31. How Does My Culture Inform My Grief? With Marisa Renee Lee
The grief space, like most things in our society, has long been dominated by white voices. Marisa Renee Lee is doing her part to change that. In her new book “Grief is Love,” Marisa explores what makes Black grief unique through the lens of her own personal experiences with loss. She also shares the profound lesson about undying love she learned from Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin. This episode’s practice is about re-examining the cultural messages we’ve been taught about grief and creating space in your life for the grieving process.
Resources from the show
- Read Marisa’s new book, “Grief is Love”
- Read “Notes on Grief” by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Read “Black Widow: A Sad-Funny Journey Through Grief for People Who Normally Avoid Books with Words Like ‘Journey’ in the Title” by Leslie Gray Streeter
- Read “Soul Healing: A Guided Journal for Black Women: Prompts to Help You Reflect, Grow, and Embrace Your Power” by Sharron Lynn
- Read “On Death and Dying” by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
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Claire, Marisa Renee Lee
Hi, I’m Claire Bidwell Smith. Welcome to NEW DAY. Before we get started today, I have some exciting news. Starting in a couple of weeks, you’re gonna get more episodes of new day in your feed every week. I’ll have more information soon. But right now take a moment to make sure you’re following New Day on your podcast app. As for this week’s show, ever heard of the five stages of grief? I’m kidding, of course, you have. We all have. But you know much about the woman who came up with them. I bet you know her name, Elisabeth Kubler Ross. But what you might not know is that she was a Swiss physician working in a hospital in Chicago in the 1960s when she conceived at the five stages. And what she noticed was that all the dying patients she encountered were going through a similar process when facing a terminal diagnosis. First, they weren’t denial, then they got angry. Then they began to bargain. When that didn’t work, they got depressed. Eventually, they gave way to acceptance of what was happening. Makes sense, right? The five stages were originally intended for those facing end of life, not those who are grieving. Those same five stages were later applied to the grief process. But here’s the truth. Those five stages don’t work as well for grief. Even Kubler Ross herself said that the five stages were not meant to be formulaic. They’re guideposts. Regardless, the stages have stuck around. And I’ve come to believe it’s because the idea of there just being five stages to get through is really appealing. I mean, wouldn’t it be great if we just had to get through these five things and then we could be on the other side of the kind of agony that comes with losing someone we love. In the years since Kubler Ross came up with the five stages, there have been many, many more books written about grief. Many different models conceived of many different theories and ideas of how to support yourself. But there’s still something missing. And no, it’s not anxiety. I already called that one out. The thing that’s missing has been grief books written by people of color. I remember reading an essay on mine a few years ago entitled, I was the only black person at Elizabeth Gilbert and Cheryl Strayed brave magic retreat. I devoured this article because for years I had been hosting grief retreats that mostly only white women showed up to, this had long made me uncomfortable. Laura Cathcart Robbins wrote the article. In it, she asks, Do Black stories matter? I mean, I know that they mattered as black people. But did they matter to the rest of you? Do you even want to know what it’s like to walk around like me? In skin like mine with hair like mine? Do you ever wonder what it’s like for Black people to fail, love, grieve and triumph? What it’s like to raise Black sons and daughters, what it’s like to be hated or feared on sight. Not for how or what you believe, but simply because your skin has a threatening hue. This was the article that helped me understand that black women didn’t come to my retreats because I don’t know what it’s like to walk around like them. I don’t know what it’s like to grieve the way they do. Even though I’m an expert in my field, even though I’m deeply passionate about my work. Those things don’t change the fact that I’m still a White woman in this world. And my experience of grief and moving through life is very different. But everywhere I searched, I came up with a lack of literature for people of color who are grieving. I’m happy to say though, that things are changing what Elisabeth Kubler Ross pioneered all those years ago, and she really did something radical by beginning the discussion of grief is finally broadening. My guest today is Marisa Renee Lee, the author of a new book called Grief Is Love. Marisa shares her journey about losing her mother a pregnancy and most recently a cousin to COVID-19. But she also explores the impact grief has on black people, and how it’s hard to grieve while feeling unsafe and unseen. And she just writes beautifully and honestly about grief itself. This is a book for anyone going through big loss. But it’s important to note that Marissa is taking her place on a shelf that too few people have been able to recognize themselves on.
