Charniah Wilson: The Woman Behind Grief Is Ghetto

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Charniah Wilson | Grief Is Ghetto

 

What happens if you utilize the vast reach of social media to spread the joy you discovered from your own sadness? This is exactly what Charniah Wilson is doing through her TikTok, Grief is Ghetto. In our inspiring conversation, she shares how losing her partner in an unexpected tragedy encouraged her to open up about her grieving journey to a wider online audience. She explains how her simple yet funny TikTok content helps other grieving people deal with their sadness and get through their biggest emotional roadblocks. Charniah also explores the immense power of social media, delving into its most valuable benefits and its giant disservice to humanity if gravely misused.

Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach.

I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others.

Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach out to a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/suicide/suicide-prevention-hotlines-resources-worldwide

Watch the episode here

 

Listen to the podcast here

 

Charniah Wilson: The Woman Behind Grief Is Ghetto

Thank you for being here with me for this conversation. I would ask you to keep showing up. I am sorry for who you have lost that has driven you to this conversation, but I am so glad that you are part of my hood. This conversation with Charniah Wilson is probably going to help you cry, laugh, think it over, re-examine yourself, dust yourself off, and be ready for another day. We are going to talk about it. All this conversation is for you as much as it was for the two of us. Let’s get into the discussion.

 

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Charniah Wilson | Grief Is Ghetto

 

I’m doing good. How are you doing?

Good. We know that question can be super broad when someone says, “How are you doing?” Your mind goes through a Rolodex and you stuck them on.

Do you mean this 2024?

That’s right. That part. I have learned to put it within constraints this hour, this second, this evening, and this moment. I want to welcome you to the widowhood even though you already were here, but on this particular conversation altogether.

Thank you. I appreciate it.

Merch

Thank you. I cannot help but check out the bedazzle. T ell me about this. Tell us about this.

It’s a specialty. Typically, the way I’ve been doing my Grief is Ghetto Merchandise is a flat color. Everything I wear is glitter. When I launched my Christmas wave, I said, “Let’s do a cute little powder blue and let’s glitter it.” I only had one friend who ordered it. She ordered the sweatshirt, not the hoodie, but it’s so cute with the glitter. She was like, “I love this.” It is still available on my website, www.CharniahWilson.com. You can still order the little glittery blue if you’d like. She’s going out of style. We’re going to go and get into some spring colors.

I may have to go ahead and drop on and get me one of those. You have them. Are you doing them? How are they being produced? How’s this working?

Absolutely not. I have a gray person I work with. Her name is Lauren Blue. Her company is Blue’s Custom Designs. She created the logo for Grief is Ghetto. She has been working with me for years. When I had other businesses, she helped me with those. I coach high school dance. She does their uniforms. I need her. She created the logo, and then once she created the logo, I was like, “I want to start doing shirts, hoodies, and all of that.”

You order from the website. I send the orders to her, she does them, and then I can pick them up. I like that she’s local so if I make a mistake, which I always do, I’ll message her like, “I messed it up. That’s supposed to be a 2X, not a 3.” She’s like, “I got you. Come get it.” I appreciate that. She’s very hardworking. She’s great. She works with me in good and bad. She works really well with me. Shout out to Lauren.

I am guessing that if other people have a business, they can work with Lauren directly. You want to mention that you read it in this conversation so she knows where all the love came from.

Hit her up, Blue’s Custom Designs. She does a lot of work here in Huntsville. I’m sure she does a lot of work outside of Huntsville, Alabama. Hit her up. It’s been a great working relationship with her and me.

Backstory

Thank you. I can see all that glitter so I said something about it. I won’t be mesmerized. You change other businesses. I want to talk about how you got to where you are. I don’t want to be like, “How are you doing this evening?” Talk about where you are from originally and we go from there. Where are you from originally?

I was born in Gallatin, Tennessee. I was back and forth here to Huntsville in Tennessee between my mom and my aunt. I moved in with my aunt. My aunt raised me here in Huntsville. I was here in Huntsville from a little girl long up until college. I went to undergrad at Alabama State University in Montgomery and got a degree that I don’t use. I’m not going to say that because I use it sometimes.

I got my bachelor’s in Journalism. It’s communications, journalism, and PR. I got a Master’s in Entertainment Business from Full Sail because going back to school was cool. I lived in Atlanta for seven years and enjoyed it, and then I moved back here to Huntsville to help take care of my aunt until she passed away in 2022.

During the time I was in Georgia, I launched a blog called Oh, Snap 90s blog because I loved the ‘90s. I ran that for a little while. When I moved here to Huntsville, I started a ‘90s dance workout class that I may bring back. I’m not sure, but people are DMing me about it. We’ll see. It was a ‘90s dance workout class called Cha’s Shakedown where we only danced to ‘90s music. We warmed up to ‘90s music and cooled down to ‘90s music. I taught a cute little routine to ‘90s music. Even for non-dancers, it’s a fun workout to reminisce, hear some good music, and have a good time. I did that while I was coaching. Tragedy struck in 2021 and Grief is Ghetto was born. I’ve done a few different things before.

Cha’s Shakedown, is that still found on YouTube? Where can one find those?

I still have an Instagram page where you can see some of the classes I used to teach. I showed the dance stuff. It was a good time. I’ve been getting DMs. People want to see, “Can you bring that back?” Cha Shakedown was a blast. I have been thinking about bringing it back. It became a little bit stressful when I was doing it along with coaching.

Shaka Shakedown

I’m mesmerized by Cha’s Shakedown. I’m like a squirrel here. What started that? How did that come about?

I’ve been dancing since I was about five. I’ve always been involved in dance. I did ballet and jazz. I danced and cheered in middle school. I danced in high school. I danced in college. I was cheering in college. Once I stopped dancing in college, I started coaching. I pledged to Delta Sigma Theta. We did aerobics. I didn’t know I was good at that. Apparently, I was. I started doing that class and was like, “This is fun,” creating a dance workout.

Even when I got to Atlanta, I would go to some dance workout classes that were a blast. It was so much fun. When I had to leave Atlanta, I was like, “I’m going to miss the dance workout class.” My friends were like, “Don’t you know how to do one yourself?” I said, “I can try.” With me being a ‘90s girl because I love the ‘90s, I was like, “I’m going to gear it towards good ‘90s music. That’s how we’re going to do it.” It’s always been ’90s-based. That is all I use. I have a playlist with all ‘90s songs for Cha’s Shakedown. It went on from there. It was a blast.

Doing something like that, you have to be consistent because people are expecting something on a rhythm. I have to go back. You said you don’t use journalism and communication, but everything you’re doing is those same items. I challenge you publicly that that may not be accurate.

That’s true. I have to agree with you. That’s why I said, “Maybe I’m using them, but not how I think I should.” You’re right.

Relationship With Ken

You said tragedy struck in 2021, but when did love strike before the tragedy?

Love happened about 2018. I already knew Ken. We had this argument daily. I met Ken when we were in undergrad. He never remembered this, but he went to the University of Alabama. I had a lot of friends that went to the University of Alabama. I was visiting one of my best friends, Lacy, at the University of Alabama. She said, “We’re going to go to a party at Ken’s house.”

Do you know how you know somebody but maybe because they’re from your hometown? That’s how that was too. I knew him. He didn’t go to my high school. I didn’t go to school with him, but I knew of him. She said, “We’re going to go to a party at Ken’s house.” I said, “I remember him.” We went. He was funny. He said, “I have to go to the store. Do you want to ride with me?” We got in his big red Expedition and went to the store. We came back and had a good time. He never remembered that.

When we started communicating in 2018, he was like, “How are we both from Huntsville and I’ve never met you?” I said, “You have.” He was like, “I’ve never met you.” I said, “You have. I came to your house with Lacy.” He was like, “I went to school with Lacy.” I was like, “I came to your house with her and we got in your big red Expedition. Is that your car?” He was like, “How do you know that’s my car?” I was like, “It’s because we got in it to go to the store.” He was like, “What?” I don’t know what was going on here. He never remembered that. That was when I met him officially.

We started communicating in ‘18 and it blossomed in ‘19. It became pretty official. We were meeting families and all of that good stuff. It so happened that at the time, I was living in Atlanta and Ken was living in Tuscaloosa. I was like, “I’m going to have to move back home because my aunt is sick and I want to help.” He was like, “That’s great. I’m glad you said that. I was thinking the same thing.” He wanted to move back home. He was like, “I’m thinking I want a fresh start. I want to get out of Tuscaloosa. None of my friends are still here. I’d rather come back home.” We synced with that. He moved back, I moved back, and things kept going from there. We were what I wouldn’t say a normal couple, but we were a couple.

What was the shift from getting in his vehicle in 2018 to, “He’s like somebody I want to spend some time with,” or at least start investigating what that looked like?

