“Lessons in Love and Loss”
Guest Writer: LaToya Hankins
Greetings, veteran Hot Tea and Ice Sippers–and those new to the blend of wisdom I offer! It has been more than a minute since my words graced this space. A lot has happened to me: some good, some bad, and some I haven’t quite figured out—and how exactly to understand the lessons I learned.
Two events I am still processing occurred within weeks of each other during the waning weeks of 2018. The first: after more than ninety years on this Earth, my oldest great-aunt joined her ancestors. Her departure three weeks before Christmas took place at home, surrounded by her family.
The second was the loss of my dog, Neo. He had been part of my world for more than fifteen years, and as to be expected, our time together was destined to end sooner than later. The week before Christmas, Neo “returned to the source,” cradled in my arms.
I have considered myself lucky that death’s visits to my world were somewhat spaced out; however, as you can imagine, experiencing two losses so close together shook me.
I credit my partner for keeping me going. Without her compassion and providing a listening ear and loving heart, I doubt I would have fared as well during the holiday season.
Now we are in a new year and time is marching on, which requires me to reconcile my feelings. The lessons I learned about myself is that as much as loss can rock the soul, the power of the love tied to it can knit what has been ripped asunder.Those of us dealing with losing someone or something precious in the preceding months must find our way forward. We need to find a way to let go of the pain and anguish holding us back from embracing what is waiting.
My great-aunt was a woman of her times. She was a housewife who never worked outside her home and bore nine children. She earned a cosmetology degree but never used it beyond doing her children’s and her own hair.
Yet, she was also an entrepreneur who sold Avon for more than thirty years. From her back porch, she also sold candy and icy treats known as “frozen cups.” My aunt was a long-standing church member who it seemed everyone knew–and she knew them. Her impact in my small coastal hometown was such that when her children threw her a ninetieth birthday party, the mayor presented her with a key to the city. There would never be another LI, as she was known to her family.
Her life taught me the way you live your life is the currency people use when they pay tribute to you in death. She instilled in her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren the following: carve their niche in the world and to never forget the value and importance of valuing yourself. She made of point of dressing up every day with full make-up and coordinating outfits because that what she enjoyed doing, and it made her feel special. While I mourn her not being here in the physical, I celebrate the lessons she left behind.
Neo was my longest relationship and the only male I shared a home with beyond my family. He was there for my joys and sadness and offered me the non-judgmental love only a pet can provide in many cases. He was a faithful companion and TV western watching buddy to my mother. He provided her comfort, and for that I am grateful. He taught me the value of being there for others and acceptance without judgment.
The fact my great-aunt and pet died so close to each other toward the end of last year isn’t lost on me. Too often we hold on to things, people, and situations because they provide us comfort and impart life lessons. We don’t sense the way they shape us for the better–until they are no longer there.
The absence leaves us stunned and not sure how to move forward. We have to learn to look inwardly and pull forth those lessons to move forward. We honor the lessons of those who have departed from us by moving–and not dwelling–in the hurt that they are no longer here.
Grief operates on its schedule, so give yourself permission to process it until it is appropriate to move on, and when it is time to open your hands and hearts to fully to grasp what waits.
Until next time, “Adios, au revoir and I “holla!”
LaToya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. Currently, LaToya is an employee of the State of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services department. Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade in the field of journalism. An East Carolina University graduate, LaToya earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a minor in political science.
During her college career, LaToya became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and currently is the president of the Chapel Hill, N.C. graduate chapter. As well, she is an active member of the, The Black Lesbian Literary Collective,a non-profit organization organized in N.C. The Collective’s mission is to create a nurturing and sustainable environment for Black lesbian and queer women of color writers.