Marisa Renee Lee
How are you? You look fantastic. It’s early out there.
I have to start by upfront telling you that there’s a giant wild turkey in my backyard and you’re going to hear it gobble, the guy is like on a mission to find his lady. Every morning. He’s out there right now. You hear it?
Marisa Renee Lee
Oh, wow. That’s really loud. I didn’t think it was gonna be that loud.
I’m so happy to see you. I start every episode of the show by asking my guests how you’re doing but how are you really doing?
Marisa Renee Lee 04:41
How am I really doing? I’ve honestly been all over the place with the book you know there is that, oh my gosh, there is just the volume of work part of it. And then there’s the I should be happy and joyful and having fun but I I’m like, not quite there yet between the stress around how it’s all gonna go. And then, you know, also just this piece of me that wishes that my mom were here to help me or support me in some way. I don’t even know what that would look like. But there is a little bit of grief in every really positive thing, you know. So yeah, I’ve been all over the place emotionally and hoping to shift to a more fun excited place in the next couple of days.
I love it. I was thinking about you this morning. And I was thinking, I just I was like, oh, I can’t wait to see Marissa. It’s gonna be such a relief. And I was like, that’s an interesting, like, thing that I anticipate feeling. And I and I was thinking about how we have never actually met in person. We’ve been friends for several years now and never met in person yet that seems impossible. Because we I feel very close. But I was also thinking about one of the reasons that it’s feels like a relief to see you and that I feel so close to you so easily is because of the shared mother loss. You know, I remember the first time I did an event for Hope Edelman in a motherless daughters conference, and I stood up in this room full of 100 women who were the attendees, and every single woman in the room had lost her mother and they were all different ages and, you know, all different backgrounds yet, I felt so close to all of them, you know, and I felt so seen by them, like they knew who I was on a level that most people never will. And so there’s that interesting bond that happens. And I wanted to kind of start by talking about Mother loss and about your mom and ask if you would tell the story of about your mom.
Marisa Renee Lee 06:46
Absolutely. Absolutely. So my mom, you know, both my parents were just really active and involved when I was a kid, you know, they were on every field trip, we hosted every party, my dad coached the sports, my mom taught Sunday school, like very, you know, sort of, I guess, I grew up in the Hudson Valley, about an hour and a half north of New York City. And so, you know, it all was seemed pretty average and ordinary to me until one day my mom got sick. I was 13. And, you know, in my memory, it was just one day, she got sick, and she never got better. And it took years to figure it out. But she actually had multiple sclerosis. And so growing up, I had a parent who was sick and disabled. And it was hard. And you know, this was the 90s we didn’t really talk about things the way we do now. And, you know, I wasn’t put it in therapy to process this dramatic life change. It was just, this is unfortunate, and, you know, pick yourself up, and keep moving forward kind of attitude. And so, when I was in college, my senior year in college, my mom started feeling worse. And no one could figure out what was going on. She was in and out of the hospital my entire senior spring. And then a couple of days before I graduated, she was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. So yeah, so MS, plus the stage for breast cancer. And I knew, you know, I always had this sense from a young age, because my mom was sick when I was a kid, that she wasn’t going to be like my grandparents who are still with us today at 98 and 100. You know, like I decided, I know, it’s pretty wild. I decided, by the time I was in college that, you know, I would be lucky if I had my mom into her 60s that was the number that I came up with back then. But when we were in that oncologist office in upstate New York, the day she was diagnosed, you know, as soon as he said, stage four, it was like the floor opened up beneath my feet, you know, I knew that she was going to die much sooner than that, you know, like it was a matter of a couple of years. And so I actually took a year off after college, and moved back home to help my mom and dad figured out how to manage this very complicated medical situation. And then two and a half years later, she was gone. It was something that I genuinely thought I could prepare for.