I got in his vehicle sometime before 2012. This is when we were in college. I graduated college in 2012. In ‘18, we started talking because I posted something on Facebook. I can’t remember what, but it caused a debate. We were debating back and forth on my status. He was like, “I’m not going to keep arguing with you on your status. I’m going to DM you.” It was a friendly thing.

I can see how this works with your personality here. I’m like, “I’m seeing this.”

It was very friendly. We were talking about family matters because, at this time, Hulu had added Family Matters to their list of shows. I was rewatching it. I forgot what I posted. It was something about the Laura and Myra debates. He and I were going back and forth. We started going back and forth in my messages and he was like, “You might be right. I’m going to rewatch it.” I said, “We’re having this whole argument and you haven’t even rewatched the show? Are you trying to go off on a memory from 1998?” He was like, “You’re right. Let me rewatch it.” We started communicating then and it became flirty. I was like, “Is he flirty?” I couldn’t tell at first because he was so funny. I was like, “Is he thinking of junk or is he flirty?” Eventually, it spilled over. It was like, “Let’s hang out.” Hanging out became more frequent. It went from there.

How was a long-distance relationship? At this point, you guys are living in different places. How were you able to maintain that?

A lot of communication. It was very difficult for both of us, but we communicated so well. It simplified it in a way. We communicated really well. Everybody who lives in Atlanta knows the traffic is horrendous. I lived probably 15 minutes from my job, but with traffic, it was a 45-minute drive. I would talk to him to and from work not because I had to, but because we enjoyed talking on the phone. That was up until 2021. Me and Ken stayed on the phone. As soon as I left the house, I would walk around and be like, “I’m going to talk.” We would be on the phone. We talked a lot and texted a lot. During that time, Ken was a hopeless romantic. He’s probably looking down at me like, “Shut your ass up.”

You’re spilling tea already. We’re not even into this but go ahead.

He would send me flowers every week at my job. There was always a note. Sometimes, it would be something ridiculous. One time, he was like, “Get better. Nothing’s wrong. You need to be better.” I was like, “You’re an ass.” He would always send me stuff like flowers, teddy bears, and everything. He was sending something.

When DoorDash became popular, he was like, “I’m going to DoorDash you some food.” That helped too. It’s not that he had to give me gifts, but it wasn’t a question of whether or not I was thought about or I was cared for. He made that very clear. For a person like me who needs constant reassurance, that was reassuring. All of that helped with the long distance. It was the fact that there was constant communication. It was never a question of whether or not or, “What are you doing over there?” It never was an issue.

I’m going to use this as a side note. If you guys are out there long-distance dating and you are only getting, “Good morning, beautiful,” and “Good night, beautiful,” you may not be dating. I’m saying.

Correct.

You may not really be in a relationship you think you are in. I would advise you to send one of your girlfriends out to learn how to do the search and do stuff. It may be your friend-friend. You are acquaintances. I’m saying you may not be in a relationship.

Good morning is cool, but it’s different to say, “How did that meeting go yesterday?” Being generic is what a lot of relationships sometimes struggle with. One thing with Ken is that I never felt like a number. There are times when he would send those, “Good morning, beautiful,” texts and I’m like, “I know you probably sent that to seven other people.”

It’s like, “That’s why you said beautiful because you don’t even know my name. If you start putting names in there, you will be messed up.” He can be like, “Good morning, beautiful,” and then you’re like, “You told me good morning.”

That’s right. It’s like, “There is no way to mess with the name because I said beautiful.” With Ken, it wasn’t that at all. Everything I could tell was for me. That was really a big difference too of not feeling like, “I’m one of the many people you talk to.”

 

 

I’m going to stay here for the moment. I do believe the difference between those is if you started a relationship with someone you knew and then it became long distance versus when you start something long distance and you may have never started out being in that person’s presence and knowing what’s the backstory and everything else. Those two scenarios are different when you’re both in a long-distance relationship.

With Ken and I, we started long distance.

You knew each other.

We knew of each other. The first time I went to his apartment, I was like, “He’s a slob. This won’t work.” Do you know how you think you’re saying something in your head and it comes out? I was like, “Oh.” He was like, “What?” I said, “This won’t work.” He was like, “What?” I said, “You have to clean this up,” and he did. We cleaned up together. He was like, “I know now that your standards are not to be played with.” I was like, “You got to clean up. I didn’t say you were nasty.”

Not only did he clean up there, but the next time you came back, it was cleaned up in advance. What I hear there is he’s paying attention to what’s important to you and he’s showing up and doing it.

Correct. He was good about that. I was the same way. There were certain things that he’d be like, “I don’t like when you do that one.” I gave this example on Facebook. A lot of times when I call somebody, especially a friend, I don’t say, “Hello.” When they answer, I’m like, “What are you doing?” That’s the first thing I say. Sometimes, I don’t even care what you’re doing, I’m going to tell you something, but that’s initially what I say. It doesn’t even matter what you’re doing, and I don’t mean anything by it.

He didn’t like that. He was like, “There needs to be a greeting like, “Hi. How are you?” Then, ask me what I’m doing.” He was like, “I don’t like that you get on the phone and be like, “What are you doing?” I said, “Okay.” I had to work. I’m like, “How’s your afternoon.” He’s like, “It’s doing good.” I’m then like, “Now, what are you doing?”

That is true because the, “Hi. How are you doing?” To me, that’s for somebody I may not talk to a lot on a regular. If I have talked to you five times a day, we have, “Hi. How are you doing?” out. We jump into the next conversation of the thing. Between my siblings and my close friends, I’m blabbing. The, “Hi. How are you doing?” to somebody, I’m like, “Hi.” I don’t even do that at work. I say, “Hello.” Sometimes, I’ll say, “How are you doing?” I’m standing there waiting for them to tell me. Sometimes, you can tell that some people may not have anybody to authentically ask them, “How are you?”

I agree.

Especially in this grief and widow place that we’re in, a lot of people we’re connecting with maybe on social media or other different things may not have somebody in person. Those things matter in that regard. What I’m saying is asking how you’re doing, I don’t want to do it to check the block. When I ask it, I want to understand and take the space to hear what you have to say.

Honestly, when I ask somebody what I truly want to know, it’s not when I’m calling. When I’m calling my friends, it’s like, “I do want you to answer. However, we can already talk about something else. We don’t need to do the pleasantries because I know you’re already going to tell me what’s going on. I don’t have to say “How are you doing?” for you to tell me.”

That’s why we’re on the phone. It’s to do this.

Exactly. Most of the time, once you pick up, most people are like, “I’m in the bathroom. What do you need?” We already know. Most of the time I don’t ask. I am a very literal person in that sense. If I don’t ask you how you’re doing, I am not interested in knowing because we don’t have to do that. If somebody I graduated high school with who maybe I didn’t know that well but I see in the store, it’s like, “Hey.” That’s all. I’m not going to ask you, “How are you doing?” I don’t care. It’s not that big of a deal to me.

It’s true though. My younger sister and I have this conversation all the time. The people go, “How are you doing?” One time, I started telling somebody how I was doing. I was like, “That’s why I don’t answer that question because you’re halfway down the hall.”

Maybe if I knew you might have gone through a hard time. Everybody’s on Facebook. If I know you are going through a hard time or I know some things are going on, I try to ask specific questions about those things instead of saying, “How are you?” It’s so generic, “How are you doing?” If you lost somebody, it’s like, “How do you feel right now? How are you feeling today? They’re like, “Well.” I’m like, “I understand.”

If you opened a business, I’d be like, “How’s the business going? I saw you open it. Congratulations.” I try to be intentional about what I’m saying to you because saying, “How are you doing?” is so generic. If I don’t ask, it’s because I don’t care to know. It’s not that big of a deal. It’s like, “I haven’t seen you around here,” and then let’s move on.

A Struck Of Tragedy

If they want to talk and you’re in that space, they can ask those questions. You already alluded to the idea that tragedy struck in 2021. We go from Mr. Personality sending the flowers and everything else. I’ll let you say what you want to say leading up to how the tragedy struck, and then I’ll pick up questions from there. I want to give you space to talk about that organically however you would want to speak about it.

I say tragedy because it was a very sudden thing. What I remember about that day, which I relived since it’s March 2024 and it was February 12th, 2021, and every February, I relive it, the day was amazing. Ken was a heavier guy, but Ken had lost almost 200 pounds. He was going walking every morning. It was good. He had been walking. He would help out at his cousin’s business. His cousin had a t-shirt business and he would go help. He was going to do that.

He was doing a podcast with one of his friends from high school that evening, so it was a good day. The day was awesome. That same day, I got a raise at work. I texted him about it and he was like, “Big money. We are going to be rich. Give me $1.” I remember Cash App-ing him $1.” I was like, “You double burger on me.” It was a good day.

