Support system

The Wounds of Sisterhood: Black Women, Grief, and the Loss of Adult Friendships

 

September 26, 2018 was supposed to be a standout day for my best friend Sharmara. I imagine we would’ve sung happy birthday (the Stevie Wonder version of course), enjoyed a great meal or big bash even—mainly just spent time together marveling at how old we are now from our first meeting as high school freshmen in 1993. We would have lovingly reflected on how long our friendship has endured—through all the triumphs, heartaches, and “only you would understand” moments. What a day it would have been, honoring my best friend on her milestone 40th birthday. But we didn’t celebrate the way I envisioned. Six years ago, 17 days after her 34th birthday, Sharmara surrendered to a noble, four-year battle with pulmonary hypertension.

I spent this special birthday honoring my friend in her absence, tickled by the shenanigans we devised in our 19 years of friendship. Even at this stage of development, I miss her connection. I miss her severely and yet so tenderly. She is still the most kind-spirited and gracious person I know. She was the one who knew of my deepest aspirations. She was the one who saw my flaws as is and still look beyond them to dream so big for me—grander than I believed. Such bonds are so precious and needed throughout a woman’s lifetime.

RELATED: 3 QUESTIONS IF YOU HAVE TROUBLE CELEBRATING YOUR FRIEND

Recognizing the impact of this loss prompted me to consider the different wounds Black women sustain in sisterhood, including the demise of adult friendships. The breakdown of bonds once so fierce but ultimately divided by misunderstandings, lack of commitment, or even life transitions such as budding careers, marriage, and parenthood. As a defense, some women may offer a warning about the dangers of sisterhood: See, that’s why I have more male friends. In the face of the ironclad Black-woman-bond, why do many women relate to the aching hurt and sting of the termination of friendships, particularly those that blindside and leave you cultivating your own closure? Why do relationships conclude in this way? And when they do end, how do you heal and grow through loss? The following are gentle considerations in grieving the loss of a friend.

Mourning the Loss

Acknowledge how you feel about the loss of your friendship. Resist blocking, numbing, or diminishing your emotions. Often, the end of a relationship can be a sorrowful time and you may want to move as swiftly and far from it as possible. However, relationships take time to create and in these connections are memories that may later lend to sadness, confusion, frustration, guilt, and disappointment at the relationship’s dissolution. Know your feelings about the loss are valid and deserve to be explored. Consider a safe space to identify, vent, and process your emotions such as counseling with a professional experienced in helping individuals work through loss. You may also benefit from journaling or figuratively writing a goodbye letter to your former friend to express your emotions about the course of the relationship and its ending.

Grief and Acceptance

To accept the end of a friendship doesn’t mean that you like or prefer this outcome. Acknowledging the loss doesn’t diminish how you feel about it either. Still, accepting the relationship’s status is fundamental for healing as acceptance allows you to identify how to live with this loss now that it is a reality. As you acknowledge the end you can work to create a solution to live anew without the friendship.

RELATED: EXERCISE: THE ULTIMATE FORM OF SELF CARE

Trusting to Befriend Again

Vital to cultivating new friendships is the ability to identify the lessons you learned in loss and areas for self-improvement. With a balance of being open and wise, you can work to heal and foster connections that serve you well. Moving forward, consider what you need and desire most in friendship, as well as what you’re willing to offer and accept. And do just that. Remember, all friendships, current or former, are unique and not to be compared.

I know there will never be another Sharmara. Nevertheless, she taught me the value and power of sisterhood. She was the one who woke up hours before she passed just to see me and offer her parting words, “See you later, okay.” At the time, I heard her statement as a request but now I know it was really an explanation. A prepping almost. She had the last word and she was right. Just a little later, Sharmara. I will see you again.


Author’s Biography
Keisha is a licensed professional counselor and owner of Transformation Counseling Services in Columbus, Georgia, which focuses on grief counseling and perinatal mental health services for mothers and their families impacted by pregnancy and infant loss, and postpartum anxiety and depression. Keisha is an advocate and writer, contributing to articles in Essence Magazine, The New York Times, Bustle, and Elite Daily. Connect with and follow Keisha on Facebook and Instagram.

