Last week I finally mourned the death of my grandfather.
The thing is, he passed away almost fifteen years ago.
What started as a simple call to check on my grandmother, turned into a confession of suppressed emotions generating from the realization that the man I once loved most, whom I wanted nothing more than to please, was no more, and how saddened I was at my failure to connect with her on an emotional level due to my inability to fully process his death.
Like most black men I know, my adolescence was spent becoming desensitized to the emotional impacts of death and violence and developing a stoic persona to protect myself in a world that sought my demise and destruction.
We grow up learning to associate showing emotion with weakness and femininity while overlooking the necessity of processing life’s experiences and allowing oneself to be vulnerable; in public or private. In addition to that, as was my case, we learn to suppress our emotions under the guise that we are “being strong” and allowing others the space to be comforted by our stoicism.
My inability to holistically process the death of a loved one, in my humble opinion, may be attributed to not fully learning nor understanding and having the freedom to explore the cultural nuances, the spiritual reflection, the emotional purge that is “mourning”.
It wasn’t until recently I learned that being emotionally available for someone doesn’t mean that in such a sacred space, the emotions of two or more people can’t be shared.
I’ve learned that what I perceived to be emotional availability was robbing those close to me of the opportunity to bond on a deeper level. It was necessary to unlearn the toxic perception of masculinity that led myself and many of my peers to the brink of unnatural levels of desensitization and disassociation with the value of life coupled with a nonchalant view of death. But the funny thing is, despite the failure to express my sorrow, I was crushed.
Mourning has never been an important concept, process, experience or conversation to the black men in my life. Cultures, traditions, and religions all to some degree outline a process whereby one learns to mourn, yet my exposure and awareness of such didn’t provide me the comfort to open up about how I felt about his death, or anyone’s for that matter.
We have to be strong and comforting but still protective of our masculinity lest some slip of emotion render it null and void.
I was “strong” alright. Unfortunately at the expense of my own emotional growth.
Society hasn’t created a safe space for black men to mourn. Nor has it created a safe space for black men to be publicly emotional aside from the two extremes of happiness and anger.
We’re too worried about what the world will think of our most needed tears.
Crying on the phone with my grandmother felt so damn good that I’d do it again if I could. And that’s sad.
To the black men who mourn, sorta, keep expanding that space you’ve carved out to be vulnerable.
Allow yourself to feel.
Allow yourself to be present.
Allow yourself to be human.