He had the podcast later that evening at his friend’s house. He was like, “I’m pulling up.” I saw him earlier that morning, and then he left to go walk. I didn’t see him again because he was gone all day. From working, he was like, “I’m going straight to so-and-so’s house with the podcast. Have fun. It’s going to be great.” He was a guest on the podcast, and then he texted me like, “They want to bring me on full-time.” I was like, “Big shit. You owe me.” He sent me the $1 back. We were rotating that $1 all day .

I had gotten home and I was on the phone with a friend. He texted a little bit late that night. It was maybe 9:00 or 10:00. He was like, “It went really well.” We’re about to wrap it up and talk. I was like, “Have fun. I’m glad it went great.” Around maybe 10:30, he called. I noticed in his voice that it wasn’t his normal upbeat. He was like, “Hey.” I was like, “Are you all right?” He said, “Yeah. I got a headache.” I said, “Okay.” He said, “Do we have pain medicine?” I was like, “Yeah. Plenty.” He said, “Okay. I’m on the way.” I said, “All right,” and then he hung up.

His friend lived maybe about six minutes from me. I’m on the phone yapping and I’m not realizing at this point maybe an hour and a half has passed. I looked up and was like, “Maybe he went back in and talked,” because he talked a lot. I was like, “He probably went back in and was talking. He probably was standing at the car like, “I’m on the way,” but he’s still running his damn mouth.” I sent the emoji eyes like, “Are you okay?” and he didn’t respond. I didn’t think anything of it. I’m like, “He’s talking. He’ll get back in the car. It’ll be fine.”

It’s also important to know that this was a time before you could track people’s locations. This wasn’t available at this time. I told my friend, “Let me take a shower and lie down.” It was a Thursday. I was like, “I got to go to work, so let me lay down.” I took my shower. By the time I get out of the shower, he would’ve called, and there’s nothing.

I tried to call him and he didn’t answer. I was not alarmed at first because I’ve also seen him put his stuff in the car and still be talking. He could still be standing outside of his car talking and the phone was still in the car. He didn’t realize hours had passed. I texted and was like, “Are you good? You said you were on the way about two hours ago,” and no response.

It’s also important to know that during this time, Jamie Foxx is playing on repeat. I’m sitting there and I’m watching it. I’m looking at the phone and I’m watching it. I’m like, “Let me call again.” No answer. It was ringing fully. It was not going straight to voicemail like it was dead. I was like, “Let me take a minute. I’m overreacting,” because I had done that maybe a year before. I thought he was dead then. I was like, “What the?” because he didn’t answer for five hours.

That’s a long time.

He was like, “I’m sorry.” This is when we were living in two different states. He was like, “My bad. I wanted to unplug for a minute. I had my phone in one room and I was in another room.” I was like, “If this is him unplugging, I’m going to lose it,” because at this point, we also lived together.

You were like, “I am not going to be the drama girl. I’m not going to do that twice.”

I was like, “Maybe this is the same thing. Let me wait.” I set a timer for twenty minutes. I said, “I’m going to wait for twenty minutes.” I was like, “Let me not bother him.” The timer goes off and I call again. Nothing. I called again and there was nothing. At this point, it is probably between 1:30 and 2:00 AM. Something’s wrong.

On a Thursday night.

There was a time when Ken was not feeling well some months back and he was texting me like normal. The whole day, he was texting normally. He then was like, “I want you to know I came to the emergency room earlier and they’re going to hold me. I’m not feeling well.” I said, “What do you mean earlier today? You have texted me all day like nothing was wrong.” I was like, “Maybe this is it.”

Also, he has an older cousin who had a hand in raising him named Kim. Shout out to Kimmy. She was with him that day. He wasn’t going to tell me at all. He planned to go on about the day like nothing was wrong. She said, “Either you’re going to tell Cha or I’m going to call her. Whichever one you want.” He eventually told me. I said, “Maybe that’s what’s going on.” He was very prideful too. I said, “He doesn’t want to say anything. He’s not feeling well and is not responding.” I text again. I said, “Is something wrong?” No response.

Between 2:00 and 4:00 AM, I dialed Ken’s number I don’t know how many times. I would dial it and it would go to voicemail. I would hang up and dial it again and it would go to voicemail. I would hang up and dial it again. I kept doing that because I was thinking, “If something’s wrong, if he’s in trouble, if he had a car accident,” because I was thinking anything, “or if he fell asleep at the wheel and somebody sees the phone ringing, they’ll pick up versus them seeing a phone that they can’t get into. At least they can answer.” I called.

When 4:00 hit, I said, “I’m going to text Kim and ask Kim. I’ll wait until 5:00 because I don’t want to alarm her if it’s not anything that serious. I don’t want to alarm Kim. I will wait to text her at 5:00. I’ll give him an hour.” I was calling. At 4:45, I said, “I’m going to go ahead and text Kim.” I knew where his friend lived. I knew what main street he lived off of.

Daylight wasn’t coming, but I was like, “I know it will be daylight in about three hours. I’m going to put on clothes. I’m going to text Kim, and then I’m going to  go down the street to look to see if I see his car or something because maybe something happened.” In between that, I was calling.” It never goes straight to voicemail. It’s ringing. I was calling. I texted Kim and said, “I haven’t heard from Ken since about 10:45 or 11:00. Do you know if he’s okay?” She didn’t respond, which I did expect. It was 4:45 in the damn morning. 4:48 hits and I get up and start putting on clothes. I was about to go up the street to see if I could see his car or if something happened.

As I’m putting clothes on, from where I was standing and where my bedroom was, I have a motion sensor light on my front porch. I saw the motion sensor light on and was like, “There he is.” I run to my bedroom to look out the window and it’s a big white truck and a white car. I don’t recognize either of these cars. I was like, “What is going on?” At that point, I was like, “His car stopped and they had to bring him home.” That’s what I’m thinking.

I then see his cousin Junior and his cousin Kim get out of the car followed by his other cousins getting out of the white car. They’re getting out of the truck and his other cousins are getting out of the car. Immediately, my brain is like, “He’s dead. They’re coming to tell me he’s dead. Why else would they be here at 5:00 in the morning?”

I run down the steps, cut the alarm off, and swing the door open. Bless Kim. As calm as she was, I said, “What is it? What happened?” She said, “Let’s come in.” I said, “No. Say it.” She said, “Let’s go in.” At this point, I was like, “Say it,” and so she did. She said, “Ken has passed away.” I don’t know what she said after that. I did a video about this. I don’t know what she said after that. She was talking. I was looking at her mouth, but I was also looking around the room as it was closing in on me. I’m thinking in my head, “Does nobody see the walls closing in?” When they do that in movies, it’s spot on because that’s what I thought. I was like, “Does nobody see the walls and the room getting smaller?”

As she was talking, I said, “What happened?” I’m sure she had already said it, but I couldn’t hear. I didn’t hear. I was like, “What happened?” Behind her, his cousins are bawling. I was like, “He’s dead?” She said, “Can we come in?” They came in. I don’t know at what point I screamed and was like, “What do you mean?” We all sat there for a while, all of us.

It was unbelievable. Apparently, his cousin had gotten a call around maybe 2:00, and then he called Kim. I thank them so much because they didn’t have to do any of this. Ken was their cousin slash brother. He lived with them. He grew up with them. They didn’t have to make time to do anything for me. They had to deal with their own grief. I’m still very grateful for them.

Kim said, “This is not something I’m going to tell Cha over the phone. I’m going to go over there.” When she said she was going, his cousin Junior said, “I’m going too.” His other two cousins said, “We are as well. We’re all going to go.” Nobody had to do that at 4:00 in the morning. They could have been like, “Let me know how she’s taking it. Let me know how it goes.”

That would be ghetto.

These are people with children, husbands, and wives and they’re like, “Let’s all go. Junior, Kim, Tarika, and Jordan, God bless you. That was not something they had to do. Jordan’s daughter was a baby at that point. She wasn’t even one. For them to drive over to my house at 4:00 something in the morning is out of this world to me. They stayed here at the house.

Immediately after we sat on the floor and processed things, we had to make plans. We were like, “Let’s make a plan who we’re going to call before social media.” You have to do that because people get wind of things and it goes to social media so fast. We made a plan from there, and then I started forgetting after that.

First of all, thank you for being willing. Sometimes, we can have that story and it comes out like a memory, and sometimes, it comes out and it’s like we’re there again. We’re a participant. It’s like, “How am I stuck right here again?” You feel like, “That won’t happen to me again,” and it’s like, “It did.” It’s like, “That’s supposed to be a memory that I look back on, not that I’m a participant in.” You talk about social media and people spreading and talking about things when they’re not one of the people that’s going to sit in the front row of the funeral. They’ve heard about something and they’re sharing about it prematurely. Whatever you want to say after that, I want to hear.

