We Fall Down, We Get Up! Metabolizing Grief in Intense Times

I’m reluctant to rehash this but it serves as a wake-up call and a cry for mercy, justice, and healing.

As many of you know, the last few weeks have been horrific! This past Tuesday, May 24, nineteen children and two teachers were murdered in a mass shooting at a predominately Latin-x elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, by an 18-year old gunman, who had shot his grandmother in the face prior to these killings. On May 15, in Orange County, CA, five Asian elders were shot in church, one dying, by a 68 year-old man from Las Vegas who drove over four hours to Santa Ana.

And one day prior to this horror, on May 14, in Buffalo, New York, ten Black people were killed and three others injured in a supermarket by an 18-year-old self-identified white supremist, who drove over 200 miles to this predominantly Black neighborhood for this intentional act. One of the people murdered in this shooting was Ruth Whitfield, 86, who was returning from visiting her husband of 70 years in a nursing home. Two days later, Ruth Whitfield’s granddaughter, Simone Crawley, a professional diversity consultant, had something pressing to tell folks on LinkedIn:

“My 86 year old grandmother, Ruth Whitfield, was murdered on Saturday by a hate-filled, perverted White supremacist GROWN MAN. If it had been ANY other cause I could process it differently. I could rationalize it somehow. But this is too close to home for me. How do you dedicate your life to fighting bigotry, trying to educate White people on their role in ending this blight on humanity all for it to take your own grandmother?! I FEEL LIKE SUCH A F***ING FAILURE!! Like everything I’ve ever done in my career was completely pointless!

I know that it should make me want to double down and be proof of why it’s such important work, but I promise you, I feel the opposite. I feel like a fraud. Like I’ve been spoon-feeding White people these conversations about race so as not to upset them. Feeding into the White fragility over and over again. Asking them about their racist relatives and having them tell me that it’s not a reflection of them. BUT IT IS!!!!!!!!!! You have chosen the side of hate every second that you remain silent. Telling us that White children can’t handle conversations about race but my grandmother's great grandchildren must look at her dead body! And I will have to tell my children her story because she won’t be there to meet them.

The last time I saw her we were sitting in her living room and she was telling stories about her childhood in the rural South, stories about the racism she has endured since birth, and I cannot believe it is the reason her life is over. She had at least 20 more years left to live -- she didn’t use a walker, or a hearing aid, even have significant sight issues. I always struggled to even see her as elderly…”

Ms. Crawley is Founder and CEO of Crawley Cultural Consulting. She’s made diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) a life’s work. She ended this post with a request and a prayer:

Pray for my soul. I’m at a moral crossroads - to vibrate higher in love or turn a corner and meet these mfs in depths of hell. I’m paralyzed right now. She [my grandmother] once wrote me a letter: “We fall down but we get up.” I pray that I can one day, but that day is not today.

That her grandmother was killed indiscriminately by a white supremacist seems too ironic to bear, especially given Simone’s professional work in antiracism, yet for her and her family, and for the many grieving families and others affected by systemic ignorance, hatred, and violence, it is the territory in which we live. How do we grieve and metabolize the incessant killings of black and dark bodies occurring at increasing speed across the nation and throughout the world? How do we take both Ruth Whitfield’s advice and Simone Crawley's profound grief to heart: We fall down but we get up - But that day is not today!

But that day is not today!

I can only imagine Simone's heartbreak. Sometimes, we must acknowledge to ourselves But that day is not today! and let that be! I’m reminded of this every time I experience the visceral blow of racial hatred, which is often. I’m always caught off guard, surprised, and disoriented. I catch myself saying things like: I can’t believe it! How could this happen again? I feel like I’m in quicksand, my tongue is tied, and my thoughts are racing. I’m boiling inside and i feel on edge, afraid of being in my own skin - afraid of what might happen next. I feel enlarged and like i'm becoming monstrous on the inside, and I fear it is showing on the outside and there is nothing I can do about it. I feel personally threatened and I can glimpse what it might be like to harm others. It feels dangerous to feel and to not feel. While my grandmother was not killed like Simone's, I’m reminded of my father being killed by gun violence, and so many black bodies dying. Death feels engulfing. It all begins to race together in a timeless and unceasing tsunami. And while I can recognize my initial disbelief as a trauma response, there is a part of me that believes racism does not exist because it should not exist – but it does.

It makes sense that those of us sensitive and devoted to racial justice and healing could be shaken to the core, blown away, and knocked off center by the blatant and insistent fact of racism. Sadly, we are all vulnerable and not in control of what happens to ourselves or others.  Understandably, there are times when we must shut it down, and in a non-harming way, give ourselves time to just be in the raw of it all and let it rip! I would encourage this downtime to be interspersed with hot soaks, long walks, time in nature, spontaneous naps, a wise friend or two or support group, and occasional warm hugs.

