I know Mother’s Day just passed and most of us were caught up in festivities of merriment with our moms and/ or our children. There were brunches and beautiful bunches of flowers and boxes of gooey chocolates all happily served-up in celebration of mothers. All day long though I couldn’t stop thinking about Lashanda Armstrong, the 25-year old single mom who, exactly a month ago today, drove her mini-van down a boat ramp ending her life and the lives of three of her four children. I can’t imagine what was going through her mind as she lifted her foot off the brake and the car begin to sink. We know from the account of her son, La’Shaun, who survived that she had second thoughts, but it’s her first mind of reasoning that I find so heartbreakingly sad and scary. At first I was angry at her for killing her children just because she found out her babies daddy was cheating on her. I felt she didn’t live up to her bargain as a mother. But then I really thought about Lashanda at the tender age of 25 with four children and no job and my anger melted into compassion and sympathy. She clearly was a woman on the edge and no one was there to pull her back. That type of anguish leaves me shook. And then I think about La’Shaun and how confused he must have been when the car started filling with water and how terrified he must have been when his mother said they were all going to die and how resilient he was to get free and swim through 45-degree murky waters to live to tell. He survived but the pain his mother endured will now surely consume his life if he doesn’t get therapy.
And he’s not the only one. So many of us need to get out of our amen corners, stop fronting and talk about our pain. Black folks especially have this silence around topics of molestation, rape, abuse, domestic violence, divorce and death and whatever else drives us to cold, solitary corners of regret, depression, drub abuse, loneliness, and obesity. Black pain. I know about this pain. After a year of my dad being sick and in the hospital and him sharing with me that he was not ready to die my spirit shattered into a million fractured pieces of helplessness, anger, frustration and deep sadness. While in this valley I admitted to someone that I was depressed. “Stop it Nicole. You’re too blessed to be depressed,” he quipped. “You’re just sad and tired.” From that day on I kept my mouth shut and my pain to myself. I thought that maybe he was right. Maybe I was just being over dramatic. And just like that I too assumed a pattern of silence and kept up appearances cuz Black women are supposed to be strong, right?
“What these women don’t realize is that, by keeping the trauma a secret, they’re not only sowing the seeds of depression but preventing themselves from growing emotionally. Trauma doesn’t go away if you push it to the back of your mind. It comes back stronger through another door.” -Terrie Williams, “Black Pain”
I love Terrie’s book Black Pain. The subtitle says it all, “It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting.” Cop this book! Life can be hard and this book provides a very intimate and insightful look at navigating the pitfalls of emotional pain.
Thank God I had another friend who could not stop raving about his life counselor and how she helped him understand and grapple with the particular hurt in his life. I went to her for a year and she saved me. End of story. Just talking about my fears, regrets and what grieved me so, liberated me. I know mama said don’t air your dirty laundry, but things have changed and emotional pain, depression and hurt is killing our people. So if need be, hang your soiled thongs on the clothesline. It’s okay. It’s better than suffering alone. If we can be driven to the margins of despair and to the bottom of the Hudson, then can’t we as a family and as a community, pull ourselves and those we love, especially mothers, back to the center of understanding and happiness? I believe that we can. I’m a witness to that. Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar said it best: “The battle to me is a matter of joy. It is a battle for the reclamation of the human personality.”