With social media, it gives people a platform. With that, we crave attention. That’s not always a bad thing, but it’s not always a great thing either. With something like death, sometimes, people feel, “If I’m the first one that puts it out like it’s a news story, then people will fly to my page.” We crave that. We crave those likes. We crave those notifications. It’s like, “If I’m the first one to put it out, everybody’s going to come to me and ask me all the questions. I’m going to be the go-to person.” In those moments, people who want to do that forget about the living people that they are hurting by doing that.

Ken was extremely popular. He was so well-loved and well-liked because he was so nice. We would have talks constantly about a wedding. We would talk about our wedding and he was like, “We’re going to bring the whole city out.: I was like, “We’re not because I don’t like half of these people.” Ken was a social butterfly. I can sit in a room and not talk to you ever. That’s me. I can be very to myself. Especially if I’m scanning the room and I feel some energy that I don’t like, I’m going to sit there.

With him, he’s always trying to make a conversation like, “Do you do this?” He was like that. He was so well-liked. He had so many friends and so many people who loved him and looked up to him that we knew we were on a schedule. We knew that it was only going to be so long before people found out. Most of their immediate family already knew. I want you to understand that their immediate family was huge. When I say immediate, I don’t mean a couple of cousins or little aunties here and there. The aunties are about 4 or 5. All first cousins were in their teens and twenties. They were a big family. That’s what I mean by immediate. They already knew.

Social Media

I want to circle back to the social media part. I’m going to ask the question and you throw it out there however you want to respond to it. Social media and someone you love has passed.

It’s a beast in itself. Social media gives everybody this platform to be able to say how you feel about everything all the time. It may or may not be necessary all the time. Many of us, especially Millennials because we’ve grown up with social media, started from BlackPlanet to MySpace to Facebook when it was college students to Facebook when it was open to everybody. In all these different platforms, it’s like we crave the notification. We crave that life. We crave that attention.

Social media can be a great thing, but it also does us a disservice. It gives everybody a platform, which is unnecessary. Share on X

For some people, when they decide that somebody who has passed that they might be somewhat even close to or maybe not, they feel a need to be the one to, almost like a journalist, be the one that breaks the story. They’re like, “Breaking news. This person’s dead.” That has happened before when in 2015, a good friend of mine passed away and I didn’t know yet. We went to elementary school together.

We had a group of us and they had not yet sent it to the group. Things had not been solidified yet. I saw on social media that somebody was like, “Rest in peace, Austin.” I was like, “What’s going on?” I remember calling my friend. This is my friend Reggie. He’ll come back up. He was like, “Where did you see that?” I said, “Somebody put it on Facebook.” He was like, “Who? I got a call before you did it.” It already spread like wildfire because that person had to be like, “Breaking news. I’m going to break the story.”

When people do that, sometimes, we forget about the living people who have to deal with the fallout of that. It makes it a bit unfair because if that person’s family doesn’t have time to notify everyone and they’re learning about it on Facebook because you wanted a notification, it’s a selfish move. You may or may not be trying to be selfish.

That is my rule of thumb. If the family hasn’t posted anything, I’m not posting anything. It may not be publicized yet. Even if I found out from a friend of a friend, until someone publicized it that is the family or a close family or a statement has been made, it is not my place to have their picture on my Facebook like, “Rest in peace to the homies.” That isn’t my place yet. Let’s make sure we’ve gone through the process.

If the family of the deceased has not posted anything yet, do not post anything on social media. Share on X

It’s a strange thing because that was our main focus at that point in time. It was making sure his close friends and family knew before it was put on social media. We didn’t want anybody to feel like, “I found this out on Facebook.” We didn’t want anybody to feel that way. We had to sit down and make a game plan, and I’m glad we did.

I remember it being close to 6:00 because the sun was coming up. I said, “I’m not coming to work. Let me call my boss.” At that point, my aunt was living and I was still taking care of her. I was supposed to go that day. I said, “Let me call my aunt.” His cousin was like, “I’ll do his high school friends.” He had a group of high school friends. They had been friends since they were young. She said, “Let me do the high school friends. You do the college friends.” It was easier that way because the college friends were most friends that I went to high school with. I was like, “That’s great.” We split it up and we’re calling. We were trying to do it so fast that now that I think about it, I don’t even think we were giving the person on the phone time to process it. We were trying to go, “I got to get to the next person. I’m sorry.”

You ran over them and were like, “Next person.” You probably weren’t even feeling it. You were like, “I got a task I got to do.”

The adrenaline was going. I had thrown up a few times because my nerves were all over the place. We were trying to get it done. All we kept saying was, “Let’s try to get this done before 7:00 or 8:00 because I already know when Facebook wakes up.” We were going so fast that one of his friends, I called her and told her, and maybe fifteen minutes later, she called me back and said, “I’m sorry. I don’t think I heard you correctly.” That was the first time I was like, “Oh.” I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “Did you say that Ken was dead?” I was like, “I did. I’m sorry.” She was like, “Okay,” and hung up.

I’m realizing that there was no time to process this. We kept thinking, “Hurry up before Facebook.” Mind you, we had called his close friends and close family. I may have texted one of my friends. The rest of them found out on Facebook. My close friends were like, “What the hell?” It was all of them because people had already started making posts. It was maybe 7:30 when that first post went up.

I can relate to that because somebody did that to me when my husband died.

That’s awesome.

Beyond. Mark died on a Saturday. I came home on a Sunday. I was three hours away from home. Some friends came to pick me up and drive my car back and drive me back. For three hours, I’m silent. I’m stunned. The person who lived relatively close to me came over to my house the next day because they had seen all the cars. They found out what was going on. They immediately did that. People brushed fire because people who were close to me were right there. They were like, “How did I find out? On social.” I was like, “Are you sure? What are you talking about?” In my mind, I thought there was an unspoken rule that if it wasn’t that person’s immediate family, it’s not your place to do that.

I want to spend some time here because that was hard. There were some of his family members that didn’t know and they were calling me. They were giving me shade because that’s how they found out instead of me even getting a second to process and then start informing people. We beat this enough, but you’re not a reporter. If it’s not your person, let somebody else share that the way they want to. Don’t rob them of that opportunity because I feel like that’s what it was. It was robbing them. At what point do you make the last phone call and be like, “Shit.”

I honestly can’t remember because it was such a whirlwind because in between those phone calls, people were coming to my house. His cousins are showing up. There are a lot of them. His cousins are showing up. My friends are showing up. That’s how I knew they knew because some of them, I wasn’t able to get in contact with but then they showed up.

Once one finds out, they’re telling each other. I had a great friend group. They knew. They’re showing up, and in my head, I’m like, “What are you doing here?” They were like, “Are you fucking kidding me? What do you mean?” I was like, “How did you know? What’s going on?” In between phone calls, that’s happening. People are sitting, talking, and crying. There was so much chaos.

All I can remember doing is this a bunch of times. I was looking up and thinking, “At what point do I wake up from this dream? This has to be the longest dream I’ve ever had in my life. I’m done with it. Where’s the music?” I know I’m going to wake up from a dream when I start to hear music in my head. I start singing to myself. I’m like, “Where is the music to end this dream? I’ve had it. That’s enough.” It continued. Once that post went up, there were so many posts after.

I’m thankful for the people who reached out and all that, but every post, I see his face. It’s over and over again. People are tagging me and I see his face. It doesn’t dawn on me that I won’t see his face again and this is it. What I’m seeing on social media and what I’m seeing on my phone is all that I’m going to have. I started thinking, “The next time I’m going to see him is in a casket.” Things like that were running through my mind while people were talking to me or saying things to me. I would be like, “What did you say? I can’t fathom it.”

I’ve never told anyone this. You’ll be the first to know this. In between all of that happening, I would still step out of the room to call Ken because I’m like, “This is a joke.” I would call. I didn’t want anybody to see I was doing it, so I would step out, go upstairs, go to the bathroom, and then try to call him again, thinking, “Maybe he’ll answer this time.” I did that. I called Ken and it was for days after. I called him until eventually the phone died and it didn’t ring anymore.

Was it his voice on the voicemail? Did you hear his voice?

No. It was the standard. I did that until I couldn’t call anymore. I remember sending one more text message. I said, “If this is a joke, then that’s okay.” If you have an iPhone, they send blue. They were always blue. When I sent that, it was green. I didn’t see anything else after that. Everything from there was a whirlwind. I can’t tell you one day from the next. I didn’t shower for maybe three days. I didn’t do my hair. It was foreign to me.