Marisa Renee Lee
And so that’s what I set out to do. You know, because it’s so ridiculous and don’t you laugh and like kind of roll your eyes to and I also just feel so much empathy for my you know, 24-year-old self like I truly thought I was being practical I found in my research for grief is love I found in one of my old journals. I had constructed a three-pronged strategy for managing my mother’s end of life and death, but what you’re gonna love about it is there is basically nothing in there about grief. That’s how little I knew, you know, it was all, these are, you know, these are the legal documents. It was like funeral planning, logistics. And then I had this category. And this really broke my heart. I had this category titled intangibles, and I had tried to come up with all of the questions that I would probably want to ask her in the future, so that I could try and ask them before she like it was just, it was so set, you know, like, how do you know when you’ve met the person you’re supposed to marry? Like, what do you think my greatest strengths are like we can so like, it was so heartbreaking. But I did all the work, Claire. And you know, I’m like you’d put in the work. You should get the outcomes that you desire. So I put in all the work, and then this woman died. And I was something beyond the lost, you know, like, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was yeah, I mean, the shock, the physical pain and like physical manifestations of grief, you know, the not sleeping, the not eating the anxiety of depression. I mean, it was all, it was all so confusing to me. Because I felt like I did the work. I should be fine. I don’t understand. So yeah, that’s the beginning of how we got here.
Yeah, I had no idea how to be in the world after my mom was gone. Like, I just didn’t know how to be here. I didn’t know how to put one finger on the other. I didn’t know how to breathe. I didn’t know how to understand who I was without her. You know, it was so shocking. And I too, like, you know, thought I was gonna be okay, I, you know, I knew she was going to die. I had also spent a lot of time like, knowing that my mom wasn’t going to be in my life as a grown up, my dad too. But it didn’t prepare me for going through any of it.
Marisa Renee Lee
There’s no preparation. You know, it is sad that I thought that I could prepare, but I feel..
It sweet though, too. It’s so human.
Marisa Renee Lee
But I think it’s also a result of, and this is what you’ve dedicated all of your work to, you know, how we treat grief in this country. And, you know, in our culture, like, I felt like, just like with everything else, that’s hard in life, you know, put in the work, and you’ll be fine. But that’s not actually how life works. You know, it’s so much more complicated and nuanced than that. But, you know, no one talks about these really hard things, which then when you experience them, you’re shocked.
Yeah, yeah. So okay, what year was it? How old were you?
Marisa Renee Lee
I had just turned 25. It was 2008.
Okay. And so what was the grief support like, when you begin entering into that world, you know, what messages Did you hear? What books do people give you? Or like, didn’t you get, you know, like?
Marisa Renee Lee
I’m like, where do I begin? And keep in mind that I was a stubborn, you know, kid, basically, too. So like, let’s just, let’s make sure we’re clear about that. There wasn’t, a whole lot out there. You know, we also just have to remember that the internet was way different back then, which is makes me feel very old. But it’s true. You know, because I can remember sitting at my computer, you know, like my work, laptop, Googling grief research and like resources and stuff like that. And like, you’re not even getting much of anything, because Google was still a new-ish thing at that point. But I did figure out that there was this woman Elisabeth Kubler Ross, who wrote this book on death and dying, and I read that book before my mom died. One of my friends also encouraged me to seek out a therapist before my mom died. And I did that. But at the time, I didn’t know enough about therapy. Like I don’t think the person who was supporting me was the right fit for what I needed. I also, you know, leading up to my mom’s death, I hadn’t been, I hadn’t been sleeping well. For years. You know, I was 22 years old, going through this major life transition, graduating from college, and I learned at the same time that my mom was dying. So like, of course, I wasn’t sleeping well. But I was heavily medicated probably somewhat inappropriately, so for the sleep but not medicated for any of the anxiety or depression I was experiencing. So yeah, the support was not really there. I mean, the only thing that I remember support wise from childhood, adolescence, you know, through the time that my mom died, was my mom tried to get us to go to a support group, right after she was diagnosed officially with her Ms. So I was in high school at the time. I mean, and like Claire will tell you I remember so well, walking into this room. And this is a terrible thing about the same, but feeling like, these people are pitiful. Like, I don’t want to be a part of this community where people have just like, you know, given up and just seem just full of like despair. Like, that’s not what I wanted. And so because there I didn’t feel like there was anything out there really, for me. I used my people and like, even though we were in our early 20s, you know, we were kids, and no one else except for, like, one or two people had lost people as well. Like, we just kind of had to figure it out together. And thankfully, they were very pushy, and intrusive, and adamant that I give them things to do. And when I didn’t give them things to do, they came up with things on their own.
