Learning How to Grieve and Seek Joy

by Serina Gousby

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger from Pexels

I’m not really good with grief. When someone transitions, whether if it’s a loved one, a public figure, or a person I saw on the news, I feel a knot in my chest…and it stays there for days or weeks. I don’t usually cry at first, I just sit in silence.

Three weeks ago, I lost my cousin, Brianna, to Sickle Cell Disease, a disorder that causes red blood cells to misshapen and break down. She was one of my many cousins who I admired from afar since she lived out of state. Although we lost touch since we were in our single-digit ages, I always kept up with her online, and my mother would give me updates from my aunt about how she’s doing. The number of times we prayed and thought about her well-being is endless, and I learned quickly how much this disease brought so much pain. 

It was a weird day when I heard the news. After finding out, I talked to my mom for a while, not realizing that I had an early meeting to attend that morning. Instead of trying to process this news, I rushed to my computer to work from home. Just an hour later, I had to host a virtual baby shower game for one of my co-workers, and it was incredibly hard to not think about my cousin. At the same time, I wanted to celebrate this new life that’s about to come for my co-worker, and I wouldn’t have felt right to miss it. Thankfully, I was able to take the rest of the day off. It took a while to let friends and social media know, only because I wasn’t sure if the public condolences would comfort me. I needed privacy for a while, up until the day of her homegoing a week later that I couldn’t attend due to the length of travel and the pandemic. It hit me hard that I couldn’t be there. 

The next day, I celebrated my friend’s birthday, whom I didn’t tell about my grief because I wanted her to enjoy the day. As I was surrounded by a few people, within a safe distance, I checked my Instagram and saw a photo of a man with a beautiful smile in black and white, and my eyes grew incredibly wide. Chadwick Boseman died from Colon Cancer, and I kept reading the caption over and over again. I only let a few people around me know, but since everyone was having a good time, I didn’t want to be the one to change the mood. I don’t think I slept that night, all I did was watch old interviews of Chadwick on YouTube that made me smile. I didn’t want to believe that one of the most significant storytellers who brought many of our Black icons, trailblazers, and superheroes to life, died. While writing this, I’m still in shock. 

Just a few weeks back, I was thinking about a few Black male actors today like Lakeith Stanfield, Daniel Kaluuya, Y’lan Noel, Michael B. Jordan, and Stephan James, and alongside Chadwick, I designed their names in calligraphy. He was always the first on my mind. One generation has Sidney Poitier, another has Denzel Washington. and Chadwick was that for me. I was so excited to see decades of movies from him. Particularly after seeing Black Panther, I was a supporter for life. 

I loved that he was private. It was refreshing to only know the details he wanted to share, rather than knowing his love life, his family, and what car he drives. It’s comforting to know that Chadwick had the right people around him who protected his privacy, and know he didn’t fight this silent 4-year battle alone. It does pain me to know that he had to deal with Cancer in the first place. Because of him, Black kids and adults were able to see themselves with superpower and authority in a huge way with Black Panther. I noticed his weight change over the years, and I never thought it was for a movie role. I thought that was his comfortable weight if he wasn’t acting in roles that required a muscular look. Also, I didn’t feel it was my place to say anything. He was still the King regardless of how he looked. Particularly during the Marvel press tours, I hoped he would eventually rest and take a great vacation because he looked visibly tired, and he was. It hurts, it really hurts. He represented so much joy, and those who knew him close were blessed to experience him.

Grief is difficult. I found out I lost my cousin and one of my favorite actors in the same month, both during events where I had to hide my grief. Both of these losses hit me very differently. I’m much more protective and private when it comes to Brianna, and I’ve been trying to celebrate the art and impact of Chadwick’s legacy more openly to outweigh the sadness. On top of this, I still feel the knot in my chest for Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain. They and others we lost to police brutality and racism hit the anger side of grief more than anything. It’s less sadness and more of wanting justice for them. 

On top of that, we’re in a pandemic. I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I got a hug from family members. Not only are we grieving lives, but we’re also grieving traditions, habits, and movements that kept us whole. I’m tired of losing more and more Black men and women. From illness, accidents, COViD-19, and racism, it’s a lot.

Although it’s difficult, grief is also complex. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had conversations with friends and family about how I’ve been processing grief, and they’ve assured me that I’m not doing anything wrong, whether I choose to be vocal about one, and private about the other. I also try my best to fill my mind with their smiles and joy, which has been helpful and healing. With all of this devastation, I know that joy is still reachable, and that I can smile while I grieve. Whatever helps me to get through this time is valid. Rest is important, and I’m working on prioritizing that more, instead of putting others before me.

Brianna and Chadwick never stopped smiling and living. They still made room for joy, and it would be disrespectful of me to not follow their example.

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