In this installation of Our Stories, University Student Toni- Ann Morrison speaks to us about her personal experience of coping through her parent’s separation and later the death of her father. For many people, Jamaica is pictured as an island paradise- white sandy beaches, a beautiful and vivacious culture, rich and wholesome food, and attractive people. And while that image is not far from the truth, if the lens is focused on the inspirational stories of ordinary Jamaicans, you’d find a sharper, richer and truer image of the Jamaican experience… this is Our Stories!

We can never truly control what happens to us in life. Situations may arise that can make us or break us. Unfortunately, there are those cases that will test our true selves. How we deal with these situations are a testament to our resilience and strength to overcome what was meant to break us. University Student Toni-Ann Morrison shares with us how an immovable faith In God helped her throughout the darkest periods of her life dealing with her parent’s separation, and later the death of her father all whilst trying to balance school.

Meet Toni-Ann- Final Year Psychology Student (Minor in English Language Writing and Speech)

1. For how long were your parents married?

They were married for 26 years.

2. Why did they separate?

My parents separated mainly because of a breakdown in trust. I recalled them having frequent arguments over the ways they treated each other, their patience and kindness towards each other dwindled and they no longer saw eye to eye. My father was a policeman and so it was innate for him to probe and talk a lot, but sometimes this was to our detriment because he was sometimes very pessimistic, used sharp words to hurt us, he was insensitive sometimes and he often made untrue accusations of my mom as well as my siblings and I. I watched my loving and caring parents become estranged and cold towards each other after 26 years of marriage. After years of bouts of arguments and emotional and mental pain, the relationship became extremely toxic and my mother decided to leave before it became fatal. So, the summer of 2015 was when my mother decided to pack our bags and relocate to another home where she felt safe and secured from emotional toxicity the marriage had bred.

3. How did that make you feel?

The experience was emotionally and mentally debilitating. I felt a wave of emotional pain. My well-knitted Christian family was broken apart and I could not come to terms with it. I did not manage well emotionally with the fact that it was happening to me. It felt like I lost my identity and I did not know who I was anymore. I was torn between the two realities of living with my mom or my father who I loved both so dearly. I especially felt hurt because of what it did to my dad, it was as if his heart was ripped from him and he became very depressed and bitter, he was embarrassed and ashamed, his ego was bruised. He did not take it well, he lost a lot of weight and my heart could not bear it. I stayed with him after my mom and siblings moved away, to talk with him and encourage him and work out the toxic emotions he had, we had long conversations and while I tried not to internalize them, I could not. This was my father who I loved. He was hurting and I was hurting too. It was especially hard to leave him before entering UWI the August 2015 in my first year. My mom suggested I lived with her because where she lived was a lot more stable and we had a lot more amenities. My father had nothing since my mom took everything with her when she left. So, eventually and reluctantly [I] packed and left to settle at my mother’s home to start university in August.

4. What other emotions did this evoke?

I experienced a lot of anxiety, stress…I often woke tired or was jolted out of sleep, extremely, demotivated. I went into a state of depression and I found it hard to think clearly, this was exasperated and unveiled more when I entered the university. I was very uneasy and uncertain about the future and what will happen to my parents. My thoughts became chaotic and unsettled sometimes. I carried the pain of my parents’ broken relationship and I just could not shake it. It affected me to my core. I also lost confidence in my ability to do well in the university because of the challenges I faced in completing assignments and also the fact that my family was broken and we were living apart from my dad. In spite of it all, I did not forget my relationship with God, I cried out day and night for healing for my family and my emotional wounds because it was really intense and overbearing to carry.

5. How was the relationship with your parents before and after this took place?

My parents separated in the summer of 2015. Before this, my parents had occasional arguments, a few serious ones. I observed that the relationship became strained when mommy decided to quit her 9-5 job in 2005 to peruse what she really loved social work and counselling. So she did not have a lot [of] time to take care of domestic affairs such as cooking, cleaning, washing clothes. Also, she was becoming more assertive and educated and independent and this triggered a lot of arguments, where my mom was often times unwilling to meet the needs of my father. Over the years, these conflicts grew until he began to lament, ‘mommy is a changed woman’.  Our family dynamics was generally stable though, we did not have everything, but we all loved each other. Just a few conflicts with my parents and sometimes between us, a sibling really affected and threatened our stability. After my parents separated, communication minimized  when I stayed with my mom, WhatsApp was my main medium of communicating with Daddy, it was really weird because I did not think the day would come when I would text my dad over WhatsApp, because I was not a big fan of texting daddy via social media, as a teenager I thought it was uncool but since the situation this was how we had to communicate. My parents barely spoke and whenever they did it via us, siblings. Finances became strained because my father refused to provide money because we were not leaving with him, he refused to run two homes he said and often times pleaded with my mom to come back home. My mom even threatened to bring him to court because he did not want to provide financially.

6. Did you find someone you trust that you could talk to?

I generally shared with my best friend’s mommy and mentors. I also tried to do counselling but the service was not fruitful. However, out of all these persons, there was no one I could really unburden and share openly and completely with because I did not want them to carry my burden. I did not feel comfortable being totally honest with these persons because I was afraid, they would not understand and it was best to keep many of the uncertainties and pain I felt to myself, out of fear that I would not be understood or judged wrongly.

7. You mentioned that your father was murdered. How did this happen?

My father was murdered on a Friday at noon… June 23, 2016. He was found in Spanish Town in bushes with chop wounds and his car was stolen and driven to another location.

8. Did this affect your academics?

My father was killed in the summer just before second year of university. I was actually in summer school resetting 2 foundation courses I did not get because of the emotional pain and instability of my home, [and] my inability to cope in first year. Finally, when everything began to make sense and I became encouraged because I was a lot more relaxed and could grasp the course better, learning seemed fun and I was doing well, then in coming another tragic, the death of my dad and anguish rose up again. At this point, I felt my family hit rock bottom and everything was crashing down on us. I could not understand why this was all happening to me. The night I went to identify the car and his belongings I cried in anguish and disbelief, asking God to send comfort because I really could not believe my father was taken like that. I was also filled with anger and deep sorrow and anguish, I just could not understand why it was all happening and I did not have the mental, emotional strength to fathom it all. I was about to go crazy. It was that same night that I cried out to God for peace in my bed of tears and he granted me peace.

9. How did you manage to get through all that you have been through?

It was God who gave me the strength and peace to pick and move on despite my experience. My faith was strengthened as a result of all this experience and although occasionally I get anxious and stand on the edge of depression, I have learned to lean on God’s promises and apply the wisdom of the word of God. The verse that kept on coming back to me through it all was ‘I will never leave you or forsake you my child, I am with you always’.

It was a challenge to believe these things despite what I was experiencing but it called on a deeper level of faith I did not know I could possess. I grew spiritually in my outlook on life and I chose to lean on Jesus because it was the best thing to do. No one at this point could soothe my anxieties and questions and doubts about life. I found all peace in Christ Jesus and this is how I have been able to cope. The word of God gave me confidence and established resilience in me to move forward.

10. What message would you like to give to other young people like yourself who have been through a similar situation?

Faith in God requires courage. It requires you to believe on the promises of God even when you do not understand or feel like trusting in Him. This is the greatest lesson I have learned since all these unfortunate and thought process has been difficult, I have put God to the test and he had proven himself to me time and time again. I want to implore you to never lose Faith in God because with faith you can overcome any painful life events, move mountains regardless of how mighty it is! Put your FAITH IN GOD ALONE, try it today!
Excellent message Toni-Ann and thanks for sharing your story!