Yeah, yeah, I had such a similar experience. You know, my mom died in 1997. I was 18. So I entered into my 20s my father died when I was 25, which was in 2003. So I was in my 20s, too, with like, you know, very, like, no one was telling me how to go through grief. A lot of the grown-ups in my life are like, you’ll be fine. You had them long enough, you’ll be fine. You’re an adult now, you’ll be fine. We were dyslexic about this the other day. And, and then my friends, it was my friends, my 20 Something friends, these like fuckup friends of mine who don’t know anything, how to do anything, either, who were the ones that were like, Claire, we’re going to help you, you know, get your shit together.
Marisa Renee Lee 16:29
And it’s so crazy when, like when I looked back, you know, it was everything from I knew, I assumed I actually didn’t end up doing it. But I assumed at some point during my mother’s funeral, I would cry. So I wanted waterproof makeup. Because if I was going to cry at my mom’s funeral, it wasn’t going to also look like shit.
I also heard this line from your book. Do you want to say it for me?
Marisa Renee Lee
Well, this girlfriend of mine, she’s white with blond hair and blue eyes. She went to Sephora and you know, picked out everything I needed for my face somehow. And like some of the products I still use, you know, I’m like, I don’t know how that worked out. But it worked out perfectly. So yeah, they did everything with my mom’s funeral, I had a very specific vision in mind, like that image of Jackie Kennedy, standing at the side of the road as like her husband’s casket, parades by, you know, with her little kids, saluting their father, like that was if you know if there was going to be a vision board for my mother’s funeral, like that picture was at the center of it. And when the church that we were attending at the time, sent me options for funeral programs, and they were some of the ugliest things I’ve ever seen in my life. Like, just cheesy religious imagery. I mean, it was just it pained me physically. My girlfriend’s stepped in, they’re like, oh, we’ll design our own programs, you know, we got this. And I never thought about how they were going to print these programs until I walked into a hotel room, where a bunch of them were staying one afternoon and they had borrowed a printer from Staples. So like your people, even if they don’t share your experiences, they can still be your people when those crisis moments come up.
Can we go back for just a minute to something you said a few minutes ago about this support group that you know your mom wanted you guys to go to and say that you kind of looked at these people as pedophile and I had this flash of a such a similar experience for myself. I remember, you know, when my mom was sick and all of our years of cancer, I was so angry and I mean, I was a teenager wearing combat boots with a shaved head and a nose ring. This must be noted. I was really pissed. I just felt like angry. I felt like my mom was giving up I felt like all these people in these support groups who were like, trying to encourage me to grieve or giving up and it took me some time after she died to kind of work through some of the guilt of like, wow, she was really sick. I don’t think she was giving up I think she was trying really hard. But now you know 25 years later after her death I’ve been in the end-of-life space for a long time. And I just see a lot of flaws with the end-of-life space in the medical community in this country and a lot of ill preparation for end of life and a lot of not embracing end of life a lot of looking at this as a failure as pitiful like no you gotta keep fighting you gotta keep you know going after this battling that cancer, you know, like the words we use around it. And at the same time, now that I’ve worked in hospice and end of life, and I had a very different experience with my father’s death, I see a lot of missed opportunities to actually embrace end of life that aren’t pitiful, and that aren’t weak in the ways that I perceived when I was a teenager, and I’m wondering what your thoughts are on that?
