A year ago this week, a fellow #PDAProtégé and I flew to Dallas to be with our mentor turned friend Dr. Pamela D. Anthony. We wanted to spend time with our friend as she battled an illness that would ultimately take her from us. What we didn’t know was that our visit would be the last time we saw her. Her absence stings (present tense). I’m convinced that it always will.
If you knew her, you loved her. Everyone loved her. She affectionately called me Mini-Me, and I was too happy to have that nickname. I mean, she was Pam, Dr. PDA. She hadn’t birthed me, but Lord knows she helped raise me. We had met at Georgia State University when she was Assistant Dean of Students and a NASPA Undergraduate Fellows Mentor and I was an undergraduate business major who didn’t want to do business lol. She scooped me under her wisdom, sent me off to the University of Georgia (her masters alma mater), and mentored me as a student affairs professional and young adult. Always with an open ear, nonjudgmental but tell it like it is response, and love to cover a multitude of differences, she had guided me through professional, personal, relationship stuff, life transitions, curiosities, and WTH’s.
I’ve lost a significant person to me just months prior to completing each degree: Grandma Sarah in undergrad, Grandma Johnnie Mae in grad school, and Pam with my doctorate. I’ve really struggled with her transition. Pam was a winner. Pam had always won, but this time, it felt like she lost. I take comfort in our shared faith that she is at rest now, AND I’m still low-key (perhaps not so low-key) struggling with her absence.
Cognitively, I know that grieving is a process that takes its time. That said, the weight of this grief continues to weigh heavily on me. Pam’s transition occurred during the data collection phase of my dissertation. Grief and sorrow sat with me then, holding me captive for several weeks. I didn’t write, analyze data, or revise anything for almost a month. Antagonizing the pain was the realization that I wouldn’t get to write up the rest of my dissertation in Dallas with Pam like we had planned the year before. I had shared all major life transitions with Pam since I’d known her (e.g., college graduation, masters graduation, first grown up job, heartbreak and first dates). So, her absence from my dissertation defense, graduation, and job search have been acutely painful.
I promised family, friends, faculty, and mentors that I would take care of myself. So, I let myself cry and be sad when I needed to. I reached out to my other mentors for help me navigate processes and situations that I’d usually touch base with Pam about. I took time off from my dissertation process to be present with my emotions. I did all of that, AND I still cry when I think for too long about the fact that she’s gone. Pam was in a dream of mine earlier this summer. It was so good to see her. I cried the entire day. I just couldn’t pull myself together.
A good friend told me recently to take time to celebrate Pam when I think about how sad I am that she’s gone. I’ve been trying to do that along the way too. I wear her favorite color (purple) from time to time on purpose. I wear amazing lip stick because she told me that your lips gotta be poppin’ lol. I even wear heels (for 45 minutes at a time lol). More importantly, I do my best to celebrate her by honoring her and the lessons she taught me in her living.
In her living, Pam taught me to live my best life, remain grounded so that your elevation doesn’t take you places you don’t need to be, and be gracious because we all need some grace. Living my best life translates into spending quality time with loved ones, challenging myself to do things that frighten me (but aren’t dangerous lol), and being gracious and kind to myself and others. In practice, that has looked like weekends with friends, leisure travel, and making my tongue less sharp in response to people.
Pam and I are/were both Christians. She was an ordained minister of the gospel whose most visible ministry was the way she reflected God’s love and loved out loud. Faith had always been central to our relationship. We petitioned God on each others’ behalf often. She reminded me often to ground myself in our faith so that I wouldn’t be tossed to and fro like a ship without a sail. She believed that our professional elevation and personal egos could be catalysts for unhealthy habits and practices if we didn’t remain grounded in our faith. In practice, that translates into developing a womanist Christian ethic as praxis, making faith practical for people who’ve given up on faith, and framing professional and personal opportunities as venues to be love in a harsh world.
Pam was always gracious with me, especially when I messed up (because we don’t always get things right). She would say things like, “Help me understand what you were trying to do”, or “Now Pumpkin, (insert statement about how you need to get your life together)”. I don’t know if she would have identified as a Black feminist, but her epistemology (way of knowing) aligned well with Black feminist epistemology that requires us to be responsible with and accountable for our words and actions, caring in thought and action toward one another, and emotionally and interpersonally intelligent. In practice, that has translated into me being more intentional with mentoring younger professionals, women, and femmes, shelling up extra measures of grace when wronged but unharmed, and applying that love and accountability to myself.
I miss Pam a bunch, almost daily. She was my girl, my friend, my mentor, my soror, someone who knew me well enough for me to talk cash money sh*t with without judgment (and often some encouragement to “live a little Joan, you might like it”). In her living, she taught me more than I ever knew I needed to learn. I recognize that I’m not the only person whose heart still aches for Pam on this side of time. This writing is simply my attempt to articulate the reconciliation of ongoing grief and the life I am living. As with my experience in Ghana, the fullness of my knowledge and experience with her can be best articulated by my actions to honor her than with mere words. I am transformed by having known her.
May my achievements honor her investments in me. May her memory live on through me and those who loved her and were elevated by knowing her. May those who love her take comfort in the love she shared with them and for them. Asé. Amen.
Dr. Mini Me