On the day my mother died, I was living 3,000 miles away in California with my now ex-boyfriend. Life was marching along normally, with the biggest worry in the forefront of my mind being my love life and which 60-inch TV I should buy for our home.
On September 11, 2001, that all changed. My mother, Joan Donna Griffith, headed to work like everyone else at Fiduciary Trust on the 97th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. She was the assistant vice president and office manager for the company.
Early in the morning, on my newly purchased TV, I watched the towers fall in front of my eyes, not knowing if my mother was inside or near the incident. My entire body went numb as I waited helplessly for answers. I navigated my fears alone — separated from my entire family since air travel was suspended for the nation. My only solace was my coworkers who helped keep me above water as I teetered on the verge of total disconnection, drowning in my own grief. The one person I needed the most to pull me out of this deep pain was my mother.
And she was gone.
My mother was our family’s rock. She was a counselor, a confidant, a coach, and a friend. What I miss most is being able to call her and ask for advice, to hear her suggestions on how to tackle my problems or how to accomplish my goals.
Without her here, I had to learn to mentor and encourage myself. And through that walk I learned key principles I will carry with me as long as I live.
The first lesson I had to learn was self-care. It was necessary for my survival. When I lost my mother I spun out of control in many ways. I drank excessively and made questionable decisions, all before I started counseling. Working with counselors gave me the tools and strategies to navigate through life rather than being resistant or hiding from it. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help, and incorporate practices in your life that keep you grounded, happy, and healthy.
Along with self-care comes the process of eliminating things from your life that no longer serve you.
My mother’s last words to me were, “If you don’t love him, don’t marry him.” She was talking about my then-boyfriend whom I actually didn’t love, but was too stubborn and lacked the maturity to end the relationship. To this day, I’m not sure if I would’ve ended my relationship if not for my mother’s death.
The lesson carried over to my professional life as well: I have had work situations and volunteer responsibilities that have caused me more stress than I care to admit and in many cases drained me rather than helped me to advance toward my goals. Listen to your gut — as scary as it may seem, if it doesn’t feel right, let it go and move on.
Once you develop gut wisdom, suddenly you aren’t as afraid of your own voice. Like many of us, I cared very deeply about being liked and many times that required me to make myself small or compromise my authentic self, both in relationships and at work. I now know that personally and professionally, I am doing a major disservice to myself and the people I interact with if I am not showing up as my entire self — with needs, wants, and opinions.
Showing up fully as myself is how I honor my mother’s legacy every day. I require this of myself because I know she would’ve wanted me to be impactful in my home, my community, and successful in my career. With such a high standard to live up to, I tend to feel overwhelmed frequently. In these times I have to remind myself that I am human and it won’t serve anyone if I drain myself. I aim to do my best and forgive myself when I fall short.
As I navigate all these lessons, from self-care to forgiveness to authenticity, there is one last nugget of growth I need to keep me grounded: Remember what is important, and have fun. When you have a lot of plates in the air, it can be hard to remember priorities. Above all, my mother’s life and death remind me there is nothing more important than family and friends. As much as I am energized by the work I do as an entrepreneur and the impact I want to have as a leader, I try to always make the time I have with family and friends count. I also make it a point to infuse fun in everything I do because I know life is short — losing my mother shocked me into being present in every day, and making the most out of every one that I get. So each day I try to be present in the present, but always keep my eyes on the future.
Paula T. Edgar Esq. is founder and principal of PGE LLC, a consulting firm that specializes in professional development, coaching, social media strategy, and diversity and inclusion. A civic leader and President of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, she received her B.A. in Anthropology from the California State University Fullerton and her J.D. from CUNY School of Law. Connect with Paula on Twitter @Paulaedgar and at www.paulaedgar.com
PHOTO CREDIT: Paula Edgar