Marisa Renee Lee 20:19
Yeah, so I mean, first of all, I agree. 100%, I think that as a society, you know, like, and when I say society, I’m talking traditional American society, which I see as something that’s dominated by white supremacy and capitalism, like, I feel like we’ve come to this place where as you age, you are viewed as, you know, kind of declining in value, like, frankly, you know, whereas in other cultures and other societies, the elderly are, like, revered, and supported and embraced by their families and their communities. And the end of life is something that is accepted and celebrated and talked about more openly, but I feel like because we don’t talk about it, we don’t embrace it, and we choose to kind of keep it out of sight, it makes it a lot harder to make it beautiful, you know, like, there aren’t as many opportunities, the way that we tend to function culturally around death, to take a moment to really process what’s happening, to empower and support people as they’re transitioning. Like, there just isn’t, there isn’t enough of that. And it’s a real, it’s a real missed opportunity. And I, you know, even at, you know, 24 years old, like, I wanted to make sure that my mom got what she wanted, like, that was my priority around her death. You know, like, I may have been wracked with all sorts of emotions and anxiety, etc. But my priority was, you know, you only do this life once. This is it, you know, what is going to give her the most peace, so that she can transition graciously. That was, you know, like, even though I was basically a kid, and I feel like, we often aren’t given the opportunities to even think about what that means or what that might look like.
Yeah. I think if we were to have more reverence for end life, if we were to be teaching younger generations to really respect and care for our elderly, and to, you know, when I was working at hospice, I was pregnant with my first child, where I was spending my days driving around to all these homes where people were actively leaving and dying, and the families were helping them do it and everything was so shrouded in silence and quiet and fear and anxiety. And then on the flip side, I was had this growing belly, and everyone was in the Midwest, so they just kept throwing me baby shower after baby shower. And I had a, you know, a doula, and a midwife, had all this preparation and celebration for bringing someone into the world, and was actively working in this space of end of life where we just didn’t have the reverence, we didn’t have the respect, we didn’t have anything we were doing to really support this community when someone is going through this. And I just could not stop looking at the juxtaposition of these two, you know, and it’s something I just think about all the time in my work today.
Marisa Renee Lee
Well, yeah, because and, obviously, you know, as I was finishing up grief is love. My husband and I, after five years of IVF, and pregnancy loss and infertility and adoption paperwork, we welcomed our baby boy Bennett in a whirlwind 24-hour period. I mean, you and me both, his arrival was like, it was like a smack in the face all of a sudden here’s this kid. And because I was spending so much time, you know, both being just overwhelmed as a new mother and finishing up the book, I kept reflecting on the difference in approach to your point, you know, the beginning of life versus the end of life. You know, why do we expect people to get over it when somebody dies? As opposed to adapting to the loss? Like you don’t when someone has a baby, you’re not like, okay, okay, moving on, get over it. You expect them to adapt to the demands and requirements of parenthood, and then to continue celebrating them, yes. And there are tons of supports for that, you know, whether it’s lactation consultants or you know, baby showers or you know, whatever, like there’s lots of stuff celebration and support opportunities, we don’t have the same thing institutionalized around end of life and death. And I think that’s really unfortunate because it leaves people so unprepared that when it happens, the shock of it makes them think that there’s something wrong with them, because we don’t talk about it, because we don’t have these, you know, like real institutionalized mechanisms for support. And like, adaptation, like we just don’t have it.
Well, tell us about grief is love, it will be out by the time this podcast airs, and I’m holding a copy in my hands. I’m so excited about this book, it is so needed on the grief shelf, you know, so tell me about writing this book, and what readers can expect?
Marisa Renee Lee
Oh, man, this book was a journey. When my husband and I lost a pregnancy in 2019. It brought me right back to those early moments of grief after my mom died. And you know, in that moment, all I wanted was a woman who had been dead for over a decade. And a couple months after we lost our pregnancy, the pandemic hit. And so I was suddenly stuck in this place where I was still physically unwell. I didn’t have the baby or like the pregnancy that I had been planning and saving for years, I didn’t know what the path forward was going to look like for us on that front at the time. And I didn’t have my mom. And I realized through all of that, you know, you don’t get over it. Like our whole framing around a loss is just not right. And I decided that I was committing to not getting over it. And instead, I was going to shift my framing to, you know, what does it look like to continue to live this full life, that also leaves space for acknowledging the things that I’ve lost. And so the overarching sentiment is that you don’t get over it, you’re not supposed to get over it. But here’s what has helped me live with grief over time, and have, you know, a happy, joyful, fun life. You know, when I think about what I most want people to walk away with from this book, it’s the idea that there is nothing wrong with you, you know, if you are struggling on and off for months, years, decades after losing someone that is okay, like you just have to decide what you need in order to live with the grief.
