Heather Nurse’s Recipe for Healing
My Daddy became an Ancestor 10 years ago today. Grief really ebbs and flows. Some days it is invisible, untouchable, flat. I don’t see it, feel it, or experience it. Other days it shows up in my heart, in the grinding of my teeth, in everything I smell, hear, it is dynamic, and all-consuming. Around midnight I felt the heaviness of grief. I remembered it was around the same time my Daddy began his unexpected transition. I cried around midnight and the grief felt like a weight upon my chest. But then the moment passed. The loss doesn’t get easier. It’s navigating the grief that gets easier over time. The song, “Better Days” by Dianne Reeves comes to mind. “You can’t get to no better days until you make it through the night.” With time, with healing, with self-care rituals, with compassion, with understanding, it becomes easier to make it through the nights of grief.
Grief doesn’t just show up for us when someone passes. Grief shows up when we end relationships, when we are estranged or have strained relationships with loved ones, in the experience of a miscarriage, when we transition out of a job or into a new routine. I think grief can even be second hand. I grieve for my friends who didn’t get to experience that BIG, stable, forgiving, and steadfast love from their daddies like I did. I grieve for my daughter who doesn’t have that.
Each of us have to grieve. Each of us have to developing coping skills. Each of us have a different grieving journey that we must experience for ourselves. That doesn’t mean we have to be alone in grief. There is still community in grieving.
My Daddy passed two weeks before I began my second year at Howard University. I was 24 days shy of 19. After writing his obituary and celebrating his life, I painfully returned to Howard determined to stack on track and graduate on time. I was grateful to have built family, not friends, at Howard. One of the most powerful and beautiful relationships Howard gave me is the relationship with my best friend, spiritual companion, sister in grief, turn up, and love, Heather. I interviewed her for the first official Recipe for Healingpost. She intimately shares details about her father leaving the home when she was 19. This was August 2010, around the same time I was beginning to experience profound loss. She offers her pain, her wisdom, and her rituals for healing in hopes of encouraging others who are navigating difficult relationships with their fathers.
Thank you, Heather, for your openness. And though we may not have seen it this way then, thank you for grieving with me, for being in community with me. If it’s one thing we know how to do it’s survive together. As we continue to heal, we will thrive together.
Thank you to the Daddy for protecting, loving, and guiding me from the Ancestral realm. Thank you for looking out for Heather, too.
This post is dedicated to the girls who miss dancing with their daddies like me. It is also dedicated to the girls who never danced with their daddies. For those who aren’t daddy’s girls.
I write these words to keep my Daddy alive. I write that they may bring healing to those whose fathers are alive but not present. I write this as a ritual of healing.
Me: When you think about daddy– daughter relationships, what are the first things that come to mind
Heather: I automatically think of a little girl on her daddy’s shoulders, that’s the image that comes to mind. Those relationships have a lot of meaning and a lot of power. They’re special, they’re important, and when I think about this image, I believe as a woman knowing that you have a man’s support and love is empowering.
Me: I consider myself to be a Daddy’s girl even though I am extremely close to my Mommy and was extremely close to my Grandmother. Have you ever considered yourself to be a Daddy’s girl?
Heather: I love both of my parents. I wouldn’t say I was not a daddy’s girl. I would say that I am my mother’s child but I’m aware that I’m also my father’s child even though we aren’t close. I do hope that in the future some things can turn around so that I can get a little more insight into myself through my relationship with him. I’d say I had a more healthy and consistent relationship with my mother and grandmother.
Me: Can you share a memory about your relationship with your father that always comes to mind?
Heather: I think I was 5 and I had a ballet recital. I just remember seeing my dad in the crowd and I ran off stage. I don’t know if it was the beginning, middle, or end of the performance. I just remember my mom directing me to go back to the stage to finish. I ran off stage because I saw my father in the audience and I hadn’t seen him in a while. It was overwhelming. I don’t remember if I felt lack but that memory highlighted his lack consistency back then.
Me: Was your father more present for you when you got older?
Heather: When I got a little older, he was there but not present. My mom did everything and showed up for us – school, recitals, extracurricular activities. I grew up understanding that my father was an entrepreneur and wanted to be autonomous. He came and went as he pleased. He’d be gone all day, get home, turn on CNN and sit in front of the TV until he fell asleep. There wasn’t much interaction is why my mom instituted Wednesday night dinners when I was about 12. She wanted to make sure that we had some kind of quality family time. If it wasn’t for that, there would have been even less time spent.
Me: Can you share a meaningful or powerful interactions with your dad?
Heather: I remember he helped me with homework once in 7th grade and remember him sharing some of his life stories at those Wednesday night dinners.
Me: Did you resent your father for not being more involved?
Heather: Hmmm I think the resentment set in in 2010/2011 when he actually walked out. I was entering my sophomore year at Howard and both of my brothers were in high school. Those were critical years. He abandoned ship. There was no communication.
Me: How did that impact you personally, spiritually?