The Real Look Of Grief

That right there is why these conversations are important because these are things that people never know about. These are things that if you bumped into someone you knew who lost a loved one or a significant other or partner, you would go, “That happened.” We may have those conversations in private and in hush where it’s like, “I didn’t take a bath. You took a bath? I don’t know.” People on the outside now get to ear hustle into this conversation. Not if, but when their significant person passes away or they are the friend or family member of someone that has a significant loss, they won’t go, “They’re crazy,” or, “They’re doing too much.” This is what grief looks like after the funeral is over.

Everybody’s at the house and bringing food. In your mind, you go, “They don’t even cook. Why did they bring that?” You’re all over the place. You’re like, “You could have left a food gift card. I don’t eat your food, let alone now. I thought you liked me. Bring water. Why are you doing that?” There are people in your house. You wake up and there are new people.

The part about the wall closing in, it’s like, “How did you get here so fast?” In your mind, it may have taken them an hour, but it’s in slow motion. People are going, “You don’t seem like yourself.” How could I be? I don’t even understand why you think so. Unless you’ve been this close, I never fathomed it myself. I never had the concept. We may bury our parents. We may bury a grandparent. In our minds, those people are going to proceed us in death. They’re going to do that.

You and Ken already bound your lives to each other. That ceremony didn’t happen, but that unity had already taken place. That was the other reason why I want to have this conversation with you specifically because some people are like, “They weren’t married yet. Do you not understand? They didn’t do this or they didn’t do that.” You don’t qualify or disqualify someone’s love and grief based on what you consider proximity. It is that person, their relationship, and that love.

 

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Charniah Wilson | Grief Is Ghetto

 

I don’t want to say the love was severed because you love him forever, but that relationship in this place and this metaverse of the world, you don’t get to hug him or touch him and be able to do that. Somebody else may say, “They weren’t married.” You hear people say things. It’s like, “You have not lost this type of love before to even fix your lips to say that.” I wanted to give you a voice in that.

I’ve gotten the, “At least you weren’t married,” comment before. I wasn’t sure what that meant. I thought in my head, “I don’t know what that means, but that doesn’t change the connection we had.” Even with the legalities, I know we hadn’t gotten there, but the whole legalities of things when someone dies, if we had been married, it probably would’ve been a little easier to do some of those things that needed to be done.

The State Of Unmarried

We can jump there. I love that his family came and honored the love. They came and didn’t say, “She’s his girlfriend or fiance. She’ll find out. She’s at the back of the line.” It sounded like they honored the relationship. They gave you space to be part of things that needed to be done, but they didn’t have to. They were intentional about that. The legalities in life, and you don’t have to dive into the deepness of that, but that’s something that people need to think about when we are interacting. What are the legal things we could do until we get to marriage that may help a situation? However you want to expound on that.

The good thing about Ken and I even though we weren’t married is I knew where his legal documents were. I knew what life policies he had. He sold life insurance for a while or for a brief period. He had life insurance. He told me where they were. I knew where everything was. I was familiar with those things. There were certain things I couldn’t do that his cousin Kim had to do.

He was raised by his aunt. At the time, his aunt wasn’t doing well. Trying to deal with him being gone on top of that, his cousin Kim took it on for her mom. I felt so bad about that part of it. She even told me one day we were on the phone and she was like, “I have made at least seven calls today and I’ve had to say, “Ken Warren is deceased.” I came to her. I said, “That’s okay. I’m sorry you had to do that. If you want me to do some of it, I can. You can call at a later day.” She said, “You are dealing with enough. I can do this part.” I felt so bad that she had to do that.

That next year when my aunt passed, I had to do a lot of it. My cousin did a bunch of it, her son, but I had to do a lot of it as well. I was like, “She has passed away. What do I need to do? I’m going to change his name because she’s passed.” I thought about Kim at that moment. I was like, “This is what this is like. This is awful. I’m tired of calling people.” There are certain things as his girlfriend that I could not do because legally, it had to be his next of kin. I did think sometimes, “Had we been married, it probably would’ve been easier. Kim wouldn’t have had to do so much of the official stuff. I could have taken more of that on.” There was a little bit of guilt in that that she had to make so many of those phone calls.

That is a heavy thing. When you were saying that, that took me right back there. I got to the point that I was like, “I can only do 2 or 3 of these a day.” Those are not the speed calls that you have with announcing. These people have questions. They want a copy of a death certificate. They want all these other different things and it is draining. Grief is so draining in the process of managing that.

Grief Is Ghetto

The things you had to do for your aunt, it’s not like you wish you could bury them, walk away, and go back to life. You have to unravel the remains of their life and do all of those. You do all of those things. Let me ask you this. How was Grief is Ghetto birthed? You probably were talking about all these things we’re talking about but in a different format. If you’ve not seen her, go check her out because it will help you laugh as you cry.

You got to. Humor is my coping mechanism. It is my superhero and my nemesis. Humor is everything to me. Grief is Ghetto was born from a journal entry. I talked about a makeup artist who did my makeup on the day of Ken’s memorial. It was on a Sunday. Most makeup artists don’t do makeup on Sundays, but my best friend was like, “You are getting your makeup done. I’m calling her.” She knows I hate favors. I said, “I don’t want a favor.” She said, “It’s not a favor. It’s happening. You go here tomorrow at this time.” The makeup artist was outstanding. She let me cry. Every time I cried, she was like, “Take your time.” It wasn’t like, “Tone it down. I’m trying to put this mascara on you.”

I’m thinking that’s not all going to wash away like that’s waterproof. I’m not a makeup girl. Go ahead. I’m like, “How is that going to work?”

Whatever she did, it stuck. There’s a picture I took after his memorial. It’s a selfie. That face is beat. I was like, “That’s crazy. I cried all day. That’s amazing.” She did her thing. She was awesome. Towards the end of the appointment, because I kept on crying, she was like, “Can I tell you something I did when my mom passed?” I was like, “Please, tell me anything.” She said, “I would keep a journal and write to her as if she was living. Anything that happened that day, it was almost like I was telling her. Me and my mom talked every day on the phone. I tell her about my day. That was comforting to me. Try that.”

I started doing it. I would say at the end, “Ken, this is ghetto as hell. This is ghetto.” Eventually, I started recording. I would do audio recordings of what I felt. At the end, I’m like, “This is so ghetto. Grief is so ghetto.” I kept saying that. Eventually, I said, “Let me try to do a video. Maybe somebody will resonate.” At some point, I started to feel like I was going insane. It was like, “This shouldn’t be grief. Which one of these five steps am I on? I know you said these five steps, but which one of these makes me want to blow my brains out? Which one of them am I on now? I don’t see that step listed. Where’s that step? What are we doing?”

Grief, depression, denial, and all of it.

I was like, “Where is it where I don’t want to eat and bathe? Where’s that step?” I made a video of myself saying how I felt and how I felt that day, and it continued. Some of my friends were like, “‘You should post it. Ken always said you needed to get on TikTok.” I was like, “I’m not getting on TikTok. I’m not getting another social media. I got too many already. I got Facebook and Instagram. That’s enough. I’m not getting any more. I’m not doing TikTok.” He would always say, “If you get on TikTok, we’ll be famous. You’re funny. I’m funny.” I was like, “I’m not getting on there.”

Guess who had the last laugh on that.

I have a picture on Instagram of me holding a picture of Ken. My caption reads, “Ken always said I should get on TikTok so I can make us famous. It’s funny how that worked out.” I did a few videos first to see if I could get a following, and then I posted it. I kept posting and people kept commenting. I was like, “Other people feel like this. It’s not me.” I would dive deeper into things. I’m like, “Oh my God.” I could pump out 5, 6, or 7 videos.

I love to look back at those videos, especially the ones from when I first started because you can see in my physical appearance how the grief journey changed. You can see when I didn’t wash my hair or when I didn’t wash my face. I can see where sometimes it didn’t look like I bathed that day. You can see even though I’m funny and even though I’m relatable, I’m drowning.

You can see the hollow in your eyes.

I am drowning. It’s why my pupils are so dilated because I’m drowning or drinking. I drank every day.

What were you drinking? Whiskey sour was holding me down for a good year until I came out of that.

My friend loved whiskey sour. I did drink a lot of whiskey. Somebody bought me a big old thing of Jack Daniels. I would drink that with anything. If I had juice, I drank it with juice. If I had no juice, I drank it with water. At some point, I was like, “I’m going to drink this.”

I really told my liver, “Thank you for holding all of that. Thank you for holding it down. We’re not doing that so much now.” It was 9 months to 1 year. I was like, “Liver, I appreciate you because you did that thing. You held me through. I don’t recommend it to anybody. It was the numbness. I was going to therapy. I was a journalist. I was doing all those healthy coping skills, but I would go to a place in the house and be like, “I got to throw that out. I got to do this.” I was like, “Let’s go do this.” I was working out. Everybody has to find their coping skills. Don’t drink whiskey sour for life.