3 questions if you have trouble celebrating your friend

 

It happens to the best of us! Something major just happened to one of your friends and suddenly you feel like your life isn’t going anywhere. Maybe your relationship dynamic has shifted as a result of this exciting moment for your girl. You find yourself questioning where you are in life. You ask yourself: ‘Why is my friend stepping into this exciting new world and I’ve been in the same place for what feels like forever now?’ Whatever it is, it’s important to know you’re normal. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself if you ever find yourself in a position where supporting or celebrating your friend’s accomplishment feels hard.

  1. Is there somewhere in your life you should be working harder?
    It might be a good idea to take inventory of your life. What do you have going on? Is it better to focus on the ways you can take your opportunities to the next level? Or, is it better to focus on what others around you have going on? Often times, our insecurities are controllable when we allow ourselves to focus on the ways we can improve ourselves. Each step, no matter how small, can get us thinking more positively about our own lives.RELATED: EXERCISE: THE ULTIMATE FORM OF SELF CARE 
  2.  What is coming up for you?
    Is there a sense of grief about an experience you thought you’d have that you didn’t? Perhaps you’ve been having trouble getting pregnant and your friend just announced her pregnancy. Or, you have a friend that landed an amazing new job. Or, she just entered into her first serious relationship and it’s caused the relationship between the two of you to shift. The thing that’s important to remember is that your feelings are valid, they’re not wrong. How you manage it is where it becomes tricky. A great step is to acknowledge your emotions. Allow yourself to feel whatever pain you’re feeling as a result of what you think is missing in your life. Confront the fear of not having it at the moment. Then, strategize. Write your goals on paper and plan the best most practical way you can go about achieving them step by step. As soon as you get closer and closer to your goals, the anxiety of not having what someone else has will fade. Don’t believe me? Just try it.
    RELATED: 31 DAYS OF AFFIRMATIONS
  3. How can you manage whatever you’re feeling in a way that still allows you to celebrate your friend?
    How would it feel to have a conversation about it? This is the biggest step toward acknowledging your fears or insecurities. Our friends care about us, they are our friends after all. Sometimes they can give us a different perspective. Maybe you were thinking about your friend’s accomplishments one way, but there’s an entirely different side you didn’t know about. Maybe there was a time she felt the same way you’re feeling right now. Whatever it is, talking to her about it is a great way of acknowledging how you feel with the source. It can be one step toward a more positive outlook on your own life.

Dear graduate, what’s next?

Graduation season came and went; a season marked by major transition, lot’s of excitement, and definite celebration. Let’s say you’re the one that graduated. You spent years working toward a goal. The time came. Now it’s gone. While you should absolutely be enjoying the fruits of your labor, you’re not without some growing pains. While this time is marked by lots of celebration, you could be feeling apprehensive, confused, and even depressed.

RELATED: REAL TALK: POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION

At least a few emotions indicate the entrance into a new phase of life whether you, specifically, are graduating or simply experiencing a separate major milestone (a wedding, birth of a child, new job etc.) This season is characterized by life changes and it’s crucial to equip yourself with the proper tools to manage the emotional shift. Here are at least 8 things you should look out for and implement during the summertime transition that could greatly impact your life post-graduation and set you up for success:
Breathe.

  1. So first, there’s a natural coming down of adrenalin that happens when you finish big projects. You’ve spent so much time working on this thing that, at times, felt like would never end and now it’s done. Then there are ceremonies, parties, dinners and it is pretty nonstop for a while. You’ll probably have a wave of emotions related to saying goodbye to friends who have become a large part of your life. And then, abruptly, it’s all over.  You’ll suddenly have a bunch of time on your hands and may even feel like you don’t know what to do with yourself. Before you try to fill the space with unnecessary noise – breathe. Feeling bored or like you’re not doing enough is not uncommon and you don’t need to beat yourself up over feeling down, even though everyone else feels like you should be on top of the world.  If you feel like a sobbing mess allow yourself to feel those authentic feelings. If you’re confused about what’s going to happen next, call a friend, go to dinner, process your thoughts with someone who cares about you. Know you’re not the only one feeling this way and that the feeling will likely pass as you get a little distance from all the celebrations.

RELATED: STAY WOKE. BUT GET SOME SLEEP!

