2020 was a lot.
The unexpected heaviness of the year turned many lives upside down, brought on pain in some of the most unimaginable ways and created a cloud of collective grief from the beginning to the end. The past year was difficult for so many different reasons. While I’d like to never experience a year like this again, it’s taught me to remain resilient and to not be afraid of my feelings.
As a young woman who deals with anxiety and situational depression, like many others, I experienced the ebbs and flows of dealing with personal loss and the weight of a global pandemic all at the same time. It felt confusing and cruel to lose a loved one during one of the most uncertain, scary and challenging times in my life to date. While her death was unrelated to COVID-19, the reality of the pandemic challenged the way that I was allowed to grieve her and feel any type of closure on her passing. Not being able to travel to attend a funeral and feel a sense of community while grieving felt unfair and heartbreaking. The loss of my grandmother was unexpected and something that changed me forever.
My grandmother was my person.
She was my earliest understanding of unconditional love. She played a large role in raising me and never let me live down that I was supposed to be born on Valentine’s Day like her, but I decided to make an early entrance in November of 1995 instead. She embodied what it means to be a caregiver – a true representation of selflessness. My family wouldn’t be what it is without her. She taught me to be proud of my name, both my first name Gabrielle, meaning woman of God, and Millicent, my middle name and her first name, which means strength.
She never left anyone out. Even though I was her favourite, she was loving to all her grandkids and great grandkids. She never missed an episode of “Jeopardy!,” “Wheel of Fortune,” or “The Price is Right” and loved watching the Raptors and Blue Jays games in her spot on the right side of the couch. She is part of the blueprint for the woman I’m becoming. My love for television – it was sparked by her.
It felt good to immerse myself into the on-again, off-again saga of Toni Childs and Joan Clayton’s friendship rather than dealing with real life for a moment.
That’s why it’s fitting I found small pieces of comfort and escapism in what was an increasingly heavy time in the nostalgia of Netflix’s “Strong Black Lead” throwback rollout. Being able to press pause on grief for a moment to revisit characters that brought joy and laughter took me back to a time when things felt, and ultimately were, “normal.” It felt good to immerse myself into the on-again, off-again saga of Toni Childs and Joan Clayton’s friendship rather than dealing with real life for a moment. Shows like “Girlfriends,” “Sister, Sister,” and “Moesha” all represent some of the unmatched joy of Black culture that resonate with me.
While re-watching these shows, it became evident how relevant they still are despite being from the early 2000s. The topics of racism, injustice, equality, human rights and mental health are all depicted in these shows and although time has passed, there is still much more work to be done in all of these areas. Strong Black Lead is an example of how we use art to move the needle and heal from our pain. While these stories are based in African American culture, it’s still reflective of the togetherness that the African diaspora communities around the world hold at their core.
My love of TV and film grew more at nine years old, having a sister that’s six years apart from me. I was definitely the sister that wanted to watch whatever she was watching. Renting Save the Last Dance from Blockbuster, going to a packed theatre and sitting on the stairs to watch Stomp the Yard, and sneaking into her room to watch BET’s “College Hill” when I’m supposed to be in bed are some of the earliest memories I have of my introduction to what has now become a happy place for me. I’ve always loved the idea of watching something you can see yourself in. Film and TV that reflects reality creates conversation around what’s happening in society. This is how I ended up in the journalism industry, always looking for the meaning or significance in what’s going on behind the scenes and intertwining it with the simple truths of life.
2020 taught me to trust myself, remember that everything is temporary and focus on the good.
Settling into 2021 hasn’t been an easy transition for me. The pain and frustration of the previous year still lingers on. I’ve realized that we’re living in a time of heightened anxiety and continuous uncertainty right now. Pain is embedded in our culture and the last year just felt like one thing after another.
Navigating 2020 felt like a jagged rollercoaster that had a mind of its own. A ride where it’s rickety at first and pain lingers while strapped into an uncomfortable seat, but as you go along, you scream, open an eye or two and while still terrified, you lean into what’s happening around you on the ride. I feel this way when I get the nudge for a new idea or something I want to find the truth in and feel good about.
I’ve given up on myself one too many times, but through a growing sense of community, active therapy and consistent inner work I’ve managed to pull myself up again. 2020 taught me to trust myself, remember that everything is temporary and focus on the good. Right now, my focus is myself. Unfolding how I can be better and not necessarily with tangible things, like a job or a relationship, but designing what I want my life to look like. I don’t think we’re ever asked in school, “What do you want your life to feel like?” Peaceful, soft, magical and easeful are the first words that come to mind for me, when holding the pen for chapter 25. I deserve expansion and believe in pushing past my potential to see what’s next for me without fear. Learning to recognize my voice, continuing to honour and heal my inner child and step into a new space that allows for others to get to know to me and hear what I have to say.
I’m accepting the lessons in honouring my grandmother’s legacy and fulfilling her wishes for me, by understanding the ones I have for myself. While she is no longer with me in the physical world, our bond is sacred and not broken. I still hear her laugh, her humming “What A Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong and remember all the times she reminded me that all I can do, and will continue to do, is my best.