A cautionary tale. Do not drink yourself to death. From that, I’m very open and honest. I have developed some health issues because of my unhealthy practices while grieving. Find another way.

Unfortunately, we’re in this club together. Also, that’s why it’s called Real Talk because if somebody is doing that, I want them to go, “Okay.” It normalized that other people resonated. Other people understood that. Other people knew what this was like. Also, that’s not a place to stay. That is a temporary scenario. It should be shorter than longer because it will impact your body.

You’ve gone from not doing that at all to being over the top. Your body’s going, “What are we doing here?” You’re tired because you’re not sleeping. Your body is not getting what it needs to make good cells for you to keep staying alive and being produced. You were talking about looking at your TikToks overtime in the initial part of this. I’ll take you back there because we went down. Do you want to pull us back up? We were about to stir up a mixer.

I love looking at the old ones because I can see the progression. I can even see during the times when I would put on makeup and have a cute outfit on. I was showing one to my friend. I was so pretty that day. I was like, “How did I get my hair? I look cute right here.” My hair was cute. That’s when I was getting my eyelashes done. I can’t get them done anymore because I’m apparently allergic to the glue. I would get my eyelashes done. I was like, “My lip gloss is popping. I’m cute right here.” She was like, “That is cute.” I was like, “That day was awful.” I said, “I look so cute and I’m so funny right here. That day was awful.”

I said, “I probably sat in the bathtub that day crying for an hour until my head hurt. That day was awful.” I remember getting up, putting that makeup on, and having to stop to cry. I would cry to the point where I was hysterical. I have asthma. It was to the point where I would not be able to breathe. My friend, Reggie, I told you he was coming back, was very important during this time because he was the only one who would say, “Look at me. You can cry and scream, but you have to breathe.” I would have to stop and he’d be like, “I need you to breathe in, and then I need you to breathe out.” I would even call him during those times and say, “FaceTime. Look at me.” He’s a teacher. He would answer the phone during class.

I was like, “I remember that day so vividly.” People who see it on TikTok would be like, “You’re so pretty. Your makeup is so pretty. Your hair is so pretty.” When I see it, I’m like, “That day was garbage. What a terrible day,” but I love to look at it. I love to look at it because I’ve come so far since then. I’m going to continue to do work because I’m not where I was in 2021.

Do I still think about Ken? Do I still grieve for Ken? Absolutely. Do I grieve for what Ken and I could have been? Absolutely. Do I believe that Ken served such a greater purpose when he was here and that his purpose was fulfilled? Yes. He did everything that he was supposed to do and should have done and left peacefully. That’s the greatest thing you can do. I won’t say every day, but some days I am very at peace with that. There are some days where I’m like, “This is bullshit. I can name five people that should be dead and not Ken.” That’s all I’m saying.

When Mark died, I was like, “Such and such marriage isn’t good.”

I was like, “Look at you. You are cheating on your wife. I don’t even know why you’re still living.” I was so angry.

Nobody told me that until a widow came to pick me up. I was like, “These thoughts are real. These thoughts are vivid.” What does ghetto mean? Everybody may not have a concept of what that is. When you wrote that at the end of your letters or spoke that to Ken, break that down into words or what did that mean to you then and mean now.

I associate ghetto with something that is difficult to handle, that is life-changing almost, or that is gut-wrenching. You’re never the same. That’s what I meant when I said, “This is ghetto.” Instead of saying, “Grief is difficult,” or, “Grief is hard,” or, “Grief is challenging,” I needed something that was more so me. I can be very corporate and then I can be ghetto. It depends on what me you meet at that moment.

I feel like grief is ghetto. It has no other personality. Let me rephrase that. It is ghetto in the sense that it’s ever-changing. It’s different with each person. It’s different with each death you experience. My grief with Ken and my grief with my aunt was different. Although I grieved for both, it still was very different. Ken was sudden. Ken was somebody I thought I was going to marry whereas my aunt had lived a long life. She was sick.

 

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Charniah Wilson | Grief Is Ghetto

 

We expect our parents and our elders to proceed before us, so that was more something I saw coming. In my head, I prepared for it. It was still difficult, but it was different than Ken saying, “I’m on the way home,” and never coming back. Processing that was almost unfathomable. I couldn’t process that. Grief is ever-changing. It’s so many things. To sum it up, ghetto is the word I chose because even ghetto can mean a number of things. I say I’m ghetto because of the way I talk and how I move my shoulders. G hetto is a multitude of things, but I thought it was perfect to describe the journey that grief is.

Grief Journey

If someone were to ask you, “What does that mean, the journey?” You didn’t physically go someplace, but there’s a grief journey. What does that mean? What does that look like?

I would describe it as almost like a metaphorical path. You are walking down and there are things you have to cross, go under, and go over there. There are roadblocks. There are cones you have to zig-zag. There are things you might have to carry with you. It is a journey because it’s ever-changing. You never truly stop grieving. It becomes easier on you as time progresses.

This is a perfect example. A roadblock for me would be, “Here comes February. Ken died in February.” The first February of 2022 is a roadblock. I’m like, “Let me stop. How am I going to do this? How am I going to get through this?” It was very difficult. Come February of 2023, I know that roadblock is coming, so I’m like, “Let me go ahead and prepare.” Even the people around me know, “We know that roadblock is coming. Let us know whatever you need. Do you want to go out to eat? Do you want to go do something fun? Do you want a whiskey sour? What are you going to do?”

Come February of 2024, it’s no longer a roadblock. I know I can get past it if I go this way. I’m going to go through it. I’m going to feel it. It’ll be challenging. However, it’s no longer a roadblock because I can get through. It changes. The journey changes in that way to where some things aren’t as difficult. There are certain things that trigger an array of emotions. There are certain things that do take you to a different place.

Although that path that you’re going down, you might have memorized it back and forth and you’re like, “I’ve been through this path. I’m doing good,” sometimes, you hit that traffic light. It’s like, “Hold on. Do you remember this? Why would you bring that up? I’m about to cry.” You cry about it. When that light turns green, I’m like, “It is time to go. It is time to keep going.” That’s how I look at the moments.

Ken’s cousins will say, “One day at a time. One moment at a time. One minute at a time. One breath at a time.” That moment, feel that. Cry, breathe, and then go to the next moment. That’s how I look at the journey when I hit a moment where I get overwhelmed with emotion. I might hear a song or somebody might say something that Ken used to say and I’m like, “Hold on.” I’m going there, but it’s for a moment.

I do an exercise. I told my friend this. She lost her dad. I said, “Breathe in as much as you can, and then when you breathe out, say, “Breathe.” Say it.” She said, “That works.” I said, “It works.” I started doing it with Reggie because he was like, “Breathe.” He was telling me to breathe. Instead of breathing, I was saying, “Breathe.” That has helped me so far in the journey. I’m like, “I’m well enough. I’m about to cry,”
and then I would feel myself come down. The light turns to green and we’re on to the next. That’s why I describe it as a journey. It’s ever-changing, but it gets easier.

Grief is a journey. It constantly evolves but it gets easier. Share on X

Healthy Coping Skills

Thank you. You leaned into what my next question was about that light turning green. Do you have other healthy coping skills? The breathing is similar to breathwork. When we’re hyperventilating, there’s no oxygen coming to our brain. If there’s no oxygen coming to our brains, we cannot think, articulate, and pay attention.

Grief of this magnitude already feels like trauma in our prefrontal cortex. It’s dysfunctioning and our in-flight mode is heightened. On top of that, we’re not breathing and not sleeping. We’re exhausted. We’re tired. The hyperventilation or that breathing may sound like, “You’re breathing all the time,” but that deep breathing and really getting it in and getting out is so powerful. Thank you for mentioning that. What other types of healthy coping skills have you utilized in this journey?

I go to therapy. I didn’t start therapy until maybe the end of ‘22. Therapy has been amazing for me. I always tell people this story, I lied. I went into therapy lying because I didn’t want her to commit me to a mental institution. I was like, “If she hears the thoughts that I have, she’ll be like, “You said you’re at home. They’re going to come pick you up.”

It was virtual at this point in time.

Still, I told her my address. I lied so much. My therapist is so great. At the end of that, the first thing she said to me was, “Why do you not give yourself credit for all the things you did for Ken? You seem to hold guilt over the things that you felt like you could have done, but you don’t give yourself credit for the things that you have done.” I was like, “How the hell can you get out all the lies I told you? I don’t like that you listened to what I said and picked out the fact that, “You’re lying.” I figured from that point, “She knows how to read cues. She knows that this is not truthful.

