tears I’ve ever cried, but you gave me such a gift with each tear.
I had such a wonderful weekend! I got to go to Texas to visit with one of my oldest and dearest friends. We went to a retreat dedicated to femininity and it was so rejuvenating and affirming. I laughed. I cried. I ate delicious food. I hung out with some lovely women. And I did it all in 80 and 70 degree weather! Now that may not seem like such a big deal to some of you. But for this Chicago born and raised girl, 70 and 80 degrees in February is like finding shelter after a raging storm. It’s sweet relief. So that was the whip cream and cherry (if I liked cherries) on an already decadent and rich, brownie, fudge and caramel sundae.
The friend I visited has been one of my dearest friends for about 20 years. We have been through so much together. There’s just something to be said for having friends like her. We haven’t seen one another in ages, but whenever we see one another we’re laughing and talking as if we have never missed a beat. I love meeting new people and making connections, but there’s just something about the ones you have with those who know you best. My friend took great care of me over the weekend. She told me to just bring myself and not worry about a thing. I have no idea why she told me not to worry, considering how well she knows me. Worry is what I do. It’s what I know. But I did my best to listen to her. My friend treated me to some of the best meals I’ve had in a long time, a massage, and the joy of being a passenger while she drove us to our destinations. When I tell you this was all like sweet manna!
However, as much as I enjoyed myself, I have to admit that it did bring up some issues for me. I didn’t have to contribute anything this weekend but myself. All I had to do was sit back and receive. Yet, that was incredibly difficult for me. I wanted to do something. I even felt guilty. It allowed me to recognize that I don’t know how to receive. I am so accustomed to giving to others, yet I am not as accustomed to being given to. And that’s just one more thing I need to release.
When I began examining this phenomenon of mine, I realized that it’s behavior that I learned from my parents. See, both of my parents are givers. Correction, they are over-givers. They give to everyone–even when not asked. They felt like it was their duty to take care of everyone. My dad was an especially generous over-giver. He had a wonderful heart, yet he had a habit of inserting himself where he wasn’t necessarily needed, nor asked to be. He would go out of his way to take care of others–which would result in his depleting himself and becoming resentful. He would resent that he wasn’t appreciated and that others didn’t go out of their way for him the way he did for them. I guess when it became too much, he created the idea that it was better to take care of yourself than to allow others to take care of you. Always have your own and always do for yourself. Don’t let anybody do anything for you. He taught me that and I accepted it. I believed as he taught me–it was a sign of strength to be self-sufficient and not allow anyone to do anything for you. I grew up watching that behavior and assumed it was healthy until I began to follow in his foot steps. I created the one-sided relationships. I began to experience the resentment. I resented being the go-to person for everyone. Yet, as much as I resented it, I didn’t stop my pattern. I kept doing the same thing in different relationships–romantic, platonic, associate level–expecting different results. Well, that’s the very definition of insanity.
Refusing to accept love, support, and any other good thing isn’t really strong though. It’s just something wounded people do to mask their fear of rejection. I learned this weekend that I am so accustomed to operating from a place of lack. I deplete myself. And then I seek ways to recharge myself. Iyanla Vanzant says, “My cup runneth over. What comes out of the cup is for y’all. What’s in the cup is mine.” I haven’t been living that way. I’ve been pouring my cup all the way out and giving everything that’s in my cup so that there’s nothing left for me to sip when I thirst.
What I didn’t realize until this weekend is that the reason that my father and I were such over-givers and the reason we don’t allow our cup to runneth over is because deep down we didn’t believe we could have symbiotic relationships. We didn’t believe we could have people look out for us, do for us, be there for us. And why did we believe this, you ask? Well, let me answer. It’s the thing that’s behind the answer to the question I was asked this weekend, which was What do you have to prove and who do you have to prove it to? My answer was simple and I didn’t even have to think about it. My answer was that I have to prove that I’m worthy to everyone. But the truth is, I don’t really need to prove it to everyone. Everyone is my scape goat so that I don’t have to face that my real aggressor is the woman in the mirror. So the truth is that I have to prove I’m worthy to myself. Worthy of what, you ask? Well, let me also answer that as well. Worthy of good things. Ahh . . . Now you see how all the dots connect! My issue of worthiness blocks me from accepting and receiving good things. No matter how much I want them, I will never have them or enjoy them until I understand one simple truth. I am worthy. I am worthy because I am. I don’t have to do anything, say anything, or be anything to be worthy. I also don’t have to prove it to myself. I just need to accept it.
