Broken And Back: A Year of Grieving

By Tevin Ali

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Grieving The Loss Of A Loved One is Something Most Of Us Will Come to Experience At Some Stage In Our Lives. Experiences Like These Force Us To Grow, Whether We Are Ready For It Or Not And Can Also Push Us Towards A State Of Hope Or Hopelessness.

1 Year Ago Today, I Lost My Grandmother. 1 Year Ago, My Life Spiraled Into A Sense Hopelessness and Immense Pain. The days and months after my Grandma’s passing were some of the loneliest and most empty moments in my life. I felt so alone and withdrew from all aspects of life. I was broken, but I’m coming back.

Death, Losing Someone, and Losing A Part of Yourself is something extremely difficult, not only to talk about, but to also put into words. Putting everything I’m feeling into words today is one of the ways I’ve been coping with loss while honoring the life of my Grandmother.

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To understand why the loss of my Grandmother is such a deep wound to me you have to understand my origins and who I am. The fiber of what makes Tevin, well Tevin.

A Tale of Sacrifice and Unconditional Love

25 Years Ago, my parents and grandmother moved from Trinidad & Tobago to the United States in pursuit to give me and my brother a better life and an education they never had the opportunity to obtain. Throughout my childhood, the only family I knew consisted of Me, My Mom, My Dad, My Brother, And My Grandma. That was my childhood and the 4 wheels of my life. My family grew up poor, we lived in a garage starting off, and my parents and grandmother worked minimum wage jobs to make ends meet while raising up my brother and I in the states.

As a child I never understood that we were poor. My parents and grandma never let me know it, and they never let it show. All I remember looking back at childhood, is happiness. Ever since I was little, my grandma always had a special connection to me and my brother because we grew up with her. It’s no secret she loved us in a special way, she made everyone aware of that, and always referred to us as “her two boys”.

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Going over to Grandma's house for the night was something I looked forward to as a kid. She knew how to entertain my brother and I at our best and worst moments. Being with grandma wasn't like being at home or with my parents – it was better. We went on drives, made cookies, went out to every empty movie theater, and I got way too much dessert than I should have. I did things I wasn’t supposed to do, but Grandma didn't stop me. Because at Grandma's house there were no rules, and I didn't have a single thing to worry about. Being with Grandma was the true epitome of childhood. She let me be me. In her eyes, I was perfect. She never judged me hard and always looked at the best in me. She always made sure I had the best time when I was with her, and she loved watching me grow up with a smile on my face.

She truly loved me unconditionally. Grandma was a hard-working, generous, and caring soul and without her, I wouldn’t be who and where I am today. She is one of my inspirations in life.

One Goal: Education

The one thing my Grandma and Parents took seriously was me and my brother getting a good education. My family didn’t have the means to afford expensive books or the best of things.

Throughout the years my grandma saved up a college fund for me on the pennies she earned just to help me pave the way for a better life. She gave me the gift of education and she did it all on a minimum wage salary. My needs came before her needs. That’s love. And that love runs through every fiber of my body.

All My Life I Only Knew 1 Goal: Making My Family Proud. That’s my version of the Iron Throne. That’s the powerful driving force that is Tevin Ali, all of what I embody, and my way of giving back to my family.

People always ask how I became successful. I always shy from the word “success” because that word means different things to each of us. In addition, I know how much I struggled through school and life to get to where I am now, so I don’t let it get to my head because I know where I came from. But yes, if anyone looked at my track record of accomplishments, they would consider me a success. But that success didn’t just come from my strength alone. With it came the strength and sacrifices of so many. The sacrifices of my parents, my grandma, and my aunts and uncles in Florida and in New York. Due to their sacrifices and my drive to make those sacrifices mean something I’ve accomplished a great deal more than anyone in my family and most people my age. I don’t say this to boast, but say this to honor those sacrifices made for me and showcase what those sacrifices were transformed into:

·       Being featured in the news several times such as The New York Times and the US News & World Report for my positive impact on others and commitment to excellence.

·       Graduated from Johns Hopkins University , one of the TOP universities in the WORLD with a perfect 4.0 GPA and highest honors, and awarded the Commencement Capstone Award.

·       Named the ‘State of Florida Student of the Year’ out of 800,000+ students in the State.

·       Won a Nationally Competitive $20,000 Scholarship Out of 3,400+ Applicants Nationwide

·       Serve as an Empowering Motivational Speaker making a national impact in the lives of others across the US.

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I’m not the bragging type to gloat these things out loud when I’m around people, but I also have no reason to not share these milestones as I have worked immensely hard for all of them. I too have made my share of sacrifices just like my family. More importantly, these achievements are equally the achievements of my family and I share them openly because I know they inspire others to step up and do more with themselves.

It brings tears to my eyes to remember that my Grandma would always pull out her phone and share these milestones with any and everyone with the proudest look on her face. It humbles me to know that these things made her proud and happy. She was my #1 Fan. She watched my speeches on YouTube over and over again. She believed in me more than any other family member. She believed in me more than I believed in myself.

People always ask me what’s my secret to ‘success’. You want to know the secret? It’s the love for my family and drive to make their sacrifices mean something. The drive to make them proud. I am who I am because of them.

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Rage, Trauma, & Depression

They say we go through 5 phases after the loss of a loved one: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. These phases occur in different orders and lengths for everyone. Anger and Depression came as my biggest phases, and for good reason.

During the final weeks of my Grandma’s life… me, my dad, my brother, my mom, and a couple of relatives close to my grandma stood by her bedside watching the life leave her body. Day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second. These images, these thoughts, they never left me. They flash back to me every now and then and can leave me in an emotional and sometimes immobilized state. The pain and trauma are real and everlasting.