2022 is when I started because I started after my aunt died. I had a really hard time. When my aunt passed, I had a hard time with idle time because I never had it. I went from working full-time, taking care of her, and coaching to then not taking care of her anymore. I’m working full-time and coaching, and in between that, I’m like, “I should be doing things.”

The grief I felt with my aunt was very different. I would still go to the store and put her items in my buggy. I’m like, “Let me get this for her. I’m going to get this.” When I would get to the checkout line, I would be like, “Oh.” One time, I bought groceries. I was like, “I’m not going to tell this lady that half of this shit is for a dead person. I’m not going to tell this lady that.” I didn’t realize it until I got there. One of my friends was like, “It’s time for therapy.” I was like, “I know. I have to do something.”

That was the initial reason I went. It has been amazing. My therapist does great work. She does follow me, so she watches my videos. She challenges me. She gives me homework. It’s not the, “How do you feel about that?” It’s not that. She’s giving me homework. She’s giving me challenges. She’s like, “Put this in your notes. I want you to say this to yourself every day. I want you to read through this. Tell me how you feel about that.” She also knows that when I go quiet, something is wrong. If she hasn’t heard from me, she’s sending me, “What are you doing? Are you all right?” She knows during holiday time like, “How are we doing? Holidays can get dark.” I appreciate her for that. That has been extremely therapeutic.

Also, working out. Believe it or not. Nobody wants to hear it. Everybody’s like, “What?” I didn’t want to work out. Working out has been so amazing, and I hate it. I have to work out tomorrow at 7:00. I keep telling myself, “I got to work out.” I don’t. I don’t have to do anything, but I’m going to go because of the feeling. It feels so good afterward. The endorphins are flowing. I feel like I can save the world and rescue a child from a burning building after I’ve worked out. I’m like, “I can do everything.” That’s how I feel. Working out has been huge for me.

Grief is Ghetto has been therapeutic and recording my journey. I have gotten some people on my post that say, “I want to record my journey as well.” I’m like, “Do it. Record it. You can record it for yourself.” I have hundreds of videos that I haven’t posted on TikTok. They’re for me. Some of them are hilarious. Some of them are heartbreaking. They’re all  for me to go back and look at like, “Look at where you’ve come from.” That’s therapeutic for me.

M usic has always been a therapy but now more so than ever. My friend Tevan and I both suffer really badly from depression and things like that. He told me one day, “When I feel myself having a panic attack, I start singing and it helps. It helps to slow my breath down and it helps to calm my thoughts.” I started doing that.

It could be any song. Most of the time, it’s a hymn. I grew up in the old church, AME. I’ll sing a hymn like Pass Me Not or something. I start to sing. That’s therapy. I’m like, “I feel it revving up.” Immediately, I start singing because that interrupts that burst of thoughts that I’m about to have. Those things like working out, therapy, singing, journaling, video journals, all of those things have been so therapeutic. Some people write books. Some people write stories. All of that is good. Drinking, no. I shouldn’t have done that.

Maybe a little bit, but not the long game.

Do what you need to do, but let’s drink socially. Let’s try not to be drunk every day. Also, it’s showing up. Even the days when I put on makeup and stuff and people say, “You don’t look like what you’ve been through,” it’s like, “That’s the idea.” I hate that phrase, but that is the idea. Getting up, making sure my hair is done, and making myself feel better about myself, all of that was therapeutic. The thing about healthy coping mechanisms is it takes a certain discipline. You have to keep doing them. Otherwise, you fall back into that despair.

Health coping mechanisms take a certain discipline. You have to keep doing them or else you will fall back into despair. Share on X

Getting Past The Roadblock

That leads to my next question. When you said, “In time, it gets better,” what I interpreted was not the elapsing of time. It’s all the things you were during that time. Imagine I’m the person whose love has died. It’s three years later and I am still stuck on the same roadblock and I have not gotten past that. I have not left the house. I work from home. I don’t engage or interact with anybody that I knew when my person lived. This is ghetto because I’m stuck right here. I can’t even conceive of doing that. What would you tell me?

In life, we all have choices. Even in our darkest days, whether you believe it or not, whether you know it or not, those choices still exist. You still have a choice. If you continue to see that roadblock as a roadblock you cannot pass, then that’s what it’ll be. You have to change your perception of where you want to be and who you want to be.

I hate this cliche ass phrase, but that person that has passed on does not want to look down and here you are at that roadblock three years later. They don’t want to see that for you. The people that love you and care about you don’t want to see that for you. You have to not want to see that for yourself. That doesn’t mean you forget about that person. That doesn’t mean you put that person on the back burner. That doesn’t mean any of that.

That means that you take simple steps or you take every moment that you can to try to figure out, “How do I knock this?” You have to make a conscious effort every day to figure out, “How do I make this roadblock passable?” You try. If you try to climb over it and you fall back down, it’s like, “I’m going to sit here for a minute and I’m going to think. Let me try to move it this way. Let me try to move it that way.”

It’s a game of, “Let me try,” like anything else when you’re doing something new. When you’re experiencing grief of this magnitude, it’s always new. It’s new with every person. It’s new with every experience. It’s new. With something new, you find a way to work at it and work through it. If you don’t want to be the person that’s 3 to 5 years from now still sitting in the same spot, then you work to move forward. Whatever those little steps are. Nobody’s saying, “Next year you’ll be healed.” No one’s saying that. If the next day is better than yesterday, then you’ve moved. That’s it.

 

 

I have some people who will comment sometimes on my TikTok and say, “I’m never moving on.” Don’t hold yourself back from experiencing what life has to offer because this person has left. Death is a part of life. We will all die. All of us. We’re all going to die. What we do between birth and death is on us. You don’t want to reach the point where your life is ending because someone else’s life has ended. You don’t want that to be your endpoint where you’re like, “This person left, so I’m done.” You don’t want that to be it.

I was at that point where I was like, “There’s nothing for me to do here,” but there was. Had I given into those thoughts or that roadblock that, “Ken is gone. I’m good. I can leave here,” and I let that roadblock be my end, there’d be no Grief is Ghetto. There would be no platform on TikTok with 20,000 people who are following it. That wouldn’t exist because I never got to a point where I could pass this thing. Think of what you can do if you try. That’s what I would say to a person who is stuck. Think of what’s on the other side of that roadblock. If you can pass it, think of what could be over there for you if you try. That’s what I would say.

Realizations After Ken’s Passing

What have you learned about you that you didn’t know before Ken died?

I knew I was funny.

Check, so you can’t use that one. You sound like you two were funny together.

I knew I was funny, but I knew a lot of times, I was trying to be funny. I didn’t know that I didn’t need to try to be funny or be entertaining. Let me use that word. I didn’t know I was entertaining. I didn’t know that even in my despair when my body went into autopilot, I immediately became an entertainer. I had a friend that was like, “How are you so funny? How are you funny right now?” My brain went at that point because I didn’t care about what I said. I didn’t care how I was received. Much of the fog lifted and I was naturally funny. I was naturally me. I didn’t know that I could connect with people the way I could before Ken died.

Remember. I told you I could sit in a room and not have to say much, but I didn’t realize how much space I took up in that room and how many people would gravitate toward me if I said something. I didn’t know how many people would relate if I said something. I didn’t realize how relatable I was. I never realized those things until Ken passed. It took his passing for me to open up and see, “Look at these people who relate.”

It’s not just with Grief is Ghetto because I have other videos like Cha’s Random Thoughts. That came from Ken. He would do Ken’s Random Thoughts and he would post them on Facebook. I would help him with them. He’d be like, “Give me some random stuff to say on Ken’s Random Thoughts.” I’m like, “Say this and put this.” He had started that. Once he passed I said, “I should do Cha’s Random Thoughts. That’ll also be in his memory.”

All those thoughts are random things that I have thought about throughout the day that I put in the notes. I then went back, recorded them, and then started saying them. People are like, “I thought about that too. Why do you think like this? Why are you so funny?” I didn’t think people wanted to see stuff like that, but I’ve learned that what you say matters to people, and what you do matters. That’s something I’ve learned although in a very difficult way. That’s something I’ve learned now that Ken has passed on, and I’m grateful for that.

Everything you say matters to people. Share on X

It sounds like you are closer to the place where there are more good times and memories than there are the sad times being swallowed up by that moment of his death where your grief is transcending into a different space.

I have more good memories. Different triggers trigger memories. It used to be in 2021 and sometimes in ‘22 where the triggers would be bad. I hear something and they wouldn’t be bad, but for me, I would go to tears. It was something that happened not long ago. I wish I could remember. Something happened not long ago and I thought about Ken. I started chuckling so loud at work because that memory came out of nowhere.

It made me laugh so freaking loud. My coworker was like, “Did you see a TikTok? What are you doing?” I was like, “I’m sorry.” That made me belly laugh because I had forgotten about things like that. There are times when it will trigger something, but the majority of the memories, even if they start with some tears, end with laughter.