with the grief. Yeah, yeah, it’s not about giving up the grief or getting over it, and then being happy. It’s about both, you know, it’s about learning how to live with loss, like you’re saying, and create a meaningful life, be happy, and also always be missing this person and always still be wishing they were here, you know? I think that as writers, we write the books that we want it, you know, that we wanted to read. And I know that that was this book for you. And I, you know, my books have been that, for me, my anxiety, the missing stage of grief was the book I really needed after my mom died. But one of the things that I think is so important about this book that you do is you write about the Black experience of grief, which is that out there, you know, like it’s just, it’s such a White dominated clinical world of grief and white male dominated, you know? There’s lots of white women though out there, you know, like me doing the grief. But there’s not enough about the Black experience of grief and obviously many other cultures as well. But can I read a little section from this? You write. As I contemplated the nature of Black grief in particular, I wound up in a public conversation on Instagram with Sabrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin. Sabrina suffered deep personal grief as a direct result of racism and white supremacy when her son was killed by a White vigilante in 2012. During our chat, when I asked her how she continues to cope with her loss, Sabrina said, I still love my son, and I know my son still loves me. Oh, I get chills. I know. I knew my mom loved me and I loved my mom. But I wonder to myself, could I carry that love into the present tense, and is love the path to resiliency after death? Instead of getting over it, we stay in it. We keep loving our people in the present tense and that is how we live with the pain of loss. And for black people, loving ourselves deeply loving ourselves, no matter what is how we live with the pain of racism. Grief is love and love is the antidote to grief.
Marisa Renee Lee
I mean, I just have to tell you, that conversation happened a few weeks after George Floyd’s murder. And at the time, you know, obviously, I was dealing with my own grief, we were all dealing with the pandemic grief. And then there were all of these conversations happening around racism, Black Lives Matter, police reform, etc. And I mean, again, I just had to write my way through it, because it was a lot, especially when so many of the things that I personally would normally access as like a pick me up, we’re no longer available because of the pandemic. Oh, and did I mention, you know, my husband was working on the front lines of said pandemic, so coming home every day, hoping to not get either one of us sick and the stress. I mean, it was a lot. And so I wrote about it. And I ended up reaching out to a few folks for online conversations on Instagram on sort of the nature of Black grief, and also Black joy. And I saw Sabrina just regularly consoling parents of other children who were victims of police violence in that moment, you know, whether it was Breanna Taylor’s family or George Floyd’s family, and just like being very public, you know, constantly on CNN and MSNBC and doing all these things. And I asked her, you know, why are you doing all of this? Like, how does this connect to, you know, your son and his legacy, because you don’t owe us anything. Like, we have taken the most precious thing in the world from you. Like, you don’t owe this country you don’t owe any of these talking heads, any of these organizations, like you don’t owe anyone anything, you could literally just be in your bed under the covers for the rest of your days. And that would be perfectly acceptable. And she said, Well, you know, I know how much pain they’re in. And it helps me by being a support to them. And then when I asked her, you know, like, how do you continue to cope with this loss? That’s when she said that piece about, you know, I love my son, and my son still loves me. And I was sitting in his office, and I just instant goosebumps. And I was just like, this woman, she’s such a gift. And then for her to have that framing around her loss, I was like, wow, well, she has clearly figured something out here. Like, how can I apply what I’ve just learned to my life and what I what I’ve learned through the process of working on this book, and you know, something that was important to me to have it not just be my story and my lessons, but to have it all grounded in data and research. And there is this theory called the continuing bonds theory of attachment that basically states that when you have one of these types of foundational relationships, you know, parent, a child, a spouse, a sibling, etc. Like the mark of the love that you have shared with this person, like that stays on your brain that doesn’t go away that isn’t erased by death. So like, truly, there is nothing for you to get over. There is just this ongoing process of adaptation and adjustment. Like that’s really all you can do is continue to learn how to live your life in the midst of a significant absence.
