Reflections: Black Men Grieving

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I’m not a doctor or a mental health professional. What makes me an expert in Black male grief today is only that I am a black man grieving. That’s all. Kobe Bryant’s death really shook me. I didn’t know him, never was a Lakers fan and don’t have a deep interest in the NBA. I had just finished preaching a sermon when one of the younger members of my church approached me and said, “Kobe really died.” I couldn’t immediately process it. I felt a little numb, to be honest. I vacated the church and sat in my car. Upon arrival at my destination, I couldn’t move. It reminded me of July 1, 2005. I was driving my 1999 Ford Taurus while listening to talk radio, as I did a lot in graduate school. The show was interrupted to announce that Luther Vandross had transitioned at 54 years old. I didn’t know what to do, aside from pulling over and calling my mother. Even though I didn’t know Luther, I knew that my body’s response to grief didn’t seem normal. As a man, I was always taught that you have to manage your grief. You had to “stay strong.” Yikes! How do you stay strong when your body feels weak?

Mental health practitioner, Brandon Jones wrote that “In Black male culture, accepting grief and not processing through it has been an accepted element within manhood. This develops a mental and emotional void within our development and functioning as men.” In other words, there’s a huge danger in avoiding the need for processing. We make grief “girly” and use terms like “soft” to label behaviors that involve processing feelings. Jones went on to write that it’s “dangerous for many of the Black males developing into men to be subject to this amount of grief. It leads to conscious and subconscious levels of helplessness and hopelessness. Once these emotional and mental conditions are introduced into the development of a man, they begin to create a ripple effect of dysfunction.”

So, what do we do now? We know that grief is real, substantiated, necessary and dangerous if not processed appropriately. That’s the question I asked myself while I was driving home from San Francisco the day that Kobe died. The thing I knew I had to do was not avoid it. I’m sad. I am confused. Like many people, I had to war about how much information I should expose myself to. What I found to be most helpful was talking. I called my mom and talked to her about it. I talked to my manager at work. I shared it with colleagues and posted thoughts on Twitter. I am typing this blog.

It’s been affirming to listen to others and sit in my thoughts. It’s been good for me to share that I am sad and that I need to spend time with loved ones and family as a means of understanding how I’m feeling. It also has increased my capacity to empathize. I keep thinking about the families associated with all who died and it feels so terrible. At the same time, my hope is in Jesus. While the circumstance isn’t ideal, I am constantly reminded that Jesus is near to the broken-hearted. I am praying that he shows up for all those who reflect and are grieving.

I’m far more in tune now with the ways that grieving impacts us. Examine the stages below from renowned Kubler-Ross. It brings to light the complexities of navigating change and how much life and energy it takes. It helps us to decide how we will show up for one another in times when we are working through grief. We can see ourselves and places and stages we live in with our respective challenges and work to be more apathetic towards one another. We can also decide to focus on renewal and how we will use our grief to navigate other chapters of our lives. That’s what I’ve been thinking about.

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