My Grandma passed away on the early Saturday morning of September 8th in Florida, where she spent a good chunk of her life. Her body was shipped back to Trinidad, her place of birth, for the funeral thanks to my parents.

During the days that followed, despite being broken and a complete emotional mess I knew in my heart I had to say something in honor of my grandma’s memory at the funeral. So, while grieving I worked tirelessly and poured my heart and soul into writing a speech for her.

While mustering the strength and courage to deliver my speech on the day of the funeral a family member disrespectfully interrupted and tried to cut me off in front of everyone.

Just imagine. You pour your heart and soul into writing something for someone you deeply love who passed away… just to say one final goodbye… only to have it shit on by some hateful family. It was disrespectful. It was heartless. It was wrong. It was a dishonor and ruin to my Grandma’s memory.

Nothing has ever hurt, angered, and raged me more in my life than that situation. All the dramatic events that took place after the funeral made me finally realize that for the most part, I don’t have genuine love in Trinidad. They don’t care. Sadly, I’ve come to accept that and I moved on with my life accordingly.

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Coping Over the Months

The months following were some of the hardest I have ever lived through. I’m being 100% real and raw here. I cried and bawled in my private dark hours over and over again. At times, I felt so alone, so broken, and so detached from everything. There were times where I felt disappointed in family, friends, and the people I have closely worked with for not reaching out to me or showing up when I desperately needed support. But that’s life and everyone is battling a fight of their own, so I understand. Regardless, I’m so thankful for the friends and family that checked in on me and lent a caring hand during this dark time in my life.

Over the months I also tried to fill the void with many things. I:

·       Pondered a lot on childhood, the good memories, and visited all the spots I went with my Grandma.

·       Tried to spend as much time as I could with my mom, dad, brother, and close friends because I knew in a year’s time my life would change after school was finished

·       Lived my life in front of the TV eating junk food and binge-watching Anime Shows, Netflix, and Game of Thrones. From being used to being on the go 24/7, to putting life on pause was a nice, yet gloomy change of pace.

·       Continued to engage in filming and photo-shoot projects to build my impact across the world

·       Traveled and kept working hard in my craft

I tried putting on a smile wherever life took me this past year, but behind that smile laid dormant a broken soul. We can fool the world, but we cannot fool our hearts and how we feel. Needless to say, pushing forward also served well as part of the healing process.

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Who’s Tevin? I Wouldn’t Know

With 1 of my 4 wheels slashed, I didn’t know how to move forward. My Grandma was a huge driving wheel in my life. There is no replacement for the wheel I had lost. I had lost a sense of purpose as to why I was living my life. I questioned existence and who I was.

I’ve changed a lot this past year. I’m a lot more isolated and reserved around people, horrible at keeping in touch, and I enjoy being alone now more than ever. I feel as though the sentimental and sometimes childlike Tevin died the day my Grandma passed away. Maybe I’ve gotten cold? I don’t know. My hope is that one day, my normal diamond energy comes back.

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Graduation

On top of grieving, battling my anger, and coping with depression, I had to somehow find the strength to finish my Master’s Degree at one of the most challenging university’s in the world. And on top of everything, my father suffered a heart attack, testing my faith, and all of my inner-strength.

In the darkest of times, hope is something we give ourselves. I learned that nobody is coming to save you, people can help, but our life is 100% our responsibility. To anyone who is able persevere and take themselves out of a dark place please know that you are a strong beautiful force of nature.

Keep going strong.

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I thank God for the support group of friends who cheered me on along the way and the family who celebrated and made my graduation possible. On graduation day, I couldn’t have been happier to have achieved one of my lifelong dreams, graduating from The Johns Hopkins University.

As I was walking across that stage to receive my diploma, I felt saddened knowing that my Grandma wasn’t there to see one of her life’s dreams being fulfilled. I felt a bit of guilt in that I didn’t finish my education quickly enough in time for her to see the fruits of her labor. Then I remembered these words she would always share with me “be strong, and be brave”. Those words gave me comfort as I walked across the stage knowing that I was extremely strong and brave to finish my degree under the circumstances I was under and that she would have been immensely proud and happy.

And having my Mom, Dad, Brother, and Closest Aunt, Uncle, and Cousin there in the audience cheering me on meant the world. Them being there sharing in this milestone was a precious moment in time.

In Life, It’s Not What We Have, But Who We Have.

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What’s Next?

I know I say I lost my Grandmother, but it’s more than that. Who I lost was the equivalent to a mother. An equivalent to a piece of myself. To me, forgetting her and not thinking about her is doing a disservice to the sacrifices she made in life to better the lives of others. I’d give the world to see your face and talk to you another day grandma.

And as I’m reflecting on the past year, I’m currently unsure as to what’s next for me. But I do know one thing: As long as I’m breathing, I will continue to work towards that dream of a better life that my grandma sacrificed for and live a life where I sacrifice to embody kindness and generosity for the betterment of others.

I stopped giving speeches after my Grandma’s Funeral, but I think I’m ready to step back in the ring and continue to light the fire within others once again.

This year I hurt, but I also grew so much. I was broken, but I’m coming back. I’ve been walking towards a path of healing, but I still got far to go. I will continue to surround myself with the people who bring out the light in me and see me for who I am, the positive way my Grandma saw me.

Grandma I thank you for blessing me with a life worth living, and for teaching me and countless others the value of love, generosity, and true strength. Your dreams and spirit live on in me and so many. And if one thing is certain in my life it’s this Grandma: I was blessed because I was loved by you.

Love You and Miss You A Million A Million

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Tevin Ali