But going back to the Black experience of grief, I was thinking about how during the pandemic, when the pandemic first came on, everyone was asking me all the news, people and the, you know, interviews I was doing, can you grieve for other things besides people? Like, yes, we can grieve for all kinds of things. We can grieve for loss of a job, we can grieve divorce, we can grieve our kids being home, but I feel like Black people in this country know a kind of grief that they’ve been experiencing for a long time. You know, that is of course the answer to that question. And I would love to hear kind of your thoughts around that. You touched on it a bit in the book.
Marisa Renee Lee
Yeah, so, first of all, I’ve never seen the George Floyd video. I felt like I had no reason to watch it. You know, I believed that it happened from the moment I heard about it. I didn’t need to physically see the evidence and have to Live with those images in my brain for the rest of my life. But what and so like, when I first heard that had happened, you know, my initial response was well, you know, that’s America, that just, that’s there’s nothing, there’s nothing about it that was surprising or shocking. And generally that, I mean, that was the experience of, you know, pretty much every black person I talked to like, this is tragic and heartbreaking, and obviously, morally reprehensible and completely wrong, but not shocking, because that’s what we’ve come to expect as normal. In this country, for the experience that Black people have here, like that, you know, that just kind of comes with the territory type thing. And as I sat with it more, because I was, and while I wasn’t surprised, I can’t also say that I wasn’t affected by it, you know, like, I was hysterical, you know, like it is still deeply upsetting, even when it happens to somebody else, because it’s always a reminder that it could have been you, or like, it could have been your father, your brother, your spouse, etc. And so, as I was forced to just like, again, sit with all of these feelings, I realized that racism is this other separate thing, that Black people always have to grieve. And it is also something that makes grief harder, because I think that grief, to really like, let yourself go and be fully impacted by the many emotions and things that come up when you’re grieving, that requires some degree of vulnerability.
Marisa Renee Lee 36:56
And vulnerability is difficult, or at times, you know, literally impossible to access, if you don’t feel safe. So like, how can you grieve? Like fully and you know, really let yourself go let yourself fall apart of it. If you are forced to live in fear, you know, like, while we were watching Black people regularly get killed, or in the case of someone like Jacob Blake almost killed by police during that summer, we were also watching them die at disproportionate rates to COVID. Right, you know, like that, like, it’s almost like, if you’re black, there is no end to the grief, like whether it is state sanctioned violence, or the fact that you are more likely to die from more things at an earlier age, because of our healthcare system. And like, because of the way that our country is structured, like you are constantly being called to grieve something, either someone’s actual life or something else as a result of racism and White supremacy. And it’s just a lot, you know, when you stop to think about it, the grief is always layered with this other piece, you know, even around my pregnancy loss, the whole process that we went through for years, trying to get pregnant, you know, spending 10s of 1000s of dollars going to fancy fertility clinics, like, the only time I ever saw other Black people was if they were drawing my blood, or you know, working as one of the nurses like there, I never saw them also being treated. Because like to even have that experience of that loss. Like, you have to have a certain amount of privilege to begin with. So like it just, it’s everywhere. And I think it’s important for people to even people like myself, you know, as a Black woman, to recognize my relative privilege when it comes to being Black in America.
Well, I’m so glad that you are putting this book out there are that you’re talking about these things. I think the you know, the thing that you said that really hits home for me is just this truth that we cannot grieve when we do not feel safe, you know, like we cannot fully grieve and you know what a disservice that does to ourselves to not be able to fully grieve, but all the ways in which we can’t get there, you know?
Marisa Renee Lee
Yeah, it’s a disservice to ourselves to whole communities. Because, you know, and I mean, obviously, given your expertise, you know what happens when grief and trauma go on acknowledged and unsupported. Like it doesn’t go away.
Yeah. No, it doesn’t. Okay, last question. Tell me, what your mama think of how you’re doing right now with going on?