I had a moment about my aunt. I was talking to a client about hospice care and things like that and all of those things that we had to do for my aunt. I was like, “Give me one second,” because at that moment, I went to a dark place. I went into the bathroom and was like, “Breathe.” At that moment, the thought that immediately popped into my head was one of the nights when I was doing my regular nightly duties for her. She didn’t have dementia or Alzheimer’s, but she was at a point where sometimes, she couldn’t remember who certain people were. In her defense, I had on a wig.

I had a cute wig. I had come in and I was doing all these things. I got her in her wheelchair in the bathroom. We took a shower. I dressed her and put on some lotion. We brushed her teeth. I put her back in the wheelchair, put her back in the bed, covered her up, and gave her her water and all the things she likes at night. I always tell people she looked me dead in my face and said, “When is Cha coming?” She then rolled over and went to sleep.

You’re like, “Do you do this with anybody?”

I was like, “I bathe you. What do you think is going on?” I kid you not. In that moment of tears, I started cackling. I was like, “She looked me dead in my face and asked me when Cha was coming.” That tickled me so badly. I went from tears to laughter in a matter of seconds. My brain is wired to do that. They have passed on, but wasn’t this funny? I love that. I love that I can do that because I almost do it without thinking. I do it automatically. It takes a while to develop that as a skill, but I’ve done it so much to where immediately, I can conjure up something funny so that I won’t dwell in the sorrow. It’s been very helpful.

Meeting Viewers In Real Life

Thank you. I have a few more questions. I know we’ve been talking for a while. Have you had a total stranger come up to you and be like, “Are you the Grief is Ghetto girl, woman, or thing?” in real life?

Yes. I’m awkward in real life. When people come up to me, I’m like, “What?”

They think you’re about to perform a TikTok.

I’m not a big hugger, not at all. My friends know that. One of my close friends would be like, “Hug me,” and I’m like, “Ugh.” I’ll lean in. I’m not going to hug you. I’m not a hugger. I didn’t grow up hugging.

How tall are you?

I am very tall. She’ll bury me in her bosom really disrespectfully like, “Come here.” With my dance girls, we had a parade in Birmingham, the Magic City Classic. They think they’re famous on TikTok. They’re like, “Coach, put us on your TikTok. We need to be on your TikTok.” I’m like, “My TikTok is about grief. What are you thinking?” If I’m not in the room, they’ll be like, “Let’s do this routine and then coach will put it on her TikTok.”

When we were at the parade, it was going on as usual. The girls were dancing around. This lady kept glancing at me. I didn’t think anything of it. When I’m coaching, I’m paying attention to them cheering. I’m looking at them cheering. We take a picture with the other team, and then she comes up to me and is like, “Don’t think I’m weird.” I’m like, “Okay.”

I’m fixing one of my girls’ uniforms at the time. She said, “Are you Cha?” I was like, “I am.” I’m still thinking she’s somebody maybe I went to college with. I was like, “Did we go to school together?” She was like, “No. I follow you on TikTok. I love you.” My dance girl is standing there like, “Yeah.” I was like, “It’s 8:30 in the morning. You’re too loud. I’m trying to have a conversation. Shut up.” She and I had a conversation. I’m sorry. I don’t remember her name, but I don’t remember names. I’m not a name girl. She was so sweet. We talked. She was helping the other bands. We talked about a band. It was great.

Later on that day, there were two other people. I was taking one of my girls to the bathroom. She was like, “Excuse me.” I was like, “Yes?” She’s like, “Are you Cha?” One of my dance girls was like, “Yes. She is.” I said, “I am.” She said, “I have followed you on TikTok.” I was like, “Oh.” I’m really awkward in those situations so I don’t know what to do.

I’ve had a few people. I give those examples because all my girls ate that up. They thought that was the best thing ever. As soon as the parade started, they were like, “First off, coach is famous. Three people came up to coach and asked about TikTok. She’s famous.” I’m like, “Could you please stretch before the parade starts? Could you stretch? Stop doing that.” They ate it up. It’s more awkward for me. I don’t mind it, not at all. It’s awkward because I don’t know how to react to that. I want to be like, “It is I.” That’s weird.

If they read this episode, don’t walk up and start touching you. That’s not acceptable.

No one has. Most people are very cautious. Nobody’s like, “Give me a hug.” That would be like, “What do you mean give you a hug? What do you want?” When I do talk to those people, I always hug them. I’m like, “Let me hug you. I appreciate you. Thank you for following me.” The hug is not the initial thing. I’m not huggy.

What Gives Charniah Joy

I’m going to shift. I’ll try to let you go because I know you have given so much. Hopefully, you can relax and you don’t have a plan for something else to do because these kinds of conversations can be draining.

I’m going to go to the store, but that’s about it. That’s relaxing for me. I like the store.

What gives you joy?

Many things. It is probably those things that I named as far as coping. I know that sounds cliche, but really. Working out gives me joy. I feel literal joy after. Doing things for other people gives me a lot of joy. Making other people feel seen and heard gives me a lot of joy, whether that’s through Grief is Ghetto, community service work, or a lot of stuff I do for my girls. Let’s keep it clear. That’s not a paying job.

I love dance, and I enjoy watching my girls grow in dance. That gives me a lot of joy. There’s friendship. I’m a friendship girl. I love my friends. They are awesome. I love my friends. They’re funny. They keep me cackling. I can be me. I don’t have to censor myself. I love it. We have a good time. I love friendship. It gives me a lot of joy. Also, my dogs even though they have been a nightmare. T hat gives me joy.

I like simple stuff. I don’t love to go out a lot. I really like to be at home and rewatch the same shows. I’m going to watch Girlfriends over and over. I like to watch my fave show. I like to cackle. Being in a space that is free and inviting brings me joy, whatever it might be in the moment. It might be a place where I feel I want to go have a drink and I feel like I’m in a good space. I go and it’s a fun time. It feels free.

Being free gives me joy because I don’t feel that I am bound by grief anymore. It used to be that I was bound to it. I was caged in it. I was drowning from it. It is a part of my life, but that is it. It is a part. You get in line with everything else. I’ve gotten to a point where it can be not so much controlled, but it can be handled and maintained. That’s freeing. That gives me a lot of joy to know that I have worked to a space where I can be free.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Advice To Younger Self

If you could pick any time in your life, where would you go and talk to your younger you and what would you tell yourself?

I would go to my teenage self. I would tell myself to live in it. Don’t let these moments fly by. Live in it. Feel it. Experience it. Remember how you felt. Remember what you thought. Remember the wind. Remember to live in it because that time is so precious and it passes so fast, the time before bills.

Living at aunt’s house was a good time.

You could work that minimum wage job and still have the money. Live in it. Even in college, live in it.

We’re so busy trying to get to the next.

I know. We’re so quick. Even when I was in high school, I was like, “I can’t wait to graduate. I can’t wait to go to college.” As soon as I went to college, I was like, “I can’t wait to graduate.” Live in it. Be what you are at the moment and enjoy it. Don’t worry about the next moment. Enjoy that moment that you’re in because you don’t get that time back.

You don’t think how you did when you were a teenager or in your early twenties. I don’t think I did when I was 34 or 35. In those moments, remember to soak it in. Breathe it in and enjoy every second that life has to offer because so many things change. Some are for the better and some change. Soak in every single moment that you have. That’s what I would tell myself.

Closing Words

Thank you for being so open and having this conversation. I will let you close out this episode however you want. Maybe there was something else you wanted to cover we didn’t talk about, advice you wanted to give, or whatever, but the floor is yours.

I would close out by saying grief is something you’re going through. It’s not who you are. It doesn’t have to define you. It doesn’t have to be who you are every second of every day. Let it be an experience. Feel it, and then deep breath in, breathe, and let that moment go. Don’t let it define who you are. You define who you are. You define what you’re going to do and where you’re going to be in the next moment. Take that one moment, breathe in, let it out, and then go to the next.

Grief is something you are going through. It is not who you are. It does not have to define you. Share on X

Thank you so much.

Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

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Thank you for joining me here. This conversation with Charniah Wilson is going to be riveting. It is going to take you from crying to laughing, recounting maybe your own experience or a loved one, and then give you so many tips to encourage you to help someone else who is on a grief journey. If you are interested in sharing your journey, please email me at WidowhoodRealTalk@gmail.com. If you are interested in joining our support group, go to our website, Widowhood-RealTalkWithTina.org. Reach out to me if you’d like to share your journey or there’s a topic that you believe that you would like me to cover. Thank you for allowing me to be here with you on this journey.

 

Important Links

Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach.

I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others.

Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach out to a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/suicide/suicide-prevention-hotlines-resources-worldwide