Family Over Everything

I woke up at 8am on a sunny July Sunday. My daughter was away for a sleepover at my cousins house, so our apartment was especially quiet. As I have walked into the kitchen I wondered if this is what it will be like when my daughter goes away to college less than five years now. I smile at the thought this time, no longer bothered by fears of being lonely and bored when Z reaches adulthood.

Coming back to the present, I pull a small pot out of the cabinet and fill it with two cups of water. While coffee is the morning drink of choice for many Americans, my preference is tea. I place one bag of Tetley black tea in my favorite mug, wait for the water to boil, then pour it in. After covering my mug and letting it steep for five minutes, my tea is ready.

Once I’ve stirred one tablespoon of pure cane sugar into my cup, I sit at my kitchen table to enjoy it. I’m about three sips in when I’m hit with memories of precious times with my late Grandma. I remember how I started drinking tea because she refused to let me drink coffee, saying it would stunt my growth. I see her coming into her kitchen, perplexed that I was microwaving water for my tea.

Oh baby, you should boil your water instead. We only use the microwave to heat things up…

Later that week she bought me a stainless steel kettle to use. I came to love the keen sound of the whistle letting me know my water was ready, the glint in my Grandma’s eyes as she watched me become a tea connoisseur. The emptiness I felt at remembering that she’s not here for me to see that spark in her eyes brought tears to mine, leading to a good ten minutes of outright bawling. But I made the choice to do something different with my grief that day.

Instead of isolating myself, I texted a cousin, one who was more like my sister growing up because of how close we are in age. I asked what she and her man were doing that day. When she said they were free, I asked if I could come hang out with them. My cousin responded immediately that I was welcome; I was on my way within twenty minutes.

That Sunday started with tears, but it continued and ended with laughter and love with family. I stayed at my cousins place until 9pm, breaking bread and reminiscing positively on our childhood. As I reclined on the sofa, eating the lasagna that my cousins boyfriend prepared for dinner(that man can throw down), I knew that this was the right way to deal with my brief episode of sadness and grief.

I returned home, locking the door behind me quickly and turning the lights on. Though I enjoyed my cousins presence, I hadn’t been forthcoming about what prompted my visit that day. That too was due to a habit that’s common in my community: being reluctant to discuss emotions. Knowing that I needed to work on this, I grabbed my iPhone 7 and wrote a long text to my cousin:

This morning started off so chill. Then I started drinking my tea and I just really missed Grandma and I couldn’t stop my tears! It still hurts that she’s not here, that I can’t call her or visit her and talk. I came over because I needed to be with family and I thank you for having me. You often had my back when we were young and I’ve never forgotten that. I’m happy you moved back to Seattle and I love you!

Within five minutes she responded, and my heart swelled as I read her text. My cousins words reminded me that I’m not, and never have been, truly alone in my experiences and emotions, that despite the loved ones I’ve lost I still have others who are ready and willing to be there for me.

In the past I often chose to isolate myself from my family, treating my emotions as something to be hoarded and suffered in silence. However doing this never brought relief ; it just intensified my feelings. This wasn’t the best mechanism to survive, let alone thrive, in the midst of life’s challenges.

I think of my family’s journey from the days of Jim Crow in the Mississippi Delta to the era of the crack epidemic on the West Coast, over seventy years of changes. How did we survive it all? We made it through adversity because we had each other, remaining close and being there for one another during fat and lean times alike, putting family over everything. That’s a lesson my elders imparted to me, and it is one that I’ll strive to honor.

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