by Shalonda Archibald, NJLA Board Member
I think in stories. I speak in story form. It is the stories in me that allow me to be both introspective and to support others on their emotional wellness journeys. I wish that I could say that this story is a joyful story, however, I hope that the triumphant messaging received in the process will be.
I’m going to make a long story short and share that on July 21, 2000, I went into active labor at 24 weeks pregnant. It was two months before my 22nd birthday. I was home alone and scared out of my mind. This being my second son I knew that the ache in my stomach wasn’t from what I had eaten.
At midnight, I was rushed to the hospital where, within a matter of minutes, I delivered a beautiful baby boy. Immediately after the birth, the doctors whizzed him away to a corner of the room where I watched them poke, prod, and press on his tiny body. I prayed for a more positive outcome than the looks on the doctors' faces displayed, but there wasn’t. I was devastated. I held my baby’s lifeless body for two hours pleading for a miracle.
July 22 is my son’s birthday. Since his birth and death, July is an emotional rollercoaster of a month for me. For many years, I held his memory and the grief of the loss inside…never uttering a word about the experience to anyone. About three years ago, I made a shadow box with his hat, blanket, ultrasound photo, and identification bracelets and placed it with his urn. For years, I would take out the bag I had the memorabilia tucked away in, hold the items, smell them, look at his tiny footprints on the birth announcement card, and tuck them back away. When I placed the items in the shadow box and placed it visibly for anyone in the house to see, I began the journey of actually grieving the loss of my son.
As I was updating my calendar board on July 1st, tears started to stream down my face. Initially, I questioned the reason, and I realized later that day that it was “the month. " Every day of this month I have cried. Several times this month I have shared my story with someone. Each cry and each testimony have helped me to unbox the grief that I had been internally pressing down and sitting on with all my might. I’ve been unboxing the grief that I used to judge myself for feeling. I’ve given myself permission to feel the grief, to allow it to move through me. Pastor Dr. Anita Phillips speaks about how our repressed emotional pain affects the mind, body, and spirit (check out her podcast, In the Light). For years, the pain of losing my son tormented me on the inside because I held on to the grief so tightly and the grief of that loss became intertwined with every other loss that I had experienced and that I would experience later. Simply put, I held/hold a large compilation of grief.
Friends, I share this story for two reasons. The first reason is to encourage you to accept the process of grieving your losses. Cry if you need to. Write a grief list. Talk to someone you can trust with your vulnerable state (I chose a therapist for this). Journal. Pray out loud. Whatever you choose to do, make space to grieve. The second reason is to bring attention to the fact that everyone around us is grieving for one loss or another, and it is so important for us to give grace, be kind, be patient, be understanding, and BE HUMAN with ourselves and others.
Educators are placed in the role of superheroes which sends a message of possessing an unlimited reserve of strength and ability to save others. We are SUPER, however, we are not superheroes. We do save lives and we have lives also. Teaching is what we do, not who we are. We are human beings experiencing the same things that other human beings experience except with much less grace given. Friends, be human. Feel the feels! It is okay. Our collective strength lies in our individual decision to heal.