Becoming an Adult Orphan Has Taught Me the Importance of Self-Care

Becoming an Adult Orphan Has Taught Me the Importance of Self-Care (Digital illustration by Stephanie (@creating.etc) of photo from Ashley L. Fields)

Dallas, TX2019 marks tremendous loss in my life, losing both my dad and mom. Navigating my twenties as an only child adult orphan is overwhelming and physically hurts. I developed something called ‘grief brain.’ It’s when you experience fatigue, confusion, migraines, memory loss, short attention span, anxiety, insomnia and the inability to process. I ignored my grief by staying busy, working, exercising and not thinking about that year. The more I did this, the more my body physically continued to breakdown. I became so unwell that I took a leave of absence from my job, left my hometown and moved back to Texas a couple weeks before the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown. Giving my grief the space it needed, and freeing it, allowed my healing journey to begin. 

I want to share ways to practice self-care that have been beneficial for me while grieving.

I move my body 

I tend to hold on to negative emotions like sadness, anger, guilt and even fear, causing physical pain in the body. As a former track and field student-athlete, it is important to support my body with mindful movement versus working out for a high-intensity workout. Taking a moment to connect with and listen to what my body feels and needs while being cautious and not overdoing it. I move every day. Whether it be through running, taking long walks, yoga, stretching and even dancing, I am able to release and move grief out of my body.

I practice self-compassion and extend compassion to others 

It is essential to develop ways to meet and nurture our moments of pain. There are three ways that helped me foster self-compassion and honor what I am going through: First, acknowledgment — taking a moment to bring attention and awareness to my moment of suffering while also remembering that I am not alone in this grief journey. Second, I am discovering simple ways to self-soothe. My favorites include: humming, rocking and hugging myself, journaling, meditating, reading and breathing outside air. Lastly, I am my own cheerleader by celebrating my accomplishments and wins, no matter the size. 

Through affirmations I am able to transform negative self-talk that places blame and passes judgment. Here are some affirmations I use. I say them out loud and in front of a mirror:  

  • I am releasing self-doubt, bye!
  • I am powerful
  • I am safe and protected by my angel parents

I became a plant mom

Tending to my plants using my sense of touch, smell, sight and even taste (in some cases) serves as a grounding technique. Being a plant mom of 13 restores my hope for tomorrow and survival. Similar to my grief, my plants need nourishment, sunlight, hydration and space. Nurturing my plants reminds me that there are seasons where flowers are dormant, but the roots underneath the soil still need tending and love to maintain their strong foundation. 

I shifted my perspective about death

The sudden death of my parents led me to believe that death was a cruel and usual punishment that takes loved ones without warning. My dad was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in February of 2019 and passed away less than a month later, the day before his first chemotherapy treatment. My mom lived to celebrate her 62nd birthday but passed away a few weeks later. 

Understanding the cycle of life and death and how it is a natural and beautiful process helps me. Their death doesn’t end our relationship but transforms it. Maya Angelou said, “This is a wonderful day, I have never seen this one before.” I love this wisdom because it reminds me to greet life each day because the next one isn’t promised. Appreciate each moment that we are alive and live life like it matters. 

I celebrate my parents legacy 

Everyday I find ways to honor, celebrate and reflect on my parents life in a variety of ways:

  • My mom’s favorite color is purple so in her honor it is my exclusive nail polish color. 
  • I wear my dad’s ring.
  • I incorporated their wardrobe and style into my own. 
  • I display lots of family pictures — on my wallpaper, around my apartment, and even in the car.
  • I have four memorial tattoos, the title of the song my parents dedicated to me, “Keep On” by D-Train written in my dad’s handwriting, my mom’s favorite flower [lily], a monarch butterfly and a simple ocean wave. 
  • The flag my mom and I were presented in honor of my dad’s service in the Navy is in a customized display case on my bookshelf.
  • I kept my dad’s Rav 4 to use as my vehicle. 
  • I recreate their famous dishes and favorite foods in the kitchen.
  • I will continue to say their names and share favorite memories. 

I found community 

I became unable to relate to my friends and family after my parents passed, as no one had experienced that magnitude of loss. I wanted to be part of a community that could relate and support me. The coronavirus pandemic, lockdown and isolation birthed Orphan•ish, my Instagram online community and blog that serves as a safe space to normalize compassionate conversations and curious thoughts around grief and loss. Connecting with other adult orphans and grievers made me not feel so alone. 

Finding a therapist who looked like me, a Black woman, and had expertise in grief and loss was important. It was a bonus when I learned my therapist was also an adult orphan like myself. My current therapist and I meet virtually twice a week and I always feel heard and seen after my session.

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