Lessons I Learned After Losing My Mother In 9-11, At 24-Years-Old
By Paula T. Edgar Esq
I was 24 when my mother, Joan Donna Griffith, was killed in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. She was everything to me. That Tuesday, she’d gone to work as an assistant vice president and office manager at Fiduciary Trust, where she worked on the 97th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. To say that her loss was devastating to our family would be an understatement, but as I reflect back on the past 15 years, I realize that my mother’s murder was a catalyst for me. The experience made me realize that life is not promised, and so I could not be complacent, I needed to strive for excellence always. This is a motto that I have carried with me since. I have learned many lessons in the last fifteen years and if I could give my 24 year old self advice, it would be this:
1. Exercise self-care
Losing my mother made me spin out of control in many ways. I drank excessively and made questionable decisions, all before I started counseling. Working with counselors gave me the tools and strategies to navigate through life rather than being resistant or hiding from it. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help, and incorporate practices in your life that keep you grounded, happy, and healthy.
2. If something is not serving you, let it go.
My mother’s last words to me were, “If you don’t love him, don’t marry him.” She was talking about my then boyfriend whom I actually didn’t love, but I was too stubborn and lacked the maturity to end the relationship. I’m not sure to this day if I would’ve ended my relationship if not for my mother’s death. The lesson carried over to my professional life as well: I have had work situations and volunteer responsibilities that have caused me more stress than I care to admit and in many cases drained me rather than helped me to advance towards my goals. Listen to your gut – as scary as it may seem, if it doesn’t feel right, let it go and move on. New opportunities will always be available.
3. Don’t be afraid to own your voice (even if it’s not popular)
Like many of us, I cared very deeply about being liked and many times that required me to make myself small or compromise my authentic self, both in relationships and at work. I now know that personally and professionally, I am doing a major disservice to myself and the people I interact with if I am not showing up as my entire self – with needs, wants, and opinions.
4. Put your cape down: Aim to do good, but forgive yourself when you fall short
I try to live in honor of my mother’s legacy every day. I require this of myself because I know she would’ve wanted me to be impactful in my home, my community, and successful in my career. With such a high standard to live up to, I tend to feel overwhelmed frequently. In these times I have to remind myself that I am human and it won’t serve anyone if I drain myself.
5. Remember what is important and Have fun!
When you have a lot of plates in the air, it can be hard to remember priorities. Above all, my mother’s life and death remind me that there is nothing more important than family and friends. As much as I am energized by the work that I do as an entrepreneur and the impact that I want to have as a leader, I try to always make the time I have with family and friends count. I also make it a point to infuse fun in everything I do because I know life is short – losing my mother shocked me into being present in every day, and making the most out of every one that I get. So each day I try to be present in the present, but always keep my eyes toward the future.
Paula T. Edgar Esq. is founder and principal of PGE LLC, a consulting firm that specializes in professional development, coaching, social media strategy, and diversity and inclusion. A civic leader and President of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, she received her B.A. in Anthropology from the California State University Fullerton and her J.D. from CUNY School of Law. Connect with Paula on Twitter @Paulaedgar and at www.paulaedgar.com