Manage expectations

  1. You may have some concerns related to not finding the dream job right away. It’s important to remember most people don’t retire from the job they started straight after undergrad. Beginning one job now does not mean you’ll never have your dream job, or you’ll be there forever. It’s more important to interrogate what makes something a dream job. Can you find some of these same qualities in another job, internship or volunteer project? Could these opportunities potentially open more doors for you to land the dream job?

Give up on the comparison game

  1. You might be comparing yourself to others, whether it be on social media or live and in action. People all around you are embarking on new adventures and it’s easy to consider someone else’s grass, #goals. In reality however, most of our social media feeds show the highlight reel and not the full story. Try to manage your tendency to want to create a better story around someone’s picture than their actual reality. Like the pic and move on. It might also help to do some journaling if you notice your mood being impacted by what you see on social media. What comes up for you as you see pictures of others moving into their new fancy apartments or taking great vacations? This could give you a good place to start to do some digging about changes you might need to make to feel better about what’s going on in your life.

RELATED: THE BLACK GIRL’S GUIDE TO SELF-CARE

Get real about your finances

  1. You might be worried about having to pay back loans. Unfortunately, Sallie Mae (or whoever your lender is) may start calling and emailing shortly after your degree is conferred. Try not to get into default in paying back your loans. Instead, look into deferment or forbearance options that might give you a little more time to start paying back.

Exercise discipline.

  1. It’s easier said than done. You might feel caught off guard about the lack of structure and stability that school provided. For about 17 or 18 years now, there has been a certain rhythm to your life. Go to class, do your homework, eat some lunch, hang out with friends, repeat. And, even though your college years gave you a bit more freedom, now that you’re done. Your schedule really will require you to be disciplined and accountable. There won’t be any loss of points for coming in late or a grace period because you ran out of time. It’s now incumbent on you to figure out what’s important to you and map out your days accordingly.

 

Do you have an idea or tip you want to share with the us about making a major transition (new school, new job, etc.) make sure to share it in the comments or on social media using the hashtag #tbginsession.

The Black Girl’s Guide to Freshman Year

Traffic has picked up. The lines in Target are a little longer, and Twitter is filled with pictures of teary-eyed parents and hashtags repping the Class of 2020. It can only mean one thing, Freshman Year! I have spent the majority of my career on college campuses and the excitement of welcoming a new class of students is only rivaled by that of graduation. The glee, anxiety, and absolute wonder are all palpable as you walk around campus. The first few weeks are a huge adjustment as you are making new friends, figuring out how to live with a stranger, learning all the names of the buildings, and learning the words to your new alma mater. Many of the decisions and choices you make your freshman year can either set you on the course for success or leave you with some serious regret. In an effort to help you make the most of your first year at your new home, here are some tips you may find helpful. Enjoy!

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Where My Girls At? The Importance of a Strong Support System

Photo Credit: ABC
Photo Credit: ABC

On last week’s episode of Scandal we saw what it looks like when you have a true ride or die friend in your corner. When Abby was shaking under a desk facing an incredibly stressful situation she called the only person who could handle it, Liv. And what did Liv do? She didn’t pass judgement, she didn’t ridicule Abby for overreacting, she simply showed up with a choice of new dresses and asked, “What do you want?” How many of us have that person or people in our lives? Better yet, how many of us truly allow them to show up for us? Tell me if this sounds familiar. “I’m the rock in my group of friends. I’m the one that everyone calls when there is a problem, but I don’t share my problems because I don’t want to be a burden to my friends. They already have enough going on.” Now Math is not my strongest area but I do know when something is not adding up and unfortunately, too many of us are practicing this flawed logic. We pride ourselves on being strong and a great friend while in the same breath robbing others of being a great friend to us.

Research suggests that a strong support system is key in maintaining our mental health. Having people we can count on provides protective factors against depression, it enhances our sense of confidence and esteem, buffers us against stress, makes us feel less isolated,  and helps to hold us accountable when we set goals. However, in order for us to reap these benefits, our support system must be both functional and utilized. A support system is not just a bunch of people who call when they need a ride or who update you on the latest office gossip. Our support system should be made up of people who actually show up when they say they will, allow us to show all parts of ourselves and who provide us with what we need and in the ways that we need it. This is not something that happens overnight and it may take some time to curate this group but it is well worth the effort. Here are some tips that may help you to create and better utilize your support system. (more…)