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From Tragedy Birthed Passion: Healing Work through Storytelling

Passion+Purpose Issue No. 3

This is me making it back to myself

- Julia Mallory

Photo Credit: Shelby Wormley

Dear Julian,

Do you remember when I read your sister and you a poem with a line about “brothas fighting in Vietnam”, I told you that my father fought in the Vietnam War and in true teachable moment fashion, I grabbed the globe and showed you where the country was in relationship to where we lived. You knew your grandfather had passed and were envisioning him in heaven. Then you looked at me and said “Mommy, where is heaven on the map?” I think you were about six years old.

Sometimes I can still smell you..

~Julia Mallory, Survivors Guilt

He was born the day before Mother's Day, the 13th. He had his mother's cheek and nose. From what I can tell from his picture, he was a carbon copy.

His name was Julian,

Julian Mallory.

His favorite color was orange, his face bright. He was fearless on the field and if you ask his mother, he was never afraid to speak his mind. Three weeks after his 17th birthday, he was shot. For four days, the family prayed for a miracle that never came. Another “feared Black boy in a hoodie.” He was just trying to break up a fight.

It has been four years since the moment Julian became forever young. In that time, his mother Julia had to work through her own healing and grief, so she did what she knew best.

She wrote.

Julia credits writing for saving her life, a creative love language she discovered at 17.

In May she re-released her sixth publication, Survivor's Guilt, (originally released in 2019) as a way not only to free herself from grief but others as well. The newest edition contains new poetry, photos, prose and QR codes that give the audience direct links to video files, giving all those who read the pages a glimpse into her journey of healing.

Photo Credit: Shelby Wormley

I saw the way people responded to me talking openly about my own journey through grief and felt like I was being called to do community work around grief, specifically around Black folk.

For the last few years, she’s done just that. Since 2018, Julia has been offering workshops and safe spaces for people to share and work through their grief and its complexities. People often find a piece of themselves reflected in her testimony.

We’re not always sad, and we're not always angry. There is joy there, there is laughter there. I wanted people to be okay with the multiple dimensions that grief presents.

It is important that we as people feel like we matter, and we’re not alone in our unique yet universal experiences. Where some struggle to find words, Julia brings to light.

I get a lot of feedback from survivors that feel seen. The manifestation of grief in our lives can often defy description and sometimes people feel like, “I don’t always have the words, but you've given me as close to an explanation or understanding that I could hope for, that I cannot have expressed myself”. So, that has been very rewarding knowing that people feel a connection to the work.

She calls this grief work or healing work.


/ɡrēf/ noun

  • deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone's death:

  • keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.

  • a cause or occasion of keen distress or sorrow.

  • can look different for everyone.

I’m trying to demonstrate for people who are also supporting survivors, grief might look a lot of different ways, but you have to respect that the person is the expert on their grief and if you're going to support them, understand they are going to have joy. They might want to dance or go out. Grief looks a lot of different ways and because we don’t talk plainly enough about it, we don't have enough examples to understand.

Photo Credit: Shelby Wormley

Grief has a way of hitting you; stopping you clean in your tracks. Some days grief feels like a ton of bricks on your chest. You bargain, curse the wind, deny, accept and the cycle continues. A phenomenon and word most people struggle to navigate or speak about. Grief is all encompassing. You grieve for the loved ones you lost, you grieve for the life you once had, past relationships--grief isn't limited to death-related loss. Writer and multidisciplinary artist, Julia Mallory, however found freedom in the midst of her grief by facing it.

“We cannot avoid our grief and be free”- Julia Mallory


/frē/ adjective

  • not under the control or in the power of another; able to act or be done as one wishes.

  • not or no longer confined or imprisoned.

  • A word you have to define for yourself

She coined the saying as a way for people to honor their full humanity. After having discussions about the chronic grief Black people experience around premature Black death, she realized grief was something that needed to be normalized and talked about.

Grief is a response to loss..why should we talk about it? Because loss is a natural part of life. We should talk about it because our grief needs to be freed, our grief needs an empathic witness. Our grief needs us to honor it and pay attention to it; so, in short, I think we should talk about it is something if left unexpressed, it can compound the difficulty of the loss we’re already experiencing.

Death and all that comes with it is not the easiest to talk about. In the last year, we have lost countless lives due to police brutality, gun violence, the coronavirus, suicide, sickness and natural causes leaving many numb, unaware of how to cope and unsure of which direction to go. Julia believes the first step requires courage and being true to your heart.

You know, it's not easy for people to stay in their emotional truth around their grief when everyone else is going on and acting as if nothing is wrong. So, I think there's just a certain level of being true to our heart; and being able to recognize that folks may not be comfortable with you expressing your grief, folks may not be comfortable with you acknowledging your grief, for living your grief. But we have to do it anyway, even when the permission is not readily available, even when people don't always understand that. A lot of times in this society, we have come to equate the expression of emotion as a weakness, where in reality it is actually one of the most courageous things that people can do.

In 2018, Julia said her purpose in all of this became clear, she was supposed to do something.

Photo Credit: Shelby Wormley

I just didn't know what it was; and in the process of writing the book, connecting to different communities and people seeing the work and hearing more about my journey, it became clear that part of my purpose in this season is absolutely to center grief, in the work that I do, and deliberately and intentionally connect with people around grief, especially Black folks.

Through her healing and courage to be vulnerable she found her passion and purpose,

I think purpose could be defined by any specific window of time; it can be seasonal. Sometimes I think we're also looking for this really large purpose, like all our purpose is to be this thing for 9000 years and sometimes our purpose, you know, it can be defined by a specific season.

Photo Credit: Shelby Wormley

In this season, she plans to continue to help people navigate through their grief, loss and love. Grief has a way of changing us and Julia recognizes the importance of us not losing ourselves in it. With time, space and work she knows that it is possible to heal to return back to ourselves.

All you have to do is at least make it back to yourself - Julia Mallory

...His name was Julian.

Julian Mallory.

To learn more about Julia Mallory, go to her website .

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