WHYY's This I Believe Home

WHYY FM Schedule

Listen Live!

Back to WHYY FM

Darlene Sistrunk

Darlene Sistrunk has a sharp ear for the humor in ordinary life. In a way she belongs to the school of "Funny as a way of being serious ", honed in by African American stand up comedians. She's also a writer, poet, community activist, wife, mother and grandmother. In her more corporate job, she deals with the trials and tribulations of people who are struggling with their mortgages. But it's as a mother that she confronted one of her most difficult moments.

I believe weakness is not a sign of fragility; it is the poster girl for strength. I can appreciate the irony of what I just declared. Let me explain!

I'm a strong woman. Determined, focused, type "A" personality, left-brain champion. No tears for me unless I'm dangerously angry or watching "Terms of Endearment", "The Color Purple" or "Imitation of Life". Accordingly, I keep a lid on my temper and officially declared a moratorium on watching those movies ever again. I know how to check my oil, tire pressure and the truth meter on a mechanic. I can negotiate a good deal, motivate my children and appreciate my husband. I am WOMAN and many have heard me roar. The general consensus on me was pretty terrific and I did not disagree.

Then one day my superpowers failed and my armor got a big fat hole in it. My firstborn son was brutally murdered. When the professional yet compassionate detectives made the notification, I temporarily lost my balance on the front steps. Then, robotically and instinctively, I woke my husband, called my sister and drove to my mother's home to break the news to her in person. Shock can be a gift from God. In the 24-36 hours that followed, I identified his body, made phone calls, delegated errands, organized flowers, cards and cash. Our son received a king's sendoff and I was the only one that could do it for him.

No one had to tell me to be strong. Someone did have to tell me to be weak and I didn't know how to give myself permission to do that. A specialized grief counseling center that deals specifically with families of homicide victims helped me come to terms with my own humanity and vulnerability. Losing a child is an unbearable yoke. Losing a child to homicide strangles the life of a mother. I was a rock even to the point of my own crumbling. I had to fall to pieces so God could put our family back together and prepare us for the new normal.

Stroke victims may have to relearn speech and coma patients may have to relearn walking. This over-achieving, grief-stricken mother had to relearn the power of tears. Through my liquid cleansing, I am learning to grieve so I can eventually celebrate the life of my son.

In small, everyday doses, I take some time to smile about Justin. As I face the upcoming murder trial, I strive to laugh out loud every day at something Justin said or did so I don't retreat back to my emotionless fortress.

Justin loved math, sports statistics, Tupac and Sam Cooke. He was proud of the grandfather he never got to meet and worried about the future. He was a happy new dad and a tired, old soul. Justin had a corny, cartoon laugh yet took his manhood and responsibilities very seriously. For the short, amazing and challenging life we had together, I have earned the right to cry.

As I said, I believe that weakness is not a sign of fragility; it is the poster girl for strength.