Marisa Renee Lee 40:05
Oh, gosh, I think she would think I’m doing great, but that I do need to find a way to have more fun and get more rest. Like she would want to be making sure that I am celebrating as much as possible and enjoying this moment. I mean, you know, this book is something that has been in my head since six months after she died, you know, and by the time it comes out, it’ll have been almost 14 years in the making. I just felt so overwhelmed by the experience of losing her that I felt like I needed to, at some point, make sure people understand what grief really is. And it’s taken 14 years for me to get to this point where I feel like I have a decent understanding. So I just I hope that it helps other people.
She would be so proud of you, Marissa. This book is so important. And it’s just such a powerful book and I’m so profoundly grateful to you for coming on the show for writing it, for speaking all of these things and for texting me pictures of Bennett.
Marisa Renee Lee
I can continue to hook you up with us. But thank you so much for having me. I’m glad we got to have this conversation.
Me too. All right. Best of luck with the book.
Marisa Renee Lee
Marisa Renee Lee’s new book is called Grief Is Love. And even though grief is different for different people, it’s also such an incredibly connecting experience. During our conversation today, I thought so much about us as young girls trying to find our way into the world without our moms. I thought about our moms too, and what they would think of us now. I know they would be proud. This week’s practice is about processing and creating space for grief for yourself and your loved ones. And it’s about taking a look at the cultural messages you’ve received about grief, and asking yourself if they even apply to you. All too often, we receive the message that we need to move through our grief more quickly than is actually possible. So I want you to consider if you’ve shortchanged your grief process in any way, have you tried to hurry through it or push it away because that’s what you thought you were supposed to do? Don’t. Instead, try to create opportunities to open yourself up to any grief you may be carrying, not just the loss of a person. You might be grieving job loss, your health, the pandemic racial injustice, carve out some time this week to let yourself grieve. Set aside an afternoon or evening when you can just let yourself feel your grief. Here are a few ways you can do it. Take a bath and let yourself cry. Listen to some music that helps you get in touch with any sadness you’re carrying. Look through old photos or memory books. Write about your grief in a journal or write a letter to the person you lost. Talk to a friend or family member about your grief. Whatever it is, take the time. Give yourself that time and really sit with it. Above all, remember that grief is a process all of us go through in our lives. Be kind to yourself, get support and seek out the available resources that resonate with you. There are finally ones out there for many more of us. For more resources on grief, definitely pick up a copy of Marissa his new book grief is love. You could also check out more grief books by black authors like notes on grief by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, black widow, a sad funny journey through grief for people who normally avoid books with words like journey and the title by Leslie Gray Streeter and soul healing a guided journal for black women prompts to help you reflect, grow and embrace your power by Sharon Lin. And if you’re curious to read a little more about the woman behind those initial five stages, Elisabeth Kubler Ross his memoir Wheel of Life is a fascinating take on the work she did in this world. As always, thank you for listening. Remember, you’ll soon even more New Day to listen to each week. More on that soon. And if you get a chance, send me a question through my new online forum at bit.ly/nowadays, it’s totally anonymous. You can literally ask me anything and you can find the link in the show notes. Or if you just want to tell me about one of your weekly practices, call and leave me a voicemail at 8334-LEMONADA, that’s 833-453-6662, or email me at email@example.com
NEW DAY is a Lemonada Media Original. The show is produced by Kryssy Pease and Erianna Jiles. Kat Yore is our engineer. Music is by Hannis Brown. Our VP of weekly content is Steve Nelson. And our executive producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer, and me, Claire Bidwell Smith. NEW DAY is produced in partnership with the Well Being Trust, The Jed Foundation and Education Development Center. Help others find our show by leaving us a rating and writing a review. Follow us at @LemonadaMedia across all social platforms, or find me at clairebidwellsmith.com. Join our Facebook group to connect with me and fellow NEW DAY listeners at facebook.com/groups/newdaypod. You can also get bonus content and behind the scenes material by subscribing to Lemonada Premium on Apple podcasts. Thanks for listening. See you next week.