Heather: I began having irregular cycles and even though I didn’t call it this then, I was depressed. I didn’t have any energy and I remember crying myself to sleep at night mostly because I knew my brothers were struggling through this. They were in the home. I wasn’t and I’m big sis. I also hurt for my mom who hurt for all of us. I went home to visit and she shared some of the book she had been writing. She wrote down the number of days she knew I cried myself to sleep. It was almost a whole year and I’ll never forget feeling so loved, seen, and prayed for.
Me: Have you resolved those feelings of resentment? If so, how?
Heather: I would say I have. Several years ago, around the time I started doing my therapy sessions at Howard in 2013. I realized before my parents were my parents, they’re their own beings with their own trauma, memories, healing. But you know, it’s not about why you move. It’s how you move. It’s about being open and communicating. It’s about not making things more difficult than they have to be. I used to hold onto that resentment, that anger but I realize that parents are their own people, not just my parents. Realizing that took some of the pressure off of me.
Me: What was the experience like for your mother?
Heather: My mom would call often to make sure I was okay. She knew that I cried for about a year straight and she did everything she could to encourage me. First and foremost, she prayed with me and she never spoke bad about my father even though I know she was hurt. She coped by helping other people, by making sure her children were okay. She didn’t prioritize herself. In 2017, my mother suffered a stroke. 1 year, 1 week, and 1 day later, she suffered another stoke. She had been taking care of everyone, and everything, including the family business. She was paying bills that weren’t hers or weren’t hers alone. She was managing real estate property. My mom is also a nurse. She had a ton of her plate but was still gracious and stayed consistent in loving her family. She didn’t want us to get lost in the shuffle. I commended her and tried to understand her pain. I also learned what strength in the midst of hurt looked like, and that’s love.
Me: That fall 2010 semester at Howard so brutal. It was so hard to navigate grief and keep up with school for me. What was it like for you?
Heather: Girl! I received first F in life my sophomore year at Howard, when my father walked out of our household. I remember calling and texting my dad before I boarded the plane for DC. He never answered. I cried between two men I didn’t know the whole plane ride. But I will say, because of my mama’s prayers, my will to succeed at Howard, and my late nights of various playlists and floor yoga/interpretative dancing with you, Raina – I came back and finished that year with a 3.0.
Me: What got you through? What were some of your coping mechanisms then?
Heather: Wale’s “Ambitious Girl” Got me through. When I was in the thick of it , music, blasting it, writing, songwriting, drawing, coloring, comfort of food, and tree got me through.
I eventually picked up more energy and just started loving on myself. The affirming thought that helped center me was, “Get back to balance.” Even though it was necessary for me and I had to sit with these big emotions, deal with them, I didn’t like feeling forlorn and melancholy. I had to start doing something in the present moment to shift. I learned that even as was I was experiencing pain, I had the chance to experience joy. I had to manage myself and not focus on what was beyond my control. I also leaned into sisterhood and had sessions with my girls, including you, almost every night to cope. We were in that thang together, know what I mean? So…I retook the class I failed, got a B, my GPA improved, LOL!
Me: How did your relationship with your father impact other relationships?
Heather: I first realized that my relationship with my father impacted me junior year. I had a huge crush on this guy! He actually became my first intimate partner. He was also navigating a painful situation and I was present for him. But I didn’t disclose my relationship with my dad with him or any man I dated. I didn’t feel like they tried to build a relationship with her to the point of inquiring. But I’ve grown so much in this ten year span. I recognize I was tolerating behaviors from men that I shouldn’t have that stemmed from trying to understand my father’s behavior including his lack of emotional presence. I didn’t have my first official relationship until after I left college at the age of 23. I had experienced multiple “situationships” up until that time, and exploring spaces with me on an intimate level was so new to me. I have learned much through trial and error.
Me: What’s one of the greatest lessons your relationship with your father has taught you?
Heather: It’s allowed me to hold a space for compassion. Even though my experiences have been painful, I still want love. Through everything, I try to find understanding. I try to make room for love. My daddy leaving the home was catastrophic. I believe Black fatherhood can bring a sense of order and balance. I didn’t feel that. I needed that. I needed more time. I needed him to be emotionally present. But, I still hold space for what can come. I had a brief conversation with my dad recently. I needed some documents for car repair and I couldn’t get access to the building where the documents were because he changed the locks in 2017. I was diplomatic. I texted him and didn’t hear back until three weeks later. He responded, cordially, and said he’d mail the documents over to me. I can’t say that small interaction didn’t mean anything. It did. My father showed up for me in the way that he could in that moment. He didn’t give the level of visibility we needed him to through so many of life’s transitions. He should have been. But at this point, I’m all about finding solutions if we can and avoiding problems, avoiding pain.
Me: What does your current self-care routine look like? What is your recipe for healing?
- 1 – At least an hour of sunlight a day
- 2 – representing double the amount of water
- 3 – aromatherapy with a few of my favorite essential oils
- 4 – Shea Butter Babyyy *in my Ari Lennox voice* Rub downs and massages
- 5 – Find at least 5 minutes a day to laugh
- 6 – Time spent with family
- 7 – Doing the things that bring me joy
- 8 – Tree
- 9 – Music
- 10 – More conversations with God (prayer)
That’s my recipe.
Heather is a songwriter and musician. To hear her music and support her art, follow her on Instagram @itsnikeita or at Soundcloud.com/nikeita.