I can’t thank my friend enough for taking such great care of me. She taught me a lot this weekend. She taught me how to sit my tail down and accept love, support, and a massage (can’t forget the massage). But she provided me with a wonderful lesson that if you allow, people will show up and love you. Good things will come to you. But you have to let them in. It’s now time for me to get on with the business of me pouring into my cup so that it can start running(eth) over.
Dear Body of Mine,
I owe you a most sincere apology. For just about your entire existence, I have not liked you. I have spoken of and to you in most unkind ways. I’ve called you horrible names like fat, awful, and ugly. I’ve compared you to others and found you to fail to measure up. I’ve wished you were something you were not. And each time I felt you failed me, I blamed you. I actually felt like you were a curse to me. In short, I have hated you.
You may wonder why I have hated you and abused you. I could pontificate about all of the underlying psychological issues and social conditioning that I may have and have possibly been exposed to. However, the simple truth is that I’ve never thought you were good enough.
Why did I think that? Well, I’ll admit that I just never liked the way you looked. In the beginning, you were just skinny. Too skinny. And remember, this wasn’t during the time that it was cool to be skinny. I felt that you subjected me to teasing and taunts from others. Laughter filled advice about eating sammiches were painfully abundant for me–despite the fact that I did, in fact, eat many sammiches and more. Yet, you weren’t filling out any time soon.
It would be many years later when you would begin to fill out. I would be about 24 years of age. Yet the problem with that is that you didn’t fill out the way I wanted you to. You didn’t give me the curves I wanted. You didn’t fill out to create the hour-glass physique I so desperately coveted. No, there would be no Tocarra Jones’ body for me. Instad, you kept your athletic physique, complete with its narrow hips and wide waistline. But you didn’t even have the decency to give me Serena Williams athletic type. You just gave me straight body with a tire around my waist. And I hated you for that. Each time I saw another woman with the coveted hour glass frame, I thought you to be an even greater failure. Why can’t you look like her? I’d lament. You never answered me either. Instead, you just kept calling for me to love you as you were and I refused.
Then came what I felt was the ultimate betrayal. Pregnancy. After the birth of The Fizzle, you developed stretch marks in places I never wanted, never even realized one could develop there. You began to bulge and droop in places that I didn’t think were meant to bulge and droop. And let’s not even talk about what you did to my stomach! I worked out throughout my entire pregnancy to combat such changes, yet they were all for naught. You still drooped and bulged and you didn’t even have the courtesy to return to your pre-pregnancy state, post pregnancy. Then you gave me the dreaded C-section pooch. It was hard enough tolerating you before then. Now how was I supposed to appreciate you? I swore I would never forgive you. And I didn’t. Until now.
Now here we are, 10 years post pregnancy. I’ve since accepted that the pre-pregnancy body is NEVER returning. And while I don’t like it (not one bit), I realize how cruel and superficial I have been. I have treated you as if you’re good for nothing more than an aesthetically pleasing accessory. How wrong I have been! You are so much more than that. You have carried me through this world. You even brought forth life! How amazing is that? And thanks to yoga, I now know you can do some amazing things I never even thought possible! You are the vessel through which this soul of mine wanders through this Earth. You lend your hands to help others up. And what’s more, you use your hands to pull yourself up when you fall down. You love me so much that you will pad yourself to protect me when I am wounded. I have finally realized that your worth doesn’t lie in what you look like. Isn’t that ironic though? I’d have a fit if someone deemed me less than worthy based on my appearance, yet I meted that exact harsh judgment on my damn self. I have no excuses or any justifiable reasons for my ill behavior. All I can say is that I was ignorant and immature. I didn’t know. And I’m so sorry that I didn’t know and even more sorry for the way I have treated you. But since I am not big on sorry’s or words, I’ll allow my actions to show you how much I have changed. I’ll affirm you when I look at you instead of cursing you for everything I hated about you. I’ll reframe your so-called flaws. Where I once saw failure, I’ll see Life and splendor. I won’t compare you to anyone. I’ll appreciate you for who you are. I’ll feed you well and move you so that you’re as fit and healthy as you can be. As my Daddy used to say, I can show you better than I can tell you. And while I have never actually said this to you before, please allow me to close this simply by saying I love you.