Oooh, how I laughed when I saw this one. Yet, if 2020 walked so 2021 could run, what are we gonna do? Learn from last year and plan our escape route? I can tell you that I for one have no plans at all, I have no idea how I’m going to get from a to b. I’m learning to trust my gut, drive off road for a bit and take one day at a time.
Telling you this is a huge move for me. You see, as much as I like to dance outside of the lines when it comes to my ideas, I’m a habitual planner. Planning helps me feel safe.
Last year, like so many of you, I had big plans. My youngest was going to start Kinder, and I was excited about all the time I’d have to launch my newsletter, write more articles and finally start writing my book. I even created a daily schedule where I’d cram three hours of work per day in after helping my 5 and 7 year old limp through their distance schooling.
By February, my planner was a memento of my perpetual failure, but I love a challenge, so rather than reviewing my ridiculous plan, I doubled down, scrounging 30 minutes here and 5 minutes there to meet my deadlines.
Then 2020 doubled down on me, when my dad died in April.
That was less than a month after quarantines and travel bans were announced in London, the place I was raised, Los Angeles, the place I live and Ghana, where my family is from. I couldn’t be with my family and there was a very real possibility that I couldn’t go to Dad’s funeral. I’d have no say in saying my final goodbye to my pops, the one thing I’d always expected I’d be able to do.
WORKING THROUGH MY PAIN
I wasn’t OK with any of that. Dad and I were close. We often laughed at things that no one else spotted, and just like him – or because of him – I’m a dreamer. He’d often urge me to ‘organize yourself properly,’ in that lyrical Ghana-London accent of his, when I was faced with a challenge. With him gone, I felt the ground shifting underneath me and that fear paralyzed me. I should have taken that as a sign to channel my inner Elsa and let it go.
Before I continue, let me say this: While traditionally we Ghanaians have eight days to mourn our loved ones, I don’t recall my parents, who immigrated to England in the 70s, ever doing that. I do remember them having to make sure they had enough money to cover their bills in the UK and support their families in their native land. I remember watching my broken mother waking up at the crack of dawn to get ready for work, hours after she’d learned – by phone – that her own father had died. She never once thought about calling her bosses to say that she ‘needed a minute.’ She had a schedule, and life had a plan. She had to stick with it. Mum reminded me just recently that her bosses demanded she went home to grieve her loss.
So, decades later, when history repeated itself, this time, putting me in mum’s place, I was marginally kinder to myself. I cried in bed for a day or two, by day three, I was writing in my journal and listening to old interviews with dad. By day six, my Sista Brunch co-hosts were shutting my suggestions of returning to the show down in the most loving of ways, ‘you need time to heal,’ show co-host Fanshen Cox urged.
I knew she was right, but in my head, all I could hear was Ronald Isley singing, ‘Oh, I’m out here trying to make it.’ And I had extra motivation: I wanted to keep Dad alive through my words. So, I did what I knew best: created a play to stay productive though my grief. All of a sudden, what I achieved during those three hours became critical to my well being. I squeezed as much writing, interviewing and podcasting into those three hours. The schedule was working so well, that I even took a memoir writing workshop. But I was working on fumes; I developed with a sharp ache in my neck, and promptly wrote it off as stress.
THE BIG REVEAL
Then, in October, my body decided she’d had enough. I was stunned awake one October morning by an intense pain that felt like an angry hedgehog trying to punch its way out of my throat. The angry lump in my throat made swallowing tortuous; cool water felt like hot pokers scraping down my throat. Speaking was a non-starter.
My attempts to plan my way through my grief had rendered me, a woman of words, literally speech-less.
Because I can’t take a hint, I only called the doctor two days after the first shock. Convinced I was dealing with just a little stress, I applied some poppin’ lip gloss, to cover my pale and chapped lips (and shattered nerves.) The doctor saw right through it, even via the video chat. After he diagnosed me with a suspected abscess on my tonsil, he cocked his head to the side and mused, “you know, there are minimizers and are maximizers. And mothers of younger kids tend to be minimizers.” His lilting voice was filled with the concern of a close friend leading an intervention. His sympathetic brown eyes were less reticent.
It took me a moment to catch up with what he was really telling me. WHen the penny dropped I felt exposed and stupid. “It’s OK to say when you’re in pain.” He continued, catching me off guard again. I hadn’t told him about dad, but his words gave me permission to let go.
I had to stop trying to produce my way out of my grief. I had to let go of my plans, and give in and do what 2020 was demanding of us all:
Let (It) Go.
So, here I am today years-old telling you that I’m learning to be OK with the idea of not having a plan. I’m not entirely comfortable with this new reality, but I do know that I’ll engage with it every day, by not looking for a roadmap for success. YEs, I still want that book (claiming it!) and that column (claiming it!) How I get there is another matter. All I can do is write about what I know authentically, which means you’ll get a bit of everything here; the smart stuff, the ignorant stuff, the silly stuff. All the stuff that I love. I hope you’ll follow me on this journey, by checking out my blog and signing up for my newsletter. I’d love to have you along for the ride!
Photo by Christabel Nsiah-Buadi