We Fall Down,

When we fall down, there are times when we can rest and attend to grieving. We might be able, for example, to tenderly shift our attention away from the story of the horrific incident and give priority to the pain we are experiencing, and the movement of pain through the body.

Nobel Prize in Literature and Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner Toni Morrison mindfully describes a grieving character in one of her books this way: “

The loss pressed down on her chest and came up into her throat. It was a fine cry – loud and long – but it had no bottom and no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.”

The medicine Morrison is offering here is that of noticing and allowing the waves of grief to have its nature. By giving our attention to the circles of sensation often flooding the body, we will notice when they naturally subside. And when the intensity of dread and grief lessens, we can begin to rest in the warm sogginess of our own good hearts. This is our practice! It’s not simple, just necessary: An antidote to pushing when we are literally rocked to our knees.

It makes sense that we would feel the hurt of racism - it's not intellectual, and our bodies absorbs the blow. Taking care of ourselves is not a luxury; self-care is how we heal and how we ripen our inner capacity to respond to the world with empathy and care. Self-care is often not our first instinct. However, we can learn to experience our resilience as we rest by opening our awareness to feel, from the inside out, the strength in our legs, the muscle in our heart, and the power of our backbone to literally lift ourselves up. Staying close to our breath and allowing our tears to be free also helps. Beloved Ancestor Toni Morrison writes in A Mercy:

You don’t need to try and make it all go away. It shouldn’t go away…and I’m not going to hide from what’s true just because it hurts.

This is what we come to realize when rested!

But We Get Up!

Like Simone Crawley and many others, my life’s work is educating on systemic racial awareness and self-care amidst overt racist acts, within grief, and at times, on top of burnout. I often ask myself:

What keeps us sitting up straight with a strong core despite our circumstances?

We must think collectively and historically to understand and appreciate our spirits. Foremost, it’s a moment-to-moment consideration and a practice of remembering: Remembering the present moment, moment to moment. Remembering that we’re not dead yet, and at this moment, we can breathe. Remembering our ancestors, our faith, wisdom teachings, and our practice. Listen to the elders who impart wisdom from generation to generation. Remember all the precious nuggets of insight they transmit to us. Remember the message of Ruth Whitfield - the grandmother to all of us: We fall down but we get up.

What messages have your ancestors or elders imparted to you?

What messages of comfort and wisdom will you share with the elders, children and grieving families?

We also must remember to have faith. Yes, we are vulnerable. Anything can happen to us at any time, but we need not be victims. Toni Morrison writes:

“The presence of evil is something to be first recognized, then dealt with, survived, outwitted, triumphed over.”

This is powerful wisdom from a wise one who understands the horrors of past and present times. While there are not broad victories readily evidenced in our efforts, we still must use our bodies and minds to do everything humanly possible to end racism. The growing violence among us should ignite a voting response that ensures no body is harmed. Share your wise hearts in your community and at the polls.

Wisdom tells us that there is the good, the bad and the ugly in all circumstances that we encounter. We’re not in complete control of situational outcomes, nor can we comprehend the vast and invisible effort and prayers operating on our behalf. I believe that those of us functioning with a strong core are supporting those of us in despair, and those of us in despair are grieving and healing for those of us standing strong. And our experiences change constantly. This is the interrelated structure of mutuality. This is nature at play in the vast skinless body of awareness in which we inescapably belong, and it is our basic goodness at its most holy.

 

“Misery doesn’t call ahead. That’s why you have to stay awake - otherwise, it just walks on in your door.” ~ Toni Morrison

 

 

Simone Crawley, Founder & CEO, Crawley Cultural Consultant, and Granddaughter of Ruth Whitfield

 

6 thoughts on “We Fall Down, We Get Up! Metabolizing Grief in Intense Times”

  1. Thank you, Ruth, I am grateful for the teaching. On the other side of the first waves of grief, may all who are involved in the work remember that there are countless such tragedies prevented by your work.

  2. Marianela Medrano

    Thanks, Ruth, for offering us your words as the soothing balm we need in these trying times. My heart aches and yet it wants to keep on trying. May the seed of goodness prevail!

  3. Thank you for the reminder about our interconnectedness. And the responses each of us make to world events is contributing to the hole. This is beautiful and beautifully written. Thank you, my sister.

  4. Imani Gayle Gillison

    Thank you, Ruth. I’m glad I came across this article. Deep appreciation for all four voices – yours, Simone’s, Mother Morrison, and Grandmother Whitfield. “We fall down but we get up.” What a viscerally spot-on and comforting affirmation. I discovered a song by the same name in 2017 and it became part of the soundtrack of one of my community theater performances. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0tX_ctp0Gs. Thank you for this heartfelt ancestral reminder.

  5. Beautiful writing Ruth. Thank you so much for sharing yours and the other powerful women’s wisdom with us. I am so blessed to often hear the voices of my